For many first-time Oasis tutors, as well as those returning, I want to share my own experience from my first year as a tutor.
I never thought of spending time with children helping them learn until a friend asked me if I would consider tutoring in the Central West End (CWE), where my wife and I now live after 28 years in Des Peres. Being an Oasis tutor was a volunteer choice I’d not considered, but I do have a love of learning, as well as a desire to mentor and to give back to my community, so I decided I was going to take the plunge.
I took the required Oasis training classes, which were extremely helpful. Once done, I went out into the world of tutoring. While my Oasis classes gave me the information and guidance to go into a school to tutor, being out there on your own is different— like being on stage for the first time with “stage fright.”
To help decide if I was the right person for the job, I met with the principal of the school before starting. I wanted to make sure I was qualified and if the principal thought I could make a difference. She was reassuring and showed so much appreciation that an Oasis volunteer tutor chose her school.
My tutoring experience was a little different because I grew up in the CWE until I was nine and attended what is now the Cathedral Basilica School of St. Louis, the grade school in which I would be tutoring. I hoped I would be the right person due to my past connection at Cathedral.
When we moved into my old neighborhood, just two blocks from my old grade school, I wondered, did this mean something? This was a circle in my life and what better place was there to tutor but in my old grade school, although it looks very different from the past. After the principal offered such an appreciation for my interest, how could I say no?
Well, on my first day in my new tutoring career, I was introduced to an eight-year-old boy. He looked at me with questioning eyes, probably not unlike how I was looking at him. Now that I had a live student, I knew I needed to use the Oasis skills taught to me, but I had to find a way to make a connection first.
I found a variety of ways that made learning and talking to each other easier and more meaningful. My student told me about his weekends, relatives and cars. I told him about my family and we brought things from our houses weekly and talked about what each had brought. I tried several methods of teaching, like using flash cards and letting him draw on the chalkboard. I asked him to explain what he learned that day and about other things he enjoyed. These were my best ways to keep his attention on work and have a bit of fun.
After several weeks into the program, I thought it was time for him to formally teach me. I asked him to give me a tour of the school. He showed me all classrooms, the cafeteria, gym and gave explanations for all. I think it gave him confidence and it was enjoyable for me to watch him take on the role.
My student taught me just as much as I taught him:
• I learned that building that trust and desire to learn requires our friendship and my ability to maintain the role of a tutor.
• I felt elation when I learned that the reading and writing were improving; maybe not as fast and as easy as hoped, but it was happening.
• I learned that you had to expect some weeks are going to be good and others not so much, and to not let that affect your own morale or your responsibility as a tutor.
For those considering becoming a tutor, I’d like to share a few more things:
• Being nervous is expected, but don’t let it stifle your desire to teach and become part of the school and the student’s school life. You will find the school staff helpful when you feel like you aren’t achieving the results you feel you should.
• Realize you are helping your student by just being there. You are someone he or she can count on to talk to and help solve problems, maybe some of which you are not even aware.
• Your student will make some very astute judgements and questions about you. When he is open and confident to ask questions about school work and even you, it means you are making the difference. You are giving that child the inquisitiveness he needs for learning in both academics and personal relationships, and becoming more verbal in doing so.
Success in tutoring becomes apparent when your student is unhappy because you couldn’t make it for a session one day, or when he indicates he wants you to tutor him if need be next year. In my first year, I felt that the connection was achieved; he was learning and he trusted me. I cannot describe how important that was to me. I don’t know if I will see him again this year, but if so, it will be like getting together with a young friend.
Find out more about how to volunteer with the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring today.
Bill Kasalko is retired from a position of 40 years in the insurance industry. In addition to serving as an Oasis tutor, he has volunteered for the Missouri History Museum, Forest Park Forever, and STL Village, a network of Villages around the country that helps seniors “age in place.”