Many of you may be wondering, why? Why are you teaching? Why are you in Philadelphia? Why English? Why read? Why write? Why read what kids write?
I’m going to have to chalk it all up to one of my first teaching experiences. I was a volunteer at an after school literacy program called Tree House Books for almost three years. Way back in 2009 I took my first steps into a small building in North Philadelphia that would turn everything around for me. The programs mission was and still is to, “grow and sustain a community of readers, writers, and thinkers in North Central Philadelphia“.
I knew nothing. I was a rookie. I was inexperienced, naive, and ready to jump in. I was ready to skin my knees. I signed up to tutor after class every Tuesday and Thursday, not knowing what was in store for me. On my first day I was paired with a stubborn six year old. We butted heads immediately and she was barely reading, let alone at grade level. She hated homework. I never understood the phrase “like pulling teeth” until I met this little child.
One day I was completely fed up. She kept playing with my name tag instead of writing her name on her homework assignment. She laughed at my frustration and pinned my name to her chest, smiling proudly at her accomplishment. I barked back, “Fine Miss Phillips*, you’re in charge.” Without entirely thinking it through, I pulled a small chalk board over to the table and put a piece of chalk in her hand. I pulled the homework assignment across the table and placed it in front of me. I stared up at her and her mouth was open. No one had given her this opportunity before. The learning had never been in her hands.
“Where do I start?” I demanded.
I don’t think more than ten seconds passed before the chalk hit the board. She was writing the math problem. She was telling me how she would add. She was showing me on her fingers. Then she grabbed my hand and was showing me how to add. I was amazed. I played along through the math, through the spelling, I even let her teach me how to read a sight word book.
At the end of this session I was sold. I was in love with the learning and I never looked back.