What I Thought Would be a Challenge | Nurturing Wisdom Tutoring

What I Thought Would be a Challenge

highschool boy in libraryLast school year, I started working with a student that has forever changed my outlook on educating. Before becoming a tutor with Nurturing Wisdom, I taught 5th grade in an inner city charter school. During this experience, my skills for being very disciplined and organized were a necessity. I believed that all students should sit up straight in their chairs, not moving, as I was teaching. I expected them to raise their hands and never get up without asking. In this sort of environment, I probably saved myself several opportunities to break up a fight by being this strict. However, in most cases, my expectations and beliefs on how a student will learn best were just flat out wrong.

Working with one student in particular, Sam*, helped me see the error in my ways. Sam was a type of student that I had never had the experience of working with, and I was reluctant to tutor him in the first place. When our tutoring director called me about Sam, I remember her telling me, “He’s pretty quirky, and he has ADHD, so you’ll have to be very patient with him.”

Naturally with all this information, I was hesitant.  My director ended our conversation with the kicker: “I think you’ll be great with him, and your personality will really help motivate him!”

Fortunately, I agreed to work with Sam. I’m not going to lie–at first our sessions were a struggle. I tried to make him sit down during our entire sessions and stay focused 100% of the time. This was not effective for Sam. He resisted me even more, and we ended up wasting more time as I was constantly redirecting him to behave as I thought he should.

A turning point happened during one session when I just gave up. When Sam wanted to get up, I let him. When he wanted to tell me about his opinion on an ACT reading passage that we had read, I let him. I had decided I was tired of fighting him. I had planned to leave that session and tell the tutoring director I just couldn’t handle working with him.

However, as I was driving home, I started thinking about our session, and I realized it was the most productive session that we’d had up to this point. I remembered that although I let him get up and walk around his basement, we were reviewing strategies he needed to know for the ACT. Really, what’s the difference if he’s sitting in a chair proving to me he knows the strategies or if he’s up walking around and telling them to me? When he was telling me about his opinion of the ACT reading passage, he was supporting his beliefs with material from the passage, so obviously he had read it and comprehended it.

During our next several sessions, I gave Sam more control over how he wanted to learn the material. If he needed to get up and walk around, I let him do it as long as we were still talking and reviewing. I found that if I made him do what I wanted him to do exactly the way I wanted it he didn’t do as well in comparison to how he did if he was comfortable.

After preparing Sam for the ACT, his parents asked if I would tutor him over the summer and into his senior year, which I was happy to do.  As time went on, Sam and I worked better and better together. I have grown to love Sam as if he were my brother, and I am dreading the day he graduates high school and doesn’t need me anymore. He has taught me that there is no “right” way to learn. I learned to be more flexible, and because I was giving him choices within limits, he grew to trust and respect me enough to know that sometimes he just has to sit in a chair and do the work, and he does so without resisting.