I watch the kids walk by while sipping my coffee on the front stoop. Today, there is a crispness to the morning air that stirs memories of the first days of a new school year. Even if you were not the most enthusiastic student, those first days of school invariably were the most exciting ones. Soon enough you will get acclimated to the rhythms and routines, but today everything feels fresh: new shirts with creases and stiff shoes right out of the box, the familiar faces of kids you lately have not have seen much, the street signs, the churches, the landmarks dotting the path leading to the schoolyard, the old school building itself, brighter and smelling of new Summer paint.
Although it’s been many years since I attended public school, I am experiencing that old feeling of excitement about a new school year. You see, in the next few days, I expect to be assigned to tutor a young boy or girl, whose reading and writing skills need improvement. The tutorial year, which starts September 18th, won’t be over until late May. For now, I am content to familiarize myself with the handbook for volunteer tutors. I have no prior teaching experience and only cursory pedagogical training.
However, the organization I will be working with has a good reputation for supporting the volunteer tutors, from providing teaching ideas and materials to technical expertise. I certainly hope so.
I had hoped to be a volunteer tutor during the past school year, but unfortunately what had seemed a good opportunity simply evaporated. In the late spring or early summer of that year, I was steered to a charitable organization, whose avowed purposes included providing supplemental educational services to public school students. I took hours of online training to become a state-certified reading tutor. Gradually over the course of a long summer, I got a sense that the organization lacked the structure and resources to accomplish its stated task. Worse, based on my personal experiences with some of them, I started to suspect that the people at the top were overwhelmed and discombobulated by the challenges. My suspicions grew my when, just as the new school year began,I still didn’t have my assignment, and attempts to contact people within the organization brought no response. Finally, I managed to reach out to the organization’s founder, the person who initially had recruited me. She sounded apologetic, admitting the organization was a tad late getting up to speed, and broadly hinting this was the result of post- pandemic staffing issues. She assured me a newly hired chief of staff would call in short order to get the ball moving. I am still waiting for this call.
In contrast, as evidenced by the dozens of other would-be volunteers who, like me, virtually attended an introductory session where some of the principals presented, my current umbrella organization actually seems to be organized. The presentations I heard were clear, concise, and informative, leaving me eager to get started.
The new organization’s approach to implementing a large, city-wide tutoring network is straightforward and professional. The approach is holistic. Quite apart from any actual tutoring, throughout the school year I will have to communicate with my student’s folks as well as with his/her real teachers. Once we begin our work in earnest later this month, volunteer tutors can expect to be monitored and evaluated on an ongoing and individual basis by one or more of the organization’s professional managers. And,although I will be tutoring remotely via Zoom, I still had to pass a careful background check. If I were instead the parent of a child, I would expect nothing less.
Last night, while Eric, Steve, and I were enjoying one of our occasional “Guy’s Night Out” dinners, one of them asked whether I am still volunteering at the local food pantry. It’s something I began almost three years ago, to honor Lee’s memory, I suppose. I said that I liked the folks I work with at the pantry, and some of our regulars, too, but added there was no real challenge or personal satisfaction to be gained from filling up grocery carts, even when it might be helping somebody in greater need.
But then I told my two friends about my plan to be a reading tutor. One of them, a retired professor, told me he had given serious thought to tutoring himself but had decided for the time being that it required a greater personal commitment than he was willing to make. I replied that I understood this serious commitment but still wanted to give it a try because I thought there were things I could bring to the table. It was encouraging to hear my friends say in near unison they expect I’ll do a great job.
I’m feeling excited about going back to school.