Joys and Challenges of Tutoring

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This is from Amy Estersohn, student in the College. Hyperlinks are mine (dhays).

"Like many U of C students, I'm very good with reading words but not that good with saying them aloud to people I've never met.  And, like many U of C students, the city of Chicago amazes me, compels me, and occasionally frightens me.  I can get off the Red Line at the Belmont stop and admire the expensive stores and the beautiful people, but in order to get there I have to take the 55 bus through Washington Park and Englewood, areas that have their own sense of pride and community but where the tourists never come.

Early on in my college career, I decided I wanted to get more acquainted with these nearby neighborhoods.  After all, we'll be living next to each other for the next four years; it would be silly of me not to stop by and say hello.  Additionally, growing up in the suburbs, I had never communicated with anybody outside of my racial or socioeconomic class.  College is a time to try new things, and I wanted to engage with people who didn't remind me of myself.

Given that academics are my passion and I could find a way to talk about school at any time and to anybody, I decided to pursue volunteer tutoring opportunities.  I was overjoyed to hear about the Chicago Youth Programs, particularly because the tutoring sessions are held across the street from my dorm.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I used to get back from class, play a few songs on Guitar Hero, and then sprint to tutoring to make it on time, with 3 sharpened pencils in hand.

I got to know the CYP students well and I did my best to instill a sense of pride and confidence that was instilled in me when I was in their shoes.  Since I have no formal teacher training, I flew by the seat of my pants in trying to make learning fun.  When we did multiplication, I talked about batches of cookies, about money, about pencils and pens.  When we did the coordinate plane, I asked them what intersection they lived on, where they went to school, where they were right now, and I mapped the buildings out.  When we worked on reading and writing skills, I had them dictate notes to each other and read them back to me after a few "rehearsals."  Not every attempt to teach something was successful, but it was almost always fun, if not for them, then for me.  It got us talking and laughing and hugging.

And sometimes my kids would come up with fascinating, probing questions, questions that reminded me that their intelligence and awareness was in some cases well beyond their academic abilities.  "I have a question to ask you," one of my girls whispered to me one day.

"What is it?"

"What does it feel like to be white?"

I can't remember how I answered her, but I tried to steer her away from a question that's puzzled and enraged many artists and thinkers over the past couple of hundred years.  I wasn't ready to tell her that life is unfair, that some people come from privilege and some don't, and that it's up to us as citizens of this great city to improve the quality of life for all.  I also wasn't ready for this honest and striking conversation.  But maybe you are."

Thanks, Amy.  For info on tutoring, come to UCSC's Volunteer Information Session: Tutoring on Thursday, October 16.



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