In my time as a Literacy First tutor, I’ve learned a lot about kids. For instance, I’ve learned about ‘The Look’: the one kids will give you when you just don’t understand something so obvious. I’ve spent the past year and a half trying my best not to get that little grimace. The more time I spend with my students, the more lessons I learn. I call these little lessons ‘gems.’
Lesson 1: Grooming is important.
“Ms. Cristina, do you move a lot when your mom does your hair? Your hair always sticks out.”
~ Daphne*, 2nd Grade
We Literacy First tutors are expected to be on time bright and early at 7:30 AM each day—and some of us like getting to work at 7:00 to have an extra half-hour before tutoring starts. On the mornings when my coffee takes longer to kick in, personal grooming is the first thing to drop off my list of priorities (The list of priorities is topped by FOOD! And also being on time). Needless to say, I have learned that if I don’t pass a comb through my hair, one of my kids will notice.
Lesson 2: Sometimes we just need a break.
“Ms. Cristina I need a drink of water before I turn on my brain.”
~ Javier, 1st Grade
Life can demand a lot from us. Sometimes we just need a break to give things our best…and that’s okay.
Lesson 3: Getting rid of unnecessary things takes a huge weight off our shoulders.
“Let it go, man.”
I’ll let Eduardo, one of my first graders, explain:
He looked at me one morning, quite disappointed, while examining a white crayon:
Eduardo: Ms. Cristina why do you have this crayon?
Me: Because it comes in the box?
Eduardo: But it doesn’t work!
He colored furiously on a white computer paper, paused, looked at the crayon one last time, and snapped it in half before throwing it away.
Eduardo: See, it doesn’t work.
Lesson 4: Seeing an old friend is exciting and should be celebrated with a warm smile or hug.
Every time I walk the halls of my school, I need to pretend I’m reading something or really focused on walking straight. If not, about six pairs of little arms will reach out to hug me, and one pair of glaring eyes will reprimand me for messing up a perfect line.
Lesson 5: Things are better when we share, but be smart about sharing.
It was the day after Valentines and I was tutoring students after school. One student, Ian, named himself “the Candy King.” I must say, he earned it. He had saved all his candy and had enough to share with the entire class. What surprised me most, other than the amount of candy this student had, was that he passed out a candy for everyone without being asked.
Me: “Ian, that’s really nice.”
Ian: “If everyone’s happy, the Candy King is happy!”
From a nearby table another student, Tony, yelled, “Try my lollipop, it’s delicious!”
Ian: “That’s nasty. To be healthy you need to eat your candy and only your candy because your candy has germs!”
Lesson 6: Understand that if a person is having a rough day, more than likely that moment is not a reflection of that person’s overall personality.
This gem comes from Ian, the Candy King, too: I was working with students after school one day, when one of my kids was having a hard time listening and following instructions. Ian looked over and called to me, “Ms. Cristina, it’s because his heart is broken, and he goes crazy when his heart breaks!”
Lesson 7: Having a task is better than not having a task.
This is quite apparent every time I ask my kids to form a line. It takes us a while to figure out who goes where in line because everyone wants to be a line leader, door holder, caboose, deputy (my right hand), and so on. Every kid wants a task.
Lesson 8: Magic is present everywhere…
…and it’s ever-present in love. I learned this from my student, Angie:
Me: Look, Friend, you just went from reading 78 correct words per minute to 159 words! You just did magic!
Angie: You are the magic. You care about me and now I know how to read.
These eight little lessons are going to stick with me long past my time with Literacy First. Kids do say the darndest things…and sometimes those things make you melt!