What I Learned In School

P1050108For the last few months I have been engaged in a Middle School tutoring program developed by an Ivy League School of Education and executed in the New York City Public Schools. The program develops small reading groups called “book clubs” in after school programs.   I was called a “literacy tutor.” I had two book clubs of of four 6th graders which met 5 days a week for one hour each.   Students were selected through their reading scores-not the worst, not the best—all below grade level.

Most of the children in both groups were girls. I had one boy in each group for most of the time.

At the age of 11/12, I have to say– it was like herding cats.   Cats that talk back. And twerk.   And then ask if you believe in Santa Claus. One girl asked me if I was white. I said no. Next time I’ll say I used to be.

The program is very exact, with so many minutes for a beginning activity or recap, vocabulary (sometimes the word wasn’t in the dictionary they gave us) ; and then some time for independent reading. During this time the idea is to work with each child separately.   Its about 10 minutes of undivided attention per child. Finally, the rest of the time is for group discussion. The plan is to develop cognitive abilities. To be able to discuss situations and characters in the book and their implications. Its a great program and needed. I found the kids to be sensitive, aware, intelligent. And also inarticulate.

Each group had one totally motivated student, 2 who could get interested if I could made it worth their while and one who was hell-bent on, well lets just say hell-bent.   No need to go into detail. Bottom line.  I couldn’t concentrate on the one-to-one part or basically anything else because I was busy with what they call “classroom management”.

Class room management is an art. We were trained in the use of a book called “Teach Like a Champion” which is very innovative and excellent. In this particular instance it didn’t work out so good and they are reevaluating the program. I would like to work with those techniques again in another setting. Then there was the whole bribery system. Stickers. Spirit Dollars. You gotta believe! I did witness a book club actually functioning in another school and it was a beautiful sight to see.

The most fun I had was when I taught them air quotes. Mostly what I got out of the experience was a new appreciation of how language grows. It does not matter how something is spelled. What matters is the idea being expressed. Same goes for grammar. Yo. Yo. Yo.

Of course having such individualized interpretations, makes translation impossible, not to mention contracts and such—just sayin that it was an idea that had never entered my mind.   It was kind of liberating.

On the other hand. I am convinced of the value of the controversial Common Core standards. They measure thinking and articulation from the students. Exactly the skills the book clubs focus on building. These are skills which children need to become fully realized humans as well as for any trained job they might aspire to. There’s a time and a place for everything.

As for the New York City schools….I don’t know enough to criticize. Professional teachers I interacted with were caring and sincere. They just knew different things from me and sometimes had different standards.   Which brings me back to what I learned.  That communication is more important than grammar or spelling.  Just not for everything.

One of my students told me that New York was becoming a Black and Latino city. I can’t disagree.

Volunteering, especially helping others to gain skills that they will  use to improve their lives  is tremendously rewarding.

Below find links to some volunteering opportunities in education for children and adults.






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