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The Delicate Art of Tutoring

By Valerie

What initially came across as a brilliant scheme, however, was thwarted by messy realities.  

Head throbbing and eyes sore from excessive screen time, I had to muster every fibre in my body to keep myself from spontaneously combusting. For the umpteenth time, I explained the concept with labored enthusiasm, struggling in vain to suppress the growing frustration in my voice and hoping without much faith that the information would finally be retained.  

It was with naive optimism that I began tutoring, certain that the learning techniques I had painstakingly accumulated over the years would be the panacea for my tutees’ academic woes. I would share my know-how, enlighten young minds and bear proud witness to their meteoric improvements, glorying in my efficacious ways.  

Time was a scarce commodity and attention even more so.  

Well-intentioned attempts to cultivate genuine interest and provoke critical thought met with perfunctory regard at best, unable to prevail over a deep-seated institutionalized fixation on grades that I, at times, found myself capitulating to against better judgement.  

Upholding formalities with teenagers just a few years my junior felt strange and discomfiting. But I was also wary of striking an overly casual tone for fear of relinquishing too much authority. It was a delicate tightrope act, each relationship with its own dynamics to navigate and balance to maintain.  

Teaching bristled with its own challenges. I blundered often, my calculation errors and misreading of questions sending my poor tutees into an unnecessary spiral of confusion and self-doubt just when they were certain they finally
had it all figured out. 

At times, sudden and unexpected mental blocks left me floundering helplessly in the face of simple word problems, ashamed and disheartened. Articulating complicated concepts for the first time was daunting. I struggled to find the appropriate terms to replace convoluted technical jargon while retaining their essence. My disorganized verbalizations did scant justice to the intricate yet systematic networks of mental connections upon which my understanding was founded.  

I tried as much as possible to refrain from imposing my own expectations on my tutees, careful not to overstep the fine line separating the personal and the professional. But it was difficult not to feel disappointed when the results were not commensurate with the effort. 

Over time, I realized that progress could hardly be measured in terms of trifling numbers and alphabets on performance reports. Though I was powerless to diminish the pragmatic significance of standardized test scores, I sought to emancipate myself and my tutees from the tyranny of metrics by celebrating intangible and unquantifiable successes. 

I was still far from proficient at teaching but certainly more skilled than before. Leveraging on the benefit of familiarity borne out of hard-earned trust and well-established rapport, I tailored my pedagogical methods to suit each tutee, slowing down or speeding up at appropriate junctures and employing the use of visual aids and textual references if necessary. Lessons were strategically scheduled on the weekends, when minds were well-rested and functioning at peak performance. Time, though still at a premium, was maximized with more effective teaching and learning. 

Tutoring has been unexpectedly frustrating, humbling and rewarding in equal parts, being as much a test of my intellect as a trial of my emotional intelligence. I am still lacking in many ways but my tutees constantly propel me to improve. I look forward to our collective growth in the coming months.  


Being Flexible – It’s Not as Bad as It Seems

By Amelia

In my last blog post, I wrote about preparing for a backpacking trip along a 65-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. But because of the wildfires raging all across the state, I had to make a few changes to my plan. Instead of backpacking along the PCT and braving the hazardous air quality (as well as the risk of being too close to a fire with no way of escaping), I will be going on a road trip along the coast of the Pacific Northwest!

In other news, I recently graduated from an accelerated EMT program called Project Heartbeat! For five weeks, my classmates and I spent seven hours listening to lectures and four hours practicing skills every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, passed a written midterm and final, survived the notoriously tough Trauma Day, demonstrated what we’d learned during the last day of skills testing, and completed three ambulance ride-alongs. As grueling as the program was, it was also one of the most fulfilling, fun, and interesting things I’ve ever done. I got the chance to meet people from all walks of life who share a passion for emergency medicine, to learn about the human body and how it responds to injury and illness, to test my physical and mental limits, and to practice actual patient care – something I thought would be impossible until I had at least graduated from college. Just over a week ago, I took the national EMT exam (known as the NREMT) and am now officially certified as an EMT!

What surprised me most was how much I enjoyed taking the EMT course even though it was never part of my original gap year plan. I had been looking forward to spending this summer travelling with friends and family but, because of the COVID travel restrictions, I had to be a little flexible. Flexibility has never been one of my strong suits – I’m the type to plan out all four years of classes before even starting freshman year and map out every activity and meal in a two-week long vacation. But despite my initial disappointment at not being able to travel, retrospectively I can see that the COVID travel bans were a blessing in disguise – without them I would never have had the opportunity to become certified as an EMT or meet the people I did. And although the California wildfires made my backpacking trip impossible, I am looking forward to seeing a new side of the Pacific Northwest from the road. Turns out a little flexibility can be a good thing!

Pre-Service Training with City Year

By Zach

Since my last blog post, I have finished three weeks of Pre-Service Training at City Year. The way Pre-Service Training worked was that we were assigned to Learning Teams, which are groups of about ten people who would be working in the same school area. The area I was assigned to was East Brooklyn. The point of the Learning Teams was to meet people who are also serving and to have someone to ask questions throughout Pre-Service Training, known as the Team Leader. Learning Teams would be mixed up weekly to give an opportunity to meet more people.

During Pre-Service Training, the day consisted of first circle, a time I bond with our Learning Team, and then either time on Zoom calls or Microsoft Teams calls. On these calls, service members learned things about what makes a student considered at risk, what makes a good and supportive teacher, how having a mentor affects students, etc. To close off the day, we would have final circle, a place to reflect on the things we had learned today, and to get information about what to expect the following day.

At the end of the third week of Pre-Service Training, we got our school assignments and were given permanent Learning Teams. I was assigned to PS 108 in Brooklyn. Soon after I was assigned to PS 108, I learned that the school is not far from where my father grew up. So far, as a Learning Team, we completed a number of online courses, such as harassment reporting, partaken in bonding activities, such as playing scribble.io, learned about the nature of PS 108, and picked up our uniforms. While the form in which service will look like given the pandemic is still unknown and can be subject to change at many times this year, I am optimistic that I can make an impact in the lives of students at PS 108.

Summer – The First Two Months

By Lukas

I had been considering a gap year for some time before the end of senior year, but nothing had catalyzed my desire to take the year to focus on myself as the pandemic did. I’m creating and re-imagining ways of bettering myself to become more mentally prepared in the fall of 2021. Every day, it feels as though plans could be drastically altered, for better or for worse. I have always loved spontaneity in my life, and I will try to let each day take its course in creating an incredibly unique year, as well as learning from my successes and shortcomings.  

This summer, I have been an intern at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) in the communications and media department. While VNSNY is not necessarily aligned with my academic interests, I have been able to find a niche and work with people with similar passions as my own. As part of my job, I have assembled and edited videos to be shown to staff and other employees. I have seen firsthand the incredible effort the entire organization put into managing the pandemic in the city. In April, I could not fathom the amount of work being dedicated by all the essential workers around the city to help save lives. Even the simple shared folder with photos to be included in videos gave me an idea of the bravery required to manage such a crisis. Seeing faces and humanizing the effort has been incredibly humbling.  

My fall has undergone a change of plans. I applied to one of High Mountain Institute’s semester abroad programs, hoping to push the limits of my desire to explore. Having grown up in one of the world’s largest cities, wilderness and conservation have been relevant yet intangible topics in my life. From September 20th to December 8th, I will be backpacking, camping, and rock climbing in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. It was a sudden change in my plans, but I am delighted, honored, and extremely excited to be able to travel in the fall.