What Tutoring This Summer Taught Me

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I just completed a six-week tutoring session with a group of students who are transitioning from elementary to middle school this Fall. They are a part of a local educational program called Students2Scholars. The program was inspired and founded by a white woman who began tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club of Durham, NC a few years ago. She said: “I saw that many of these bright, promising children were not offered the opportunity to reach their academic potential in their mostly disadvantaged, minority schools.” So she took it upon herself to contact a couple of private schools in the area to see if they would be willing to partner with the Boys and Girls Club in order to give some students the chance to apply and attend these elite schools at a reduced tuition rate.

I’m sure I would not have been asked to share my expertise as a tutor (in English) had I not complained about some of the procedures I didn’t particularly care for during the application process as it related to my own grandson, who is also a part of Students2Scholars. It was during my back and forth with the Founder that she discovered that I was more educated than she probably gave me credit for and practically begged me to participate. In hindsight, I think she did so because none of her other tutors were black. Of course, that’s neither here nor there…..

I have to admit I received tremendous joy out of tutoring those young people even though I was apprehensive at first. There was an age difference of about 50 years so I wasn’t quite sure how I would be received. Would they think they could run all over me or would I come across as some rigid old woman who didn’t know how to lighten up and relate? Here’s what tutoring this summer taught me:

Being challenged is a good thing: Most adults will agree that young people can and WILL challenge your patience and that, in turn, often leads to frustration. Tutoring 12 different personalities with varying degrees of energy taught me to push the past the boundaries I had set for my patience level. Telling a student over and over again to “pay attention” “stop talking” “settle down” only creates anger and stress. By setting the ground rules at the beginning of each session, everyone was able to get on the same page for learning. If they weren’t, I gave them an opportunity to express what was going on with them and if necessary, they were excused from the session.

Tutoring also challenged me to think outside the box and come up with “creative” ways to teach. I truly believe the educational system is broken and needs a major overhaul. The way we were taught 30 and 40 years ago is outdated because children have shorter attention spans and the stringent rules of teaching to a test only results in boredom and tuning out.

One more thing….tutoring challenged my energy and stamina, which made me want to go to the gym more, believe it or not.

Inspiration is a two-way street: Tutoring is more than just teaching. It’s about inspiring young people to want to learn. It’s about encouraging and motivating them into believing they can achieve. I also discovered young people can be just as inspiring by demonstrating their willingness to be taught something new, putting their trust in my leadership ability and being respectful—which is also a two-way street.

I was created for this Purpose: Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to tell the stories of people’s lives and try to make a difference. I’m happy to say I was given that opportunity for more than 30 years. I always thought that was my Purpose but what I discovered was it was just the starting point that would lead me down another path. God blessed me with the awesome gift of communication and has placed me in position to bless others. It’s no accident that I ended up tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club this summer. It’s all a part of His Master Plan for my life and despite of all of the setbacks and detours I’ve experienced professionally and personally, He has me on course for my ultimate mission before I leave this earth.

My Legacy Does Matter: Recently, I was watching some archive footage of Danny Thomas talking about why he decided to start the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. He’s been dead since 1991 but his legacy lives on through the Children’s Hospital, which opened in 1962.

I want to leave this earth knowing I’ve made a difference in someone’s life. I may not change thousands of lives (like Thomas, Gandhi, Mother Theresa or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr) but just like I continue to and will ALWAYS sing the praises of my former Speech Coaches David Brunner and Janet (J.B) Bury, I hope someone will say they attribute some of their success to what I have instilled in them.

That would be my gift back to God.

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