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I’ve always loved teaching children. However, I’m not a real teacher in the “certified” sort of way. But in my heart, I’m a teacher. I tutor elementary school children who struggle putting their thoughts on paper. My ultimate goal is to make myself obsolete to the children who needed me the most; to get those children to think on their own without my weekly guidance. I do my best to make a difference in a child’s life. And in this reward, I gladly lose my temporary employment.

Tutoring is where I first met John. His mom found me through his fourth-grade teacher, who worried about his lack of writing skills, as well as his bad attitude in class.

So John and I began his one-day-per-week lessons. His early efforts were so poor that I didn’t know what to correct first – his spelling or the fact that none of his sentences made any sense. How was this possible?

John was a puzzle, but not the kind you give up on because it’s too hard. He was the kind you tried to solve because it was so hard. And the fact that he always tried made me try harder.

It was a late spring afternoon when I finally heard the words I was waiting for. It may have sounded like an inaudible mumble to someone else, but to me, it was as loud as a bomb when I heard the plea of, “I said I can’t spell. Did you hear that? My teacher takes points off in school for spelling and I don’t want anyone in class to ever know I can’t spell. Got it?”

That was the day everything changed between John and me. I emailed his teacher and parents and asked them to give me a few weeks to diagnose his problems with writing. I also asked them to ignore all of his spelling mistakes until I could figure out the root of his struggles.

For the next few months, I made up words that didn’t exist, and I’d observe him trying to sound them out. When we worked on his phonics difficulties, he started getting better. Although I knew I was on the right track, I’d take the wrath of his, “This is stupid. Why do I have to do this every week? This is boring!” It might have been boring to him, but even he couldn’t deny the fact he was getting better.

One year later, John had major writing projects to do as a fifth-grader. When I wasn’t there to teach him, his mom and dad made sure he did all of his schoolwork. John started getting 98s on these one-month projects. He could easily tell me why other students received failing grades. “They didn’t do everything the teacher wanted. They should have read the instructions like we did.”

John was maturing. He was learning responsibility. But mostly he liked getting good grades. Each week he’d show me the 100s he received in math and spelling. I was impressed. He was proud. And I was proud of him.

After my last tutoring session, John, his mom and I stood by the front door as we said our final goodbyes. He had achieved a 95.1 grade-point average.

John is now a sixth-grader. I was curious if his new work habits had continued without me, so I emailed his mom to find out what his grades were for the first marking period. She replied, “Nice to hear from you. You’re never far away from our thoughts. John’s grades averaged 93.1.”

I smiled as I left my computer. This is why I do what I do. So who’s next?