Wanna meet some of my kids? Not my children. My students. And, oh yeah, they aren’t all kids.
The first student I tutored here in Ann Arbor we’ll call Krista. Her mom reached out to me around Christmas. Krista is a freshman with ADHD. For those of you who know freshmen, that last sentence is a little redundant. Krista and I initially met to study for her first high school final exams, and we have continued to meet to study and to write papers. In fact, we recently spent several hours writing an essay comparing loss in Maus and Night. We followed her teacher’s rubric, we got her thesis approved, we outlined, drafted, revised, and edited. Then came the email from her mother. “Krista got a D on her paper. Thoughts?” D? Are you kidding me? I am an experienced teacher, a former English department chair, a former curriculum coordinator! I walked with her through that paper, holding her hand! She got a D?! For a moment I thought I had lost Krista as a client. For over a week her mother didn’t reply to my emails other than one-word responses. I understood. She had hired me to help her child do better in English, not to help her earn a D!! Yesterday, finally, she reached out and asked if I could help Krista with her next paper. I was so relieved to get another chance!
About a month ago I was sitting on my couch in the evening when I received a tutoring request that went something like this, “I am a high school freshman. I could use help in my English class. Would you be willing to work with me.” A freshman? Sending his own email? Asking for help? We exchanged a half dozen emails and I met him that weekend. He is the son of parents who immigrated from India. In fact, last year, they went back to India for a year so that Saj (fictional name) could study there and experience the culture. He is very bright. Our first assignment was preparing a recitation and analytical speech about Oedipus. We worked for a couple hours on this project –first planning, then writing and practicing. Yesterday we spent an hour getting familiar with the new PSAT and SAT since Michigan just adopted these assessments after years of using the ACT. He asked me for homework so that he can practice before I see him next week.
About six weeks ago a mother contacted me. Her daughter is only in sixth grade, but she is very advanced and has always had an English tutor. Would I be willing to write a curriculum for her — reading comprehension, writing, analysis, vocabulary, and grammar? Well, sixth grade is a little young for me, and I would have to drive about twenty minutes to get to this student, but I agreed. Again, she is Indian. Her parents are highly educated, as are Saj’s. And, I will admit, this girl is indeed, ‘very advanced’. I show up every week with comprehension questions on the book we are reading together, The Book Thief. I also give her questions about literary elements — irony, symbol, metaphor, narration, characterization. I keep trying to find something she can’t answer. I have not yet succeeded. I’m not sure what she will study in high school — I’m using up all of my material!
I also have a couple adult students. First is Cherise. She is an RN who is studying to become an Advanced Practice Nurse. She works in a pediatric clinic in Ypsilanti and is hoping to be the lead practitioner when her supervisor retires. She has files of knowledge on nursing, but her writing skills are limited. I wish I could videotape our sessions — she spends time explaining medical terminology to me; I spend time explaining sentence structure to her. We are two middle aged women leaning over documents making a way to convey meaning. She’s a quick study. I show her parallel structure one time, she points it out in the next sentence. I remind her that academic writing is in third person, she locates the personal pronouns she needs to delete.
My other adult is Carla. She dropped out of high school to have a baby fourteen years ago. She works in purchasing for a manufacturing plant in the area, but she wants a career change. She wants to work in the criminal justice field. A community college admitted her and she is taking a composition course online. But she’s never written a paper before! We met to discuss her first paper, walking through sentence by sentence until she was comfortable with it. We also discussed her next assignment — a research paper. She lives thirty miles away, so we have only met once, but she emails me her documents and I make comments and ask questions in the margins. I coach her — you need more research, make sure you are including your opinion, don’t forget to document your quotes. She’s doing all this work in the evenings after working all day and while parenting a teenager.
And that’s not all. There’s a brother and sister I meet with weekly, a couple of students I met with just a couple of times each to do test prep, and twin sisters that I assisted with a huge research paper. They contact me online, I meet them in libraries or at their homes. For a moment or a season we are connected for a purpose. Sometimes I think I am helping them, most of the time I think they are helping me.
That’s the kind of work I like to do — the kind where I feel privileged to show up and blessed when I leave. May you have that kind of work to do, too.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.