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How I Fell in Love with Tutoring

September 14, 2016
Posted by: Nava Schweig, Jewish Coalition for Literacy Tutor

It was my first day at Greenleaf Elementary School in Oakland, and anxiety was building up inside me as I walked the halls of the unknown school. The kids here were different. They were from a different religion, different races and a different age-group from students at my own school. Yet, as a reading tutor, I was expected to be their role model and teacher. Just a week later – and I still find this hard to believe – I would walk the same halls with an excited bounce in my step, cherishing the 45 minutes to come.

I came to Greenleaf from Oakland Hebrew Day School as part of the Jewish Coalition for Literacy’s Reading Buddies peer tutoring program. Along with 14 of my 8th grade classmates, I brought new activities and ideas, and was assigned two second-grade buddies. And now, long after that first intense day and the six all-too brief tutoring sessions that followed, I’ve chosen to continue tutoring outside of school, simply from my own desire.

What helped me overcome my fears and fall in love with tutoring?

At first my intent was to follow the lesson plans rigidly, and I had great expectations for myself. But after I got to know the two girls I was to tutor something in me shifted. I suddenly understood that I was not the point of this program, nor was my elaborate lesson plan. Rather, it was about these two little girls – learning, growing and reaching into the world of reading. My role was not to teach or preach to them, it was to nurture them as individuals – individuals who love learning.

As soon as it stopped being about me and my self-confidence, and became about the girls as creative and thoughtful individuals, I began to adapt my ways of reaching out to them to fit their needs. I saw that while one was learning better by repetition and memorization, the other needed to draw and ask questions. The light-bulb moment that followed is what led me continue tutoring past my middle-school experience and into my high school years at the Jewish Community High School in San Francisco. I realized that I could make reading exciting and engaging for students by helping them to experience learning in a personalized, creative and enthusiastic way. In a mere six weeks, I came to understand what it takes to transform a child’s perception of learning and in the process I transformed my own perception of teaching.

Some of the kids I’ve tutored have never experienced a moment where they enjoyed learning, and I find myself eager to help them reach this point. I no longer look at myself as an authoritative teacher-figure. Yes, I’m still their tutor, but I feel more like a friend.

Stepping into this position of a tutor allowed me the opportunity to help others see their potential and grow into it. I suppose for every teacher, there is something that keeps them going, a reason they haven’t stopped despite occasional frustration. For me, it is seeing kids have an “aha” moment, watching them come to love reading and the beauty of a challenge. What I find so amazing is that, before I was given this transformative volunteering opportunity, I never saw myself as someone who could make a difference in the lives of young children. But now I can’t ever imagine stopping.

 

Nava Schweig is a student at Jewish Community High School of the Bay. She was inspired to begin tutoring by Jewish Coalition for Literacy.