Today, one of my tutees made me cry. Maybe I’m soft. Maybe I’m hormonal. But the fact remains that I shed a thug tear because of a seven year old today and I am not ashamed.
Her name is Faith and she’s in the second grade. I first met Faith this past summer while working at the summer camp hosted by the school I currently work at. She instantly became one of my favorite campers and she was well aware and took advantage of it. Although I shouldn’t have, I played favorites with the children and Faith was in the top 5 kids I wouldn’t mind hanging out with during those bus rides to whatever place we were headed for a field trip.
But, once I began working at the school during the academic year and learned that Faith would be one of the children that needed a little extra help, I knew that I’d have to be a little less lenient with her than I was during the summer months. The hours spent trying to teach her and the other little girls how to jump rope would have to be replaced with trying to get Faith to finish her homework in a timely fashion as well as work on some of her reading, writing and arithmetic. Kevin had warned me about how she wasn’t the easiest to work with when it came to academics and I soon learned that he wasn’t exaggerating. Faith was and still is very much behind her fellow classmates.
But since working with her, as well as a few other children, I’ve noticed that confidence is important. In an incident about two weeks ago, I witnessed her parent harshly criticize the girl for a picture she had drawn of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for her book report. Personally, I thought the drawing was pretty damn good for a second grader. MLK’s eyebrows were snatched! But her self esteem plummeted as soon as her parent told her how sloppy the drawing looked and that she wouldn’t receive a good grade on her report despite all of her hard work. No wonder this poor girl doesn’t want to do the work, I thought. She doesn’t think that she CAN!
As of last week, Faith’s class has started working on their multiplication skills. Ask anyone that knows me, and they will tell you that I loathe all math. I’m an English nerd for a reason. So when my supervisor informed me that Faith was struggling to grasp the basic multiplication table, I felt her pain immediately. At least in high school, they give us scientific calculators and encourage us to use them for any and everything. But in second grade, you pretty much have to memorize that little chart in the back of your composition notebook and hope you remember what 8×7 equals on test day. Faith was not amused. She even asked me if she could read a book instead of working on math. Faith doesn’t like to read. I knew this would be one long hour.
I decided to start out with showing her a few strategies that would help her solve the simple stuff. She seemed to be getting the hang of it so I decided to test out just how much she was retaining.
“Ok so I’m going to give you three problems and set the timer on my iPad for 5 minutes. Sound good?”
“Now what do I always tell you?”
“Take your time and don’t rush.”
“Exactly. If you don’t finish in time, it’s okay. I want to be sure you get them right. Its not a race.”
But of course, she was excited and rushed through the problems. She finished with two minutes to spare.
“You don’t want to check them?”
“Are you sure?”
“No, I don’t want to check them.”
“I think it’d be a good idea if you did.”
She reluctantly picked her pencil back up and “checked” her answers. I knew they would be wrong and I knew she would be upset. As suspected, the first answer was incorrect. So was the second. So was the third. With each swipe of my pencil to draw a small “x” near her error, he shoulders slumped and her face turned redder.
“They’re all wrong. I knew it!”
She hung her head and looked away from me.
“Faith, look at me. Faith!”
She raised her wet eyes to meet mine. I could see that she felt defeated once again.
“We’re going to get this right! I’m here to help you. That’s what my job is. Don’t give up on me. I’m not going to baby you but I’m here to help you. Now lets work.”
So we did. We went over those problems and corrected the errors. We practiced our strategies again and again.
“Alright now. I’m going to give you three new problems and set the timer for 5 minutes again.”
She looked at me with hesitation.
“You got this. What do you have to do?”
“Take my time.”
She used all five of those minutes to answer each problem and check them twice. She put her pencil and head down once the buzzer rang signaling that time was up. She was preparing herself to be wrong again. I was all too excited to show her that she had in fact solved every problem correctly.
“You did it!”
She fought back a smile as she wiped her eyes. It was then that I felt myself getting choked up. I opened my arms and told her to come over to where I was seated. She embraced me and I held back a tear.
“I told you that you could do it. Don’t you feel silly for doubting yourself now? You’re an amazing and smart girl, Faith. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you differently. Don’t EVER think that you can’t because you CAN. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help because everyone needs help once in awhile. I’ll never turn you away. I’ll never give you more than you can handle. I’ll never stop believing in you so don’t you ever stop believing in yourself! You can do whatever you want if you work hard enough and don’t ever forget that! You’ll make mistakes sometimes. You’ll get stuff wrong. But that’s okay. Just take your time and do your best and I promise you will get it. Understand?”
Faith looked at me, nodded, smiled and embraced me again. My heart was so full it almost burst.
Every now and then, I feel like Faith. I get frustrated and want to give up. Everything I do feels like I’m getting it all wrong. But to see her want to give up reminded me that I do not have the option of giving up. I have to keep going so that I can reach more kids like her and remind them that they too can do whatever they want. You won’t always get it right on the first try. You wont always get it right all by yourself. But you have to take your time. You have to go over things and make sure that it’s the way its meant to be. You have to trust yourself. You’ve got to have faith.
“We have 10 more minutes. Do you want to read or do you want to practice some more?” I asked.
“Lets practice some more!”
And so we did. She got 3 more problems right with 50 seconds on the clock to spare.
(FYI I didn’t cry in front of her as I was talking to her. I excused myself and went to the ladies room after she went home.)