Reading Partners- H.D. Cooke Elementary | Rebecca Callaghan

My name is Rebecca Callaghan, and I am a Junior Literature/ Education Studies student. Every Wednesday, I get up early in the morning, take the 96 bus towards Adams Morgan  in order to  tutor 3 different  students with Reading Partners at H.D Cooke Elementary school.

I entered CSLP at a time when my career trajectory is at its most uncertain. Starting university, I had an utter conviction of entering education when I graduated, poised at my previous university with a major in Literature on an education track.  Before, in High School, I was a teacher’s assistant at a middle school, and I took my internship therein so seriously you’d think I worked on the Hill.

For some reason, that fervor changed drastically when I entered college.

This volunteer work marks the first time I worked in a school in two and a half years (!)

You need to adopt a selflessness by the very nature of the task of volunteer work. In education, especially, the idea isn’t to be inspirational, it’s to get a student to where they need to be, and that includes familiarizing yourself with the concepts enough to relay them back in a way that is meaningful. That is the difficult part–knowing what questions to ask, what steps to take, when even the preplanned several year old lesson plans do not explicitly provide them. These are the kind of basic cognitive processes which we ultimately take very much for granted. What surprised me the most was I didn’t even know what very basic components of language were until I was confronted with them in the lesson plans. I forgot what constituted a vowel. I forgot what a consonant was, and what it meant to blend them. I only recently remember what phonemes were, or morphemes.  Students learn pronunciation keys for words. I did not do this when I was a child, or if I did, I certainly do not remember them. I sometimes struggle with the implementation of the lesson plans not because they are particularly difficult–but because of their bold simplicity and near remoteness from my present academics.

My first student reminds me of myself when I was a kid. Sliding out of her seat mid-lesson, distracted constantly but endlessly energetic; My second student is the youngest, a sweet girl who approaches the lessons with the kind of vigor and enthusiasm you dream of as an educator ; For my third student, It is a chore to make sure he completes worksheets, but he is profoundly bright in all other respects. In fact, it was my own choice to make sure I kept working with him as time went on, in spite of this, when his previous tutor was consistently tardy. working with these children has put into perspective the sort of person which I probably haven’t been for nearly 3 years, and I miss that person.  I can’t but help see glimmers of why I wanted to pursue this as a career in the first place.

I have developed this theory that many people do not stick with the profession of education for one of two reasons: they either think it is easy (which it isn’t) or they have an idea of the profession that is shaped much by passionate personal experience.  I never felt myself as being one of the former, but mostly of the latter. I cannot even begin to communicate just how serious I was about this career in High School. I cared more about applying to my teaching assistantship than I ever cared about applying to college.

I’m not a realist–I am an idealist in a perpetual state denial. As a result I try to keep myself away from as much inspirational teacher rhetoric as I can when it comes to the actuality of the profession, as I have been quasi-doing as I approach volunteer at the school. I think it can be harmful to have this idea in your head that ‘by changing one child you change the world’, or even adhering to the infallible teacher model  but I can’t help but be moved by it.  For I have no doubt in my mind that my strange idyllic image of what education is or does hardly gels with the reality, and I struggle every day to separate my rose colored conceptions of education from reality. Reality is hard. (More news at 11). I often think to myself when I carry out these tutoring sessions not so much the value of what I am doing– I know that through Reading Partners, these students receive a kind of attention that a ‘bulk’ classrooms setting may not afford them–but I do wonder if I provide any progress in their development. I will be unable to see where these children end up later on. I may not tutor these children again, so I perhaps can never know where they will go.

What I can hope for, however, is that these students shall reach a day where themselves to be so advance as well that they too take consonant blending for granted. They need not remember my name.

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