Here I sit. Sipping my coffee, a black Lab nestled in close, slowly starting my day. Being the natural planner that I am, my mind starts to put the hours in order. “Coffee now, eat a little something, read a little, get a workout in, shower and then head to mentoring.” I can feel the last item on my mental to-do list in my stomach.
When I first was hired to be a mentor/tutor at a local elementary school, I was excited and immediately romanticized the position. I had visions of my reading books to a small group of first and second grade girls. (Insert record scratch.)
Instead, my reality is this: eight fourth and fifth grade boys who literally NEVER stop moving. Or talking, or yelling, or texting, or running, or punching, or flirting. Nothing could’ve prepared me for their force of energy.
On top of all that, our tutoring program is specifically for new Americans. Most of my boys moved to US in the past two years under the status of refugee. This background adds many layers to an already challenging session.
Some of the older boys are having trouble adapting to the American school system – let’s just say they make frequent trips to the principal’s office. If the boys have secrets to tell or if they’re plotting anarchy, they simply speak in their native tongue. They also love getting away with saying naughty words in different languages in front of me. It’s only with the help of a few sweet, tattletale girls that I figure out what these words are.
And then there are the anger issues. Like all little boys, they like to push and play fight, but sometimes things get real very quickly. Insults are hurled at each other that I don’t understand, sweatshirts come off and punches are thrown. Yes, this has happened. Three times now. And I’ve physically had to hold two tiny, very angry boys apart.
Once the adrenaline has subsided in all of us, we try to talk it out, separate everyone and move on.
I can’t help but think there’s something more behind all the bad behaviors these boys are exhibiting. I’ve seen the sweet personalities that make brief appearances. I’ve seen the child-like excitement that crosses their face when we play a new game or learn a new word. Where is that boy all the time?
I can’t even begin to imagine what their lives have been like, what home is like or who they are outside of school. But some people can. There are school social workers and ELL teachers who are paid to help these kids succeed.
All I can do is try to connect with them during the manic three hours that we share Monday through Thursday. This task is tiring and overwhelming. How can I connect with these kids when I need to constantly reprimand them? Soon I’ll become another authority figure with too many rules.
And this thought brings me to something that crosses my mind every time I see my kids: Wow, I have the utmost respect for teachers. For the teachers who have kids like mine in their classes and do everything they can to understand the little person who is acting out. For the teachers who are compassionate and excited to show the world to their kids. For the teachers who have patience and empathy and see potential rather than “difficult” students.
I admire all the teachers of my past and present. You are doing invaluable work in this world that too many times goes without thanks.
So thank you. You are truly an inspiration.