I feel that I need to reflect on this before it becomes some distant memory.
Yesterday, I attended my third Read NOW tutoring session. I rushed to get to Treehouse Books on time, but fifteen minutes into the program I was still sitting by myself. The volunteer coordinator, Lauren told me to wait with a new student until his assessment with the program leader. I had never met this child before this day, but he was chatty and we seemed to hit it off from the start.
We climbed the ladder above the library to sit in the Plexiglas clubhouse called, fittingly, the Tree House. I admitted that I hadn’t sat up in those beanbag seats for a few years. I felt silly trying to keep this kid occupied. I also felt incredibly out of touch with students that I had once been so familiar with. We sat next to each other eating fresh slices of green apples. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to be eating them, but he dared me to grab one off the plate and who was I to turn down an after school snack?
We played a free association game where I would say a word and he would respond with the first thing that came into his mind. We went back and forth like this for a good fifteen more minutes. I laughed at how every word seemed to remind him of bologna or dogs. In the middle of our laughter, I heard the bell on the front door ring and saw a little face poke his head in and out quickly. I was sure that was my student for the Read Now program. The same student who has avoided working with me for the last two weeks.
My new friend in the tree house decided it would be a good idea to go grab him and bring him inside. He said, “You’re really fun. He needs to come in here and get some work done.” Before I could protest this forceful decision, he bolted down the ladder and ran towards the door. That was all it took to scare the little one off. My student began to run towards the other side of the block.
This is when I saw a littler version of my student running. There were two of them. It turns out they were brothers. If there is one thing I am familiar with in both teaching and life, it is the trouble that siblings can cause with each other. I ran down the block after them.
“If you’re going to come all the way down here you might as well come in!” I yelled after them.
“I’m not doin’ it!” a small voice screamed back. He was hiding behind a ramp that led into a convenience store.
“Then why are you here?” I demanded.
“My dad MADE ME!” He didn’t even wait for a response from me. With that, he was off and running down the second block. I walked at a quick pace behind them with my hands folded. I tried to remain calm. It was hard to keep a smile off my face. This was ridiculous. All we wanted was an hour of his time. One hour, one day a week.
The two partners in crime stopped at a fire hydrant to catch their breath. They were hunched over gasping for air and planning their next move. I casually walked up and got into a position to race. I placed my right foot behind a line in the cement, got very low, and placed the tips of my fingers on the ground in front of me. Without making eye contact I said, “If I can beat you to the end of the next block, you have to come sit with me for a half hour.” I don’t think I finished explaining the terms and conditions of this bet before he joined me behind the line.
He began to say, “On your mark…Get Set… GO!”
I ran half of the block before I turned around to see only his little brother stumbling behind me. He was gone. I laughed at myself. Trying so hard to trick a kid into being somewhere he didn’t want to be. He needed to know that I cared more about him, his brother, and his family. I walked one more block with his little brother. We started to talk and he told me about his big brother. He told me that he didn’t have a mother. He told me his brother didn’t want to be there. It’s funny how honest kids are at exactly the right moment.
We stood at the next streetlight and waited for his older brother to come running around. I wanted to see the look on his face, the look of surprise when he realized he did not trick me. I wanted to see him realize that I was still not giving up.
He bolted around the corner and immediately looked down at his feet after he saw me. “Look, I’m not going to make you go anywhere you don’t want to be. I think your brother would love to see Treehouse and maybe we can find him some books to look at while you finish your work.” With that his little brothers face lit up. He unzipped his coat to show me a SpongeBob shirt and asked if we had SpongeBob books.
They both followed me around the corner and back into the building. My student promised me he would finish five pages, but he stopped counting after the first two.
Sometimes a few good books and the promise to be heard is all anyone needs.