This is (from L to R) Kyle, Beatrice, and Nina. They are 5th-graders in Mrs. Leath’s class at Bishop Elementary in Sunnyvale.
Y! has a number of great community outreach programs managed through the Yahoo! Employee Foundation (Y!EF). One of them, in which I participate, is called Classroom Buddies. EmC and I *try* to make it to Mrs. Leath’s class once every other week. Unfortunately, the nature of our jobs makes it very hard to keep a regular appointment like this. Sometimes we go over a month without being able to make it to class (as if we don’t feel bad enough about it, then the kids say stuff like, “we thought you forgot about us”). When it is 11pm and you are still bogged down with work, something like this can seem like just one more chore you don’t need, and the guilt just compounds the pre-existing stress. I have more than once thought about how my life would be just a little easier if I didn’t have this hanging over my head. But, then you actually go…and WOW, does it feel good! Each time, we walk out of there talking about how great it was and how we need to come more often.
Today was a particularly good session for me. The kids have a math test coming up, and Mrs. Leath gave Em and me 3 kids each (mine are the 3 above), who she thought needed special attention. What is most interesting is how varied the kids’ levels are, especially since they have all been sitting through the same lessons. Em and I both agree that there is still a lot of work to be done in educational science, and even more work to be done in our public schools. You hear about the importance of class size in every public education discussion, but it really doesn’t hit home until you see what just a little bit of individual attention can do.
First of all, neither of us were encouraged by Mrs. Leath’s understanding of her students based on the groups she assigned to us. From 1 hr of working with the 3 kids, my assessment was: Beatrice understood everything, but had some minor self-confidence issues; Nina was pretty comfortable with the concepts, but had never paid enough attention to try to apply them; and Kyle had been so conditioned to being treated as dumb, that he didn’t even bother to try anymore. I think I made progress with all of them, but I think I made the biggest impact on Kyle.
When we started, he was completely oblivious…I had to keep calling him out to get him to even look at me. He had no idea what he was doing with any of the stuff, but was too ashamed to admit it. Long story short, with just 1hr of individual attention, he demonstrated a real grasp of the concepts. We talked about ways to approach the problems that made them less intimidating. And most importantly, I think he began to believe that he could do the work, where he had been previously resigned to failure. While I am pretty proud of myself for helping with that change (he thanked me 3 times on my way out), I am disheartened that a kid who is actually capable of doing the work has slipped so far through the cracks that he feels totally disenfranchised by the 5th grade.
But, we who have declined to become teachers and instead sit back and bitch about property taxes are really in no position to judge those who are at least out there in the trenches. While I don’t think our current crop of public school teachers are necessarily the best we can offer our kids, they are there and they are handicapped by a lack of resources. I have no plans to quit my job and become a teacher, nor am I going to be endowing any charter schools anytime soon. But, I have volunteered to tutor Kyle after-school in addition to the regular program. I would encourage anyone who is reading this (so, that’s probably all of 2 people) to find some time, even (especially) if you have none to spare, to share yourself with kids (your own kids will do). I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Here is the reply to my email offering to help tutor Kyle:
The offer to work with Kyle is fantastic, but the problem with him is his absences. That is one of the main reasons he is so far behind. I am afraid that if you set up a time to work with him, nine times out of ten he’s not here.
Dude. Seriously disheartening.