This summer, I’m volunteering at the St. John’s Senior Center by tutoring elementary school kids. The problem is that I’ve never really tutored anyone before. I have helped some classmates with math problems or proofreading an essay, but that doesn’t really count. So, basically, I have no idea how to teach.

A few days ago, I worked with a boy named Zachary who is going into 1st grade and needs reading help. I had him try to read Young Cam Jansen and the Baseball Mystery:

Courtesy of Google Image

At the Senior Center, there is a long table covered with elementary level books. I had no clue what a rising first grader would read, so I just snatched the first thing I saw, which was the Cam Jansen book. It proved to be too difficult of a read. Zachary attacked every word by sounding out individual letters. For example, bench becomes “buh eh en kuh huh.” Now, obviously you can read… since you’re on my blog – you know that doesn’t work. So I abandoned the Cam Jansen book after seeing  Zachary struggle with the first two sentences.  I began a mission of teaching him how groups of words would sound.

When I started, I thought it would be easy. Just have him memorize the sounds “ee,” “all,” “kn,” etc. Okay, no. It is so difficult. After teaching him “ch,” “sh,” and “th,” he forgot all of them. So I resorted to drawing pictures and making up stories (I thought they were clever, actually). I scribbled a little guy with his index finger to his mouth saying, “Be quiet!” next to “sh.” To help him remember that the K is silent in “know,” I told him a story:

“Okay, so, you are a spy named Agent Z! The letter K is Agent K and she’s on your side. But the letter N is on the other side. He’s bad. Agent K is spying on Agent N so don’t say K because you don’t want Agent N to know that Agent K is there. You guys are spies so be secretive about everything.”

I asked him if he understood the story and he nodded yes. “So what sound do k and n make?” I asked.

“Kuh nuh,” he said. Agent K is very disappointed. I was too. But I smiled and said, “Almost!”

I had to retell the story (blah :(). And then I asked him, “So now, what do k and n put together sound like?”


Nuh. Nuh. Oh my God, he just said, “Nuh!”  That had to be the sweetest thing I heard all week. “Nuh.” I would have scooped him up from the metal chair that’s too big for him and held him like Rafiki held baby Simba… if that didn’t make me look like a pedophile. Yes, I was that proud.

The tutoring sessions are only one hour long a day (not counting the half-hour bingo games). From just that one hour, you cannot believe how much I appreciate teachers now (the good ones, at least). I’ve always regarded teachers as adults who take attendance, give detentions,  pass out assignment sheets, and keep order in the classroom. No more of that. They have to teach and teaching is hard work.

And it’s rewarding. Remember how excited I was when Zachary mastered the “kn” sound? That explains it all. 🙂

Dang it, I have tennis camp so I won’t be able to volunteer next week’s sessions. But I am so looking forward to finding more rewards in the little kids I teach (yeah, that sounds wrong) the following week! Did I even mention how cute they are?

I’ll keep you updated about tennis and tutoring! See you later!



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8 responses to “Teaching

  1. Adeeba

    Aww that is so sweet. And haha yeah it is so frustrating, I remember attempting to teach my little sister to read when she was younger! Lucky me, they do it in school.

    It is a great feeling when you’re helping someone and they say that they get it. It gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling. Hehe.

    Hm about the teaching thing though, I don’t really feel like middle school and higher teachers have to do as much as elementary teachers. They don’t really have as much excuse to be grouchy when all they have to do is grade papers.

    I have respect for elementary school teachers that have to make all these small children with no attention span learn what they need to do, but middle school + teachers don’t have to do that. Yet they are the ones who are always in a bad mood. It’s so nice to get teachers that actually care, there are so few of them.

    I think my sister did that one summer too, I don’t know if it was at St. Johns but she tutored kids. It sounds pretty cool, maybe I’ll do it next year. 😀

    • I didn’t know you have a little sister! What grade is she going into?

      I agree, there are some teachers who are truly cantankerous.

      You should do it next year! Actually, you can still do it this year although we just have three sessions left…

  2. Erika Song

    That’s very considerate of you. Teaching someone how to read can be a very difficult task. I know, because I remember when my parents tried to teach me how to read (It’s kind of odd what random things I tend to remember.). Its good that you had the patience to figure out how to get him to remember. I can’t say the same about me when I tried explaining my sister’s math homework to her.

    I hope you have as much success with your next disciple. Good luck teaching 🙂

    • Thank you so much! This made my day.

      Wait, you have a younger sister? Assuming your older sisters don’t need help with math (because they’re like at MIT and Stanford [I think])…

      • Erika Song

        Your welcome 🙂

        And no, it was my older sister. You got the colleges right though. Sigh its kinda frustrating when you understand it and can’t figure out why they can’t understand it.

  3. Yes, I got the colleges right! 😀

    I agree. SO frustrating.

    • Erika Song

      The sad part is that this was an introductory class, so idk how she’s gonna figure out the more advanced stuff if she refuses to accept the basics.

  4. Alright, so, in my last comment I said that I was taking a class (which was why I hadn’t read your blog in a while). I was actually taking a class where–you guessed it–I had to tutor! I was tutoring Summer School kids in reading. I’m a music teacher by training and reading was so different! But the result is the same–if they get it–all the frustration that may have come before so so worth it!
    Congrats on your successful teaching! Some people take YEARS to get there! (And that was a terrific story you told about Agents Z, K and N too!)

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