Guest blog from YourWords AmeriCorps Vista, Kim Daniel
From elementary school until sophomore year of high school, regardless of applied effort, punishment, or parental lectures, I failed to produce anything more than individual “A” grades, never cumulative “A’s” for the quarter or the semester. Therefore, to my amazement, when my sophomore Algebra teacher asked me to work with her as a peer tutor, tutoring other classmates, I was profoundly honored. Years later, I realized what a pivotal moment that was in my life. From sophomore year onward, I tutored basic arithmetic, algebra, and geometric with every opportunity afforded me. My senior math instructor said, “Kim, if you can master math, you can master anything.”
Again, in college, I was chosen by my algebra instructor for a peer tutoring position she created for the math department. Students were soon visiting me regularly, and I began to see the greater need for tutoring, to the extent I started tutoring on weekends from home. Later in my college experience, my guidance counselor referred me to a church adult continuing education program, as an algebra instructor. It fascinated me the level of confidence others had in my ability to teach/tutor. Therefore, I determined my college major would be Elementary Education. Unfortunately, due to life and its circumstances, I did not complete my degree. However, I did continue tutoring, and I have now amassed 30 years of volunteer service. I tutor with the belief; I will reach that student who, like myself, simply needed support and encouragement. In my 30 years of tutoring, I have experienced many memorable moments and memorable students. Here, I will tell you of the most recent unforgettable student I have experienced, we will call him MT.
MT was three years of age when his family moved into the apartment building. MT is an only child with a host of live-in cousins, all girls. From age three to five, I simply observed MT and his host of cousins, as they played in the parking lot, fussing, fighting, and making friends with the other children on the block. Although a beautiful person, MT’s mother, had a very ugly disposition towards her son. She very seldom called him by his given name. She called him many words, I dare not post here, and she treated him treacherously, only coming to his defense if someone outside the family did him harm. Nearly every neighbor in the building scolded her for her behavior. She simply offered a very loud and general cussing out to everyone within earshot, walked into her apartment, and slammed the door.
MT had a very pronounced speech impediment, and the neighborhood children, his mother, and host of cousins made fun of him for it. By chance one afternoon after observing MT being ridiculed for his inability to say certain words, I stopped his mother. I asked if I could work with him to help improve his speech. She gave a resounding “Yes! Can you take him now?!”
That day began a four-year journey. That day, I recalled every lesson I learned in elementary school when I needed speech therapy. Breaking out a deck of alphabet cards, MT and I practiced our letters and the sounds each letter makes. Although MT became bored after twenty minutes of trying, what amazed me, was his choice to return the next day and the next, and it was all of his own volition. I later learned there were often times when his mother had no idea, he was with me, he had simply slipped away from home. After a few months of tutoring MT, I also began tutoring two of his female cousins, LL & MK.
In school, MT was often disruptive, especially if he had a bad start to his day. In my opinion, every day was a bad start day for MT. He spent every morning being verbally abused by his mother, for the wrong color shirt, shoes on the wrong feet, or the number of naps in his head. She cursed him if he ate, and she cursed him if he did not. The poor child could not win. MT was later evaluated for an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) as well as prescribed medication for ADHD and transferred to a school serving behavioral needs students.
In our first nine months of tutoring, MT, and I made few to no academic improvements. His in-school disruptions increased, his at-home attitude oscillated from quiet sedation to violent outbursts. But be that as it may, MT would show up every day, even Saturday and Sunday, for tutoring, if he wasn’t out somewhere visiting. Despite the new medication adversely affecting MT’s ability to concentrate, I took his inabilities to comprehend personal, believing he would learn if I changed my tutoring methods. I moved his letters and numbers to the computer screen instead of flashcards, which sparked excitement. I uploaded memory games and allowed him to play, the spark increased. I took an old Scattergories game and revamped it for him and his two cousins to play. The spark ignited, and the number of children standing at my apartment door grew.
MT gradually began experiencing improvements, retaining vocabulary words, slowly pronouncing each syllable, and remaining in the tutoring session upwards to 40 minutes without losing interest. Becoming MT’s morning chauffeur, the following school year, I worked to make his mornings as pleasant as possible, although not so healthy. Each morning I purchased him a sausage biscuit and orange juice, off the dollar menu, to ensure he had a meal before starting his school day. On the ride to school, I would formulate questions based on his homework, to see how much he retained. Although MT had begun recognizing and retaining some site words, his ability to read was nonexistent. Still, he would maintain what was read aloud to him.
In the evenings, he would return to tell me about his school day. If it was good, he wouldn’t stop talking, but if it was not so good, MT ceased to speak to anyone, including his mother. With adjustments to his medication, MT had fewer and fewer disruptive episodes, allowing him to focus on the task better. He began picking out books he wanted to learn to read, from a collection of storytelling coloring books I purchased for him. His desire to read, heightened especially after his younger cousin read one of the books aloud. She was not yet school age.
Long story short, in my time, tutoring MT and him being my neighbor, I watched his growth and development, struggles, and achievements. I watched him spend two years in kindergarten, two years in first grade, barelymaking the second grade, jumped for joy when he made the third grade. By fourth grade, MT was sitting still and reading entire grade level books. MT and his family moved away the last quarter of his fourth-grade year, but we stayed in touch via FaceTime.
The last week of school, May 2019, MT’s Mom called, she said, MT has something he wants to tell you, and she placed him on the phone. He said, “Hey, Ms. Kim, I want to say to you, I made all A’s.
Why I tutor: I tutor because I am selfish or perhaps self-full.
Tutoring and tutoring well, gives me a sense of achievement, a sense of purpose, and the opportunity to share well-seasoned and fruitful knowledge. Have you ever taught anyone a concept or operation, and witnessed that Ah-Ha Moment strike across their faces? You know beyond knowing they got it. That is a rush of excitement that has no measurement. Have you watched the confidence of a student grow to full fruition, from solving linear equations to developing financial habits useful for keeping a roof over their head? Tutoring, for me, is a practical solution for neighborhood safety—even the unruly desire knowledgeable and intelligent children. Over the years, tutoring allowed me to engage young men and women in positive behavioral activities that foster good long-term habits. Those I have tutored have gone on to serve in the military, become criminal justice majors, write for rural newspapers, become entrepreneurs, educators, and Facebook Friends.
Being a tutor is gratifying.