I have been helping out in a 7th grade English classroom in St. Paul this semester. After Ms. M lectures, I sit down with a student or two and help them work something out.
Many of them have just immigrated, and they struggle at times to communicate. I can tell they get a kick out of my expression when I can’t find plain language to explain something. Maybe one of the casualties of a longish education is that your vocabulary gets too big. Anyway, I’m finding that diagrams work beautifully when words don’t. On one occasion, I succeeded in explaining the three forms of “there” by tracing out a circle and two lines. That was the magic key.
Reading to them is another thing that I find helpful. When I slowly and deliberately read something aloud, am careful to pronounce each syllable and look ahead for when I’ll need to phrase something as a question, I ultimately see and hear their comprehension double. I could be adding rhythm or emotion to something that had seemed dry to them, or maybe they’re drawn in by my intense focus or maybe they knew what it meant all along, and I just had been asking them the wrong questions.
For some reason, these kids will listen to people my age. I was asked once during a lecture to confirm the importance of bibliographies. Thirty lifeless heads spun up in my direction! Maybe I’m not striking them as an authority. I’m a student, too. I just go somewhere else, where perhaps I have to sit in one place for too long, and I have to listen to a teacher scold me for writing illegibly. Of course, these things don’t occur anymore, but if it helps them learn about Haikus, I will not say otherwise.
Trying my hand at teaching (in this small way) has me thinking about the pros who have taught me. I can recall something about each one of them, because at one point or another I spent large chunks of time focusing on their voices and chalk lines. About a dozen of them have left me a lasting message or skill. Maybe half a dozen do something even greater than that – several at UST, in fact.
If you’re in need of service hours for a class or BUS200, I recommend the Tutor/Mentorship program. It’s fun trying to think like a kid, and it’s interesting to do the teaching for once.
One more thing, especially to St. Thomas professors: your jokes are a lot funnier than you think they are, and you either are not that bad at drawing or you don’t have to tell us it’s so. And really, thanks again.