Over the Weekend: Teaching and Being “Teached“

Several weekends ago, I went through some preliminary training for the Achievement First tutoring program. Achievement First is a network of 19 public charter schools in New Haven, Bridgeport and Brooklyn. Like most charter schools, they have a unique approach to teaching their children. While I have only had the opportunity to see their teaching methods on video, the ones that I have seen are very forward-thinking. And of course, the children are absolutely out of this world.

This past weekend was my actual first tutoring session. While I certainly would never dare call my unqualified behind a teacher, I certainly felt like more of a teacher than a tutor on that first day.

After my 1.5-hour trek out to Brooklyn, the day started off with me arriving at the school and quickly realizing that I was 100% responsible for putting together the materials for the lesson I had planned. Not that I expected anyone else to do it for me, I just figured that everything I needed would be in one book, and that certainly wasn’t the case. So after I was finished going through dozens of math books, I went down to meet my scholars, which is what they are called in place of “students.” However, just my luck, none of my scholars for the first session showed up.

After seeing that I had no one to teach for the first 45-minute session, the head man in charge let me know that one of my scholars lived down the street and that he was going to make sure he got him to the school. The head man in charge, the principal, is definitely a strict, let’s get it done type of person, and low-and-behold, he had that kid in my assigned classroom with at least 25 minutes to spare.

To start the session, I tried talking the kid up a little. He was probably a lot more comfortable talking to me than I was talking to him. He was also a lot smarter than me, too, or at least a lot smarter than me at what I was supposed to be teaching him. First of all, in trying to teach him the communitive and distributive properties, which I had just re-learned the night before, this kid not only knew the stuff better than me, but when I tried to write a problem on the board, he took the marker and made the problem more representative of what I was trying to teach him. Secondly, at the tender age of 11, this kid already knows where he wants to go to school, and it isn’t to the local basketball power-house. This kid has his eyes set on Yale, a school I wouldn’t have even heard of prior to applying to college had it not been for that episode of “Save by the Bell,” when a bunch of colleges visited the school and offered Zach Morris a scholarship.

While I envied the brains and the forward-thinking of that kid, I was 100% thankful that he already knew what I was teaching him. That meant I just had to avoid messing him up, and I definitely avoided that—even though my questions seemed to be a little to easy for him.

During my next session, I wouldn’t have it so easy. I had two kids this session, both of which had issues with the order of operations. They were good to go on my other two focal points of the day, multiplication tables and inverse operations, but the order of operations weren’t their forte, which meant I really had to bring it. All and all, I think I did a good job of communicating everything to them. We worked out problems on the board, I let them do a little assessment at the end of class, and they asked all the right questions. Plus, teaching “Please excuse my dear aunt Sally,” is always fun, and they really loved working with that age-old acronym.

At the end of the day, we had pizza and wings with the kids, after the principal, who the kids love by the way, pressed their minds even more with some interesting questions in the cafeteria, where we ate. Al and all, I think I did an okay job. During my next tutoring session, I certainly hope to run a much smoother class and make sure I have problems that are challenging and most representative of what the scholars are used to seeing in class. However, I’m glad I did take a moment to get to know the kids that were in my class and talk with them a little bit. I think that will make things easier going forward if they know where I’m coming from and understand that, in a lot of ways, I was a lot like them growing up. If I can achieve that, teach them the material and demonstrate to them how all of this stuff will help them in real life, I really think that I can be pretty good at this tutoring/teaching thing….at least on Saturday mornings anyway.