Atta Ikede

May 20, 2009

Back in Elementary School

Filed under: Uncategorized — attaikede @ 8:36 pm

I joined a volunteer program here back in January that aims to improve kids literacy. It’s a reading buddies type program that runs in several participant schools in northern and southern California, pairing volunteers with kids who are reading just below grade level. The emphasis of this program is to help kids get caught up while they’re still a little behind.  They have some standardized tests here in California that are used to identify kids as good candidates for this program.

I went through the training, got fingerprinted, passed the security test and then got paired up with a little girl in Grade 4. We met Thursdays at 4:30 pm for 45 minutes every week. That was the plan, anyway. She was a no-show a few times, and I had to send in my apologies a few times because of various trips so in the end I only really met her 7 or 8 times this semester. Our tutoring semester justended today – they had a “graduation” party for the kids this afternoon.

Overall, the tutoring was really fun and I’m really, really glad I did it. My kid started out quiet and shy but turned out to be quite a fiesty little creature! We had fun together, reading books, playing the kid verison of Apples2Apples and learning new words like “utensil” and “foreigner” (I used myself as an example for the latter. Hehe.)

Unfortunately though, there was also a dark side to the tutoring. The worst part of every tutoring session was the 15 minutes at the end when we had to do the paperwork. Each lesson came with a couple books which had to be read and discussed and a worksheet which had a couple exercises related to the lesson. The kid and I would talk about the worksheet and figure out had to be done, but when the time came to fill in the first blank, she’d put her pencil at the front of the blank line _______ and look up at me. “So I should write ….”

How do you fill out a worksheet that is titled “Topic: _____” and has 4 empty stars in which you’re supposed to put “Examples: __________” of “Category:___________”
So many questions. What’s the significance of the star shape? Is it just to make the worksheet more “fun”? Actually it stresses the kid out because they have to write in small print to get their “examples” to fit in the stupid shape. Are we supposed to make up our own examples? Pull them from a book? Is one example enough? Do we have to fill out all 4 stars? And what is “topic”? Same as the book title? But I already entered that into the “Title:_____” blank next to the “Name:__________” blank at the top of the page. Is it ok to enter the same thing into two blanks??

WTF? I’m well educated! I did my own ridiculous 2 country taxes this year. I should have been able to spank those worksheets!

But in reality, those worksheets spanked me! So every time when my kid would look up at me, pencil poised at the front of the line, and I tried to encourage her to think of her own ideas for the form despite her obvious anxiety in having to do that, I felt like a total lying bastard doing it!

The thing is, by grade 4, kids already know that there’s a “right” answer to exercises like that. This fact was readily illustrated to me when my kid’s precocious little friend joined in on our sessions. She’d be like “you have to write this here. No, I know it says <foo> but it means <goo> so you have to write <boo>.” I don’t know how this other kid figured out the secrets of filling in the blank forms, but that girl was totally on the ball.

My kid and I obeyed her friend’s instructions on the occasions she was with us and basically just wrote our own random stuff in the worksheet otherwise. I guess I could have asked the reading buddies organizational leader for guidance, but I didnt like asking the teacher for help when I actually was a kid so obviously wasn’t about to start now. Call it a character flaw. I’m ok with it.

I’d literally have to brush the worksheet-induced anxiety off myself when I left the school at 4:45 and stepped back into the sunshine outside, squinting, relieved, thinking guiltily that the poor kid has to deal with that 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. Thank god I survived elementary school and will never have to go back.

I guess if there’s any conclusion I came to after this experience, it’s that if I have kids, I’m gonna seriously consider keeping them out of the traditional school system. I imagine an alternative where the kids run around all morning, do calculus and read Hemingway in the afternoons, and go on field trips to art museums and forests.  Maybe I’m getting carried away with my bohemian child utopia, but geez… I’m gonna do my very best in keeping them away from “fill in the blank” exercises.



  1. I once tutored a kid in math, it was not easy. Mostly because she liked to cheat, and I did not.

    I remember trying to help my sister’s homework when she was little and being befuddled.

    Sometimes it’s just a case of not speaking our language.

    We are from another era.

    Comment by Julie — May 26, 2009 @ 6:57 am

  2. I guess. At least we know we’ll be hot grannies.

    Comment by attaikede — May 26, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

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