Let's Read

Some of my most vivid memories of childhood are of sitting around the dinner table with my mom and sister while we did homework.  I can remember the texture white brick wall I leaned against while scribbling down a list of the causes of the Civil War, and the themes of the young-adult novel Heartlight, and also algebra. This is mainly because when I was a student, I would literally do none of my homework until the very end of the semester, and then eventually my mom would force me to sit down and do every piece of outstanding schoolwork in one day.  One would think I'd learn my lesson after the first time my weekend was eaten up with 20 hours of homework, but I was pretty convinced that eventually my teachers would just get the hint and quit asking me. School was not the highlight of my life, is what I'm driving at.

So when I found myself standing in a Pueblo del Rio school room, wearing an index card name tag with a monkey sticker and about to tutor a kid in long division, the same thought kept coming to me: I was terrible at this stuff when it was fresh, how could I help a little kid with it after almost 20 years? 

It was worries like that, and generally not knowing what I was getting into, that kept me from volunteering before.  Luckily, I had a support system of friends and fellow volunteers to lean on if I really found myself in the weeds, which seemed likely when the volunteer leader introduced me to the shy but tough little boy (let's call him Scott) who was "having kind of an attitude day."

There's something to be said for serendipity, because if I had a nickel for every time one of my teachers would tell my parents I had an "attitude," I'd probably own a plane.  In that moment of being introduced to the child that was going to learn some fundamental math from me, I flashed back to all of the times that I'd worked with my family at the dinner table.  My mom could take these seemingly incredibly complicated lessons that my teachers couldn't get me to learn, and through some magic would make it fun. She'd have me knowing my stuff by the end of the day for sure.

I knew Scott hadn't had the same opportunity for someone to do that with him. Attitude day or not, I was here, I had a decent recollection of long division and a fourth grade lesson plan if memory failed me, and I was going to try to be the kind of person I'd always wished my teachers were to me.  And darn it, by the end of our tutoring time, he was doing serious long division, even checking his answers properly. He was really good.

Better than knowing that I had helped him learn those concepts, by the end of the day, whatever attitude had gone away. He was laughing and goofing around with me, and during the group activity he even made sure he got to be in my group the whole time. There's a lot to be said for this tutoring educationally, but it was better than that.  Education without a will to learn is pretty useless, and getting this little boy excited about the stuff we were talking about was the most rewarding part of the experience bar none.  I fully intend to go back, and hopefully to work with Scott again, to get him excited about a new topic and see him pick it up faster than I ever could.


For more information on volunteering in the community with Sunday Assembly LA, check out the Help Often section.

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