It’s noon and I’m sitting in a chair made for a child, watching something wonderful happen. An open book lies on the table, between me and one very determined 6-year-old. He’s squinting down at the word roof, face full of concentration.
“It’s an…r?” My student looks up at me, a look of excitement in his eyes.
“Yes!” I say. “That is an r. Great job!”
“R! R! Rrrrrrrr!” He sings happily, doing a little dance in his seat.
Looking at him, I feel like dancing too.
This was one of my volunteer sessions with an organization called Reading Partners. They work with schools in low-income communities in eight states to match volunteer tutors with struggling readers. They’re one of several organizations that provide affordable or free tutoring for students.
This afternoon, I was the happy tutor, but years ago the roles were reversed.
As a kid with and , I struggled to keep up in school. When it became clear that I needed extra help in math, the school assigned me a tutor.
I remember dreading our first meeting. I hated math, and the idea of spending a whole extra hour on it every week sounded like torture. I was afraid that needing tutoring meant I was different, or dumber than the other kids. I didn’t want to stand out.
Within a few weeks, I’d changed my tune. My tutor was funny and nice and never made me feel stupid. She emphasized the fact that I wasn’t alone.
“Everyone needs help with something,” she’d say when I started to feel down. “This is just your something!”
Her steady encouragement worked. My grades improved and math class became less overwhelming as she helped me build skills and confidence.
Nearly 20 years later, when the opportunity to volunteer arose, I remembered how much my tutor had helped me. The chance to do something similar for a kid who, like me, needed a little extra help to succeed seemed like a no-brainer.
Working with my student is by turns hilarious, fun, educational (sometimes even more for me than for him!), exciting and rewarding.
Volunteering gives me the chance to have a real, positive impact on the life of a child. Watching a child go from hating reading to proudly singing out words is a remarkable experience—one I feel very grateful to have.
When our session finishes, my student runs over to a colorful wall lined with bins of books. “Can I take one home today?” he asks, reaching for a copy of the book Jumanji (a childhood favorite of mine).
“I haven’t read this one, and I can’t wait to get started.” He smiles.
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About the author
Rae Jacobson, MS is a writer who focuses on ADHD and learning disabilities in women and girls.