Working with the giggly and energetic fourth graders as a college tutor is definitely fun and enjoyable. In the Vista Elementary classroom that I tutor at, each student gets about ten minutes to work with the tutor one on one on his or her essay. Some fourth graders have trouble with spelling and run-on sentences. Others need more help with organization and adding details to their creative stories. Each student could benefit from more individualized feedback on their own level of writing, which is rather difficult for one teacher to do given the large classroom size. I certainly feel that my time there contributes to the classroom learning and that I am applying what I have learned in school to an important cause.
But the mutually beneficial relationship does not end there. What constantly drives me, and perhaps other tutors in the Learning in Collaboration (LINC) program, back to tutoring is not just the recognition that we are helping the students with their academics. At least for me, the opportunity to interact with the children from communities outside the Claremont Colleges is a valuable process of self-growth and reflection. Learning about issues of racial and class inequalities from textbooks or lectures is important. But theoretical frameworks and field studies, as enlightening and mind-blowing as they might be, can only go so far. The issues that they address often seem less pertinent to the college life when midterms are coming up, when GPA is at stake.
During one of my tutoring sessions this semester, a tutee described to me what she had written in her essay, entitled “the Most Awesome Day of My Life”. She said the most awesome day of her life was when her mother, finally managed to take a day off from work, spent half of the day watching TV while eating pizza with her. Interacting with students like her makes me constantly reflect upon the privileges that I have taken for granted: a parent who is not too tired from work to spend quality time with me and to check my homework every night, a spacious environment to study, and abundant resources such as a dictionary and an afterschool program to complement what I learn from the classroom. Epiphanies like this are moments of self-reflection that become very powerful because they are personal and are closer to my life.
This semester, LINC has placed twenty Pomona College students in two local elementary schools, Vista Elementary and Oakmont Outdoors. As a part of their tutoring experience, the volunteers complete a reflection form at the end of each tutoring session. The form is where they jot down any successful tutoring tactics that they have used, or anything that they wish to work on next time. It is also, however, an important space for volunteers to think about and digest their own epiphanies of the day.