Friends of Simon: Stories from the Heart
This is a collection of stories written by tutors from our 2019-2020 Fall and Spring semesters.
Margarita Tellez Espana
Akiv is a quiet boy at first. He seems apprehensive, unsure of whether to trust us, but he likes to talk; sitting with him is an invitation to learn about space, the universe, the stars. He’s a tricky boy. He likes to test us; are we smart enough to help him? Are we cool enough to talk to?
Sometimes he seems sad and quieter than usual, but we always make sure to say hi to him and ask him about his day. Unlike the other students he seems reluctant to share at first but, soon he gets used to the routine of us asking. I try to help him with his homework although he gets distracted, he starts talking about black holes and the stars. I nod and listen; it seems he just wants someone to talk to.
Sometimes he doesn’t say much, or he is unresponsive. It is hard to tell if he actually likes Friends of Simon. One day as we are setting up worksheets, he comes over to where Jay and I are standing. He doesn’t smile but he says hi to me and as he walks away, he whispers something under his breath. I don’t catch it, so I ask him to repeat it. He looks at me for a long moment
and then he walks away not saying anything. I stand there confused; did I say something wrong? But then I make eye contact with Jay and he bursts out laughing. Akiv has
walked away and is nibbling on his cinnamon bun as Jay approaches me.
“Did you hear what he said?”
I shake my head, “No, is he okay?”
“He said that he loves you.”
Jay laughs and I laugh a long with him, maybe
Akiv does like us after all.
Beyond Pink Shirt Day
It’s February 26th. Us tutors have arrived at the site and enter a sea of pink; it’s Pink Shirt Day. This week, I had the opportunity to plan our Pink Shirt Day themed activities. We begin by taping papers on students' backs and asking them to wander around the classroom to write positive messages on each other's papers. Our students are not the biggest fans of writing; however, to our surprise, their faces expressed excitement.
The activity comes to an end; “how did it make you feel to spread kindness throughout the classroom?” I ask.
“Happy!” they shout.
I explain that being kind to others is not something we only need to do one day a year on Pink Shirt Day; I encourage them to pursue daily acts of kindness.
It’s March 4th; a week after Pink Shirt Day. Today’s session begins with a worksheet on addition.
“This worksheet is so easy!” some children exclaim.
I feared that students who didn’t quite understand the math would hear these remarks and feel ashamed or embarrassed for finding it difficult. I look over to Jackson, our youngest member, who is infamous for refusing to partake in activities. I am concerned that these comments
will make his participation even more unlikely. As I look over, I see twin brothers, Braydon and Bryson, hovering over Jackson’s paper.
“What are you boys doing?” I ask curiously.
Their sweet, bright-eyed faces look up at me. “We’re writing easier equations for Jackson!” they say.
My heart melts. I watch in awe and cannot help but wonder if perhaps my encouragement to pursue acts of kindness influenced their behaviour. I also wonder if our ability to model how to help others as tutors inspired Braydon and Bryson to help Jackson. I will never know what motivated them to lend a helping hand but the fact that it’s even possible that us tutors could have such an impact on students is what inspires me to do the work that we do.
You Know that Feeling Every Tutor Gets?
You know that feeling every tutor gets? When you feel like you are not making a difference, like you’re not helping anyone. You ask yourself: “what am I doing here?!” I’ve felt that as well. I felt that for so many tutoring sessions, until one special day.
Rema hardly interacted with anyone. She sat quietly and did her work. She nodded when required of her and answered questions when asked. For weeks I would wonder what I was doing wrong. Suddenly, there was something different about her. She started speaking up more. She would speak so much that I was shocked. She began asking me for work that was more challenging. She interacted with her classmates and offered help to those who didn’t know what to do.
You know that feeling every tutor gets? The one that comes once in a blue moon. When you finally realize that you are making a difference. Even if it is a difference that you don’t immediately see. Friends of Simon has shown me that we all have the ability to make a positive impact on someone’s life, whether that impact is big or small.
Better Than Me
We are laughing as he explains a chemistry concept to me. It is the last session before spring break, and he is delighted at being able to share something new with a tutor.
We talk about compounds, and quarks, and matter. His smile grows with every new piece of information he learns.
"Is high school going to be hard?" he asks.
I reply, "Not really. If you study for your classes, I know you'll do well."
He ponders my response, "I think I want to become a scientist when I grow up. Do you think I could become a good scientist?" he enquires.
"I think you'd be an amazing scientist!" I respond.
His eyes grow wide as he asks me, "Really?" Disbelief is evident on his face.
"Really. I think you'll even be better than me," I answer with a smile.
His face breaks into a grin, "Will you be proud?"
I truthfully reply, "I would be very proud."
With The Smallest Spark
It’s story time, and my first turn at reading. I grab my book and sit in the teacher’s chair. The children gather on the carpet, jittery. So much energy; they can never sit still. It takes several back and forths, many not listening to put their stuff away.
Finally, the group stills enough for me to start. I open up the book to the first page, reading out the title. It’s about a tree, how it grows from a tiny acorn seed into a massive oak tree. Most of my focus is on the pages, I’m so nervous to mess up, to read it wrong. Despite my fears, I make it through, and with little interruption. I look back at the kids.
They’re sitting, eyes wide, enraptured. Then there is a flurry of questions. How does a tree grow? How big is it actually? Can we go back to that one page? What about this? And so many more. I answer as many as I can. Another tutor finds an acorn in the classroom and hands it around. The kids get even more excited, something tangible to tie their curiosity to. We have to pry it from their hands when it’s time to send them off.
I smile, relieved.
Tutors participating in Friends of Simon take a moment to share how the project has affected their lives.
A Field School Story
As you know I am currently away on field school in Southeast Asia. While overseas, I've had a few opportunities to play and interact with local children, and it's only upon reflection that I've realized how useful the skills I've learned at Friends of Simon are not just in a classroom, but in a "real-world" context as well. Not that the classroom isn't the real world, quite the opposite in fact. Just that it's often easy to compartmentalize our skills we have learned as being purely "for the classroom". This one story stands out to me in particular, and I just wanted to share, since I know how important storytelling is to FoS.
A few weeks ago some friends and I went trekking in the hill tribes just north of Chiang Mai. We had the opportunity to visit a Karen tribe, where women traditionally wear rings around their necks to make them longer (they're often referred to as the "long neck tribe"). I thought I was going for an authentic cultural experience, and was incredibly disappointed when I found out that it was just a tourist ploy. The place I was visiting was as far from an authentic cultural experience as you could get (this thankfully changed later that day though, but that's another story completely). Walking around quite disheartened, pondering the role that tourism plays in cultural degradation and looking half-interested at the crafts the women were selling, I spotted a young girl (maybe about 7 or 8) sitting by a small table with a school book. I immediately, but cautiously walked over to her and sat down beside her. She seemed hesitant at first, and her English was quite limited, but through single words and hand gestures I asked to see her work book and she gave it to me. I could see that she was learning basic English and Burmese words. It took a bit of time to warm up to me (I think that this was probably the first time that a tourist every took interest in what she was learning), but eventually we got on a role where I would teach her an English word and she would teach it back to me in Thai. This continued on for about fifteen minutes, and by the end we were both laughing at my terrible pronunciation of Thai. I left the village feeling happy and fulfilled, as I wasn't just another tourist looking for a cheap souvenir to buy. Instead I made a connection with someone that we will hopefully both remember for a long time.
I was recently thinking about this encounter and realized that if I hadn't been involved with Friends of Simon then I never would have had the courage to go up to that young girl, let alone try and interact with her in an educational context. In many ways it reminded me of a first day at a new site: the feeling of apprehension yet excitement. "Will they like me?" "What should I say and do first?" "What if my plans completely fail?" Having gone through this before, and using the skills I learned through FoS, I was able to confidently go up to and interact with that young girl. And despite not speaking the same language, we were still able to have a grand and memorable time together. I've had the opportunity to interact with a lot of kids while I'm here, and every time I do I think of how much our wonderful program has helped develop my confidence playing and interacting with kids, especially from different cultures.
So I just thought I would share the story and pass on my appreciation for the program. The skills we are learning really are more than training us to become good educators, but are truly life skills that I will use wherever I may go.
Looking at My Watch
I look at my watch. Two o’clock. I’m thirty minutes early for my first tutoring shift at Green Timbers. It’s been years since I first walked to into an elementary school and now, as then, I am nervous.
Are they going to like me? Will they care about what I’ve planned for them? Are they going to have fun?
I look at my watch again. Ten after two. I glance at my bag. It’s full of children books, flashcards, lined paper, blank paper, construction paper, pencils, markers, and pencil crayons.
I look at my watch one more time. Twenty-five after two.
I’m sitting in the classroom with two other tutors. One by one, children come in and join our table.
I look around the room. We’re playing games, exercising and stretching our bodies, learning each other’s names, drawing, writing, and reading Robert Munsch books. I’m hearing laughter and seeing smiles fill the room.
I look at my watch one last time. Five o’clock!
Katie is quiet and demure when I first meet her — and shy. She stays close to Marissa, the other Russian-speaking girl. She shrinks from the boisterous Marissa and the chatty pair of Rachel and Sarah.
We’re playing ‘Apple to Apples’. Most of the girls need help understanding the adjectives — especially Katie.
Katie is her usual quiet and polite self. As the game continues, Katie is doing well. She notices how many more cards she has than everyone else. She realizes she’s winning, and I encourage her to keep it up.
Katie’s sitting up straighter, leaning forward into the table, eyes open wider. A hint of a smile tugs at the edge of her mouth.
Katie can no longer contain her excitement, as she extends her lead. Now, she’s standing up, hands in the air! “Y-E-E-E-S!” she exclaims, and pumps her arms back and forth every time she wins a round.
I can see the others are getting impatient with Katie’s bragging, but I don’t want to stop her. When it’s time to go home, Katie doesn’t want to stop… she’s won and now she’s doing a victory dance!
John's not here. I knew it. Well, I didn't know it, but now that it's true, I want to say that I knew it.
I guess I just like saying ‘I knew it’ because it's emphatic, and it helps me to express my disappointment.
I won't get to use the blocks my wife, Anya, and I made today. How we worked and laughed and rushed to get them done. I was going to use them to help us understand the place value system of numbers. Small cubes, French fries, flats, and large cubes. I had placed a lot of value in this system!
But John's not here.
We won't get to use the blocks. Neither will we read another book.
Maybe he’ll comes next week.
I like this Mo-Ees kid, and no one is working with him, yet. He doesn't need to work on the place value system right now. We're multiplying double digit numbers. Elevens to be exact. I show him my trick. He gets it.
After a while, Mo-Ees doesn't want to do math anymore. We play chess and I teach him the moves. He gets it, plays well, and loses.
That's okay, I tell him, 'cause he played really well. I love losing in chess, because that's when I learn.
Mo-Ees won't be coming back next week, or probably ever. He's moving to Abbotsford. Sudan, Burnaby, Abbotsford — all in 11 years. That's not how I grew up, and it seems tough, but I think he'll do well wherever he goes.
I’ll pray for him when I leave.
Well, I hope John comes back next week. I hope we get to use the blocks.
Making A Difference in Each Other's Lives
Jeff hates homework. He doesn’t like working with tutors. He stalls and play games.
I decide to work with Jeff.
The first time, I’m overwhelmed… but we manage to complete the work. The next week, Jeff shows some interest, sits down, and we talk.
When I walk in the door, the following week, I hear: “Amedeo! Can I work with you today?”
David, the site coordinator wants me to work with Zack. I tell Jeff I’ll help him when Zack and I are finished.
I discover Zack has already completed his homework and I search for Jeff. I can’t find him. I ask David where he is. David heads to the closet and opens it.
Underneath the coat rack is Jeff, scowling, eyes welling up with tears. I ask him to come out of the closet — we can work together now. His eyes widen, a grin lights up his face. He grabs his bag, sits down at a table, and takes out his homework.
A quiet eureka moment: we have made a difference in each other’s lives.
A Flutter of Hope
“Gym time!” the children line up excitedly by the door.
But not Josh: “Don’t want to go to the gym! I wanna be outside!” he throws himself down on the floor, at the back of the class.
I volunteer to accompany Josh outside: in this tense moment, that’s how I can best help out the teacher. Later on, she’ll talk it out with him.
Josh bursts through the heavy doors to the playground. He takes a flying leap onto the platform of a zip-glide, teeter-totter contraption. Then, latching on to a triangular bar, he launches himself higher into the air, legs cycling vigorously as he slides across to the other end.
“Wee-ee-ee!” he squeals. Then lets go the bar, races back to the platform, and calls for me to slide the triangle back.
He grabs the bar, slides across, jumps off, and races back. I slide the triangle back to him.
Again and again. Josh doesn’t tire of going back and forth.
His round face is still plastered with a smile when he pauses to call out, chattily: “My mom smokes weed.”
I freeze. Stop breathing. Don’t know where to put myself; where to look, even.
“She puts it on a bong,” Josh adds casually, “and lights it up...”
I stare into the distance, the threatening sky, the dark, heavy clouds rolling in.
“My older brother and sister, too. They smoke weed.”
I’m studying the mess of houses across the street. The one with the broken yellow picket fence catches my eye.
“They’re in high school. Teenagers. Teenagers do that kinda stuff,” he explains. “They think it’s cool.”
I’m scrutinizing the platform contraption Josh’s teeter-tottering on now.
“Harveer… ” his voice drops confidentially: “Do you smoke weed?”
I’m brought back to here and now. At last.
My gaze comes to rest on Josh. I search into his round, brown button eyes — bright with anticipation:
“Nope…” I say flatly, matter-of-factly. “I’ve never smoked weed in my life.”
I’m wondering what this has all been about, where it’s going.
Josh sighs. Smiles. A long pause.
“Good,” he says with some finality: “Then I’m not gonna smoke it, either.”
I smile back. Nod.
My fear dissipates. My paralysis lifts. I feel only waves of sadness — and helplessness — wash over me…
And now, from deep inside, wells up a flutter of hope.
What We Teach
When Jas arrives, she greets me with enthusiasm… and a book in hand!
“Will you read to me, please?” she asks.
I recall, as a child, my reluctance to read. I’d hold my book open, but my mind would be wandering.
I ask Jas: "Have you always loved reading?"
She replies: "No! You made me love reading."
We teach kids to read… but, first, we teach them to love to read.
Only this moment, now
The smile of the little girl I’ve been working with warms me from across the room.
I sit with her as she practices writing her name. I follow her slow, tentative flow of exploration.
She bites her lip as her pencil follows a mysterious, invisible path on the page. A path she has been making as she walks the pencil.
In a moment, I look down… expecting to see what I always see.
I am surprised. On the page is her name with a flowing ‘e’ that no longer looks backwards.
She looks up into my face. I smile.
Only this moment, now. But, like her smile, it will warm me through the day.
What the World is Built Upon
The end-of-school bell has just rung, and already the door handle is rattling.
Jake sprints into the room, throws his knapsack onto the table, and abruptly halts before me.
“Great to see ya, Jake!” I beam. “How was school?”
Jake peers searchingly into my face: “Did you get it? … you promised?”
I sense the other tutors and staff holding their collective breath.
“I’m not quite sure this is what you want,” I reach gingerly into my backpack, “… but it does have a red cover, like you asked for.”
Jake doesn’t thank me for the notebook — or offer to explain why he wants it. As usual, he disappears; to the far corner of the room.
I continue to respect Jake’s reluctance to share his life. He has several family members in the Kla-How-Eya Club and, understandably, little privacy here. What matters to me is that Jake had enough courage — and faith — to ask me if I could get him some coloured paper; then a book with lined pages and a red cover.
I look forward to Jake’s next request.
Our work of literacy infusion into after-school programs focuses on children who are being forgotten every day and falling through holes in the support nets of family and community.
Their world is built upon simple interactions like making a promise and following through on it — or not.
In the book we’re reading together, we come across the word ‘nickname’.
The children hypothesize what the word means. I ask for examples.
One child shyly puts up her hand: "My dad used to call me ‘Cookie’," she says.
I’m wondering why she says her dad “used” to call her that. Is it a confusion of past and present tenses?
“Are you no longer a cookie, now?" I ask playfully. "Why doesn't your dad call you ‘Cookie’ any more?”
"I don't have a dad any more," she says, matter-of-factly:
Sneaky Way Those d's Turn Into b's
“I hate writing,” Eliza explains. She says she doesn’t trust the way her d’s suddenly turn to b’s. Or, when you least expect it, the way c’s clang like the beginning of KABOOM! … then hiss-ss like a s-s-snake. Most of all, Eliza fears getting ambushed by those silent, sneaky e’s.
Her teacher gives Eliza a journal with questions to answer on an in-class movie about helping people in her community.
Eliza frowns: “I hate writing.” She shoves the journal in her bag.
Three days a week Eliza comes to her Friends of Simon tutor. For the first two days, she hides her journal. She doesn’t want to try. She doesn’t want to look stupid.
On the third day, her tutor finds her journal. She looks inside and sees blank pages. She asks Eliza about the journal.
“I have to write four sentences… and I don’t have any ideas… and I hate writing!”
We brainstorm ideas. We create sentences together. We write them down. We fill the blank pages.
“I like how my words look on paper,” Eliza smiles. Especially the long ones: ‘community’ with its four humps; ‘homeless’ that’s two words squished together; and even ‘experience’ with its slithery ‘c’ and silent ‘e’.
Eliza writes six sentences instead of four.
The next day, Eliza hands in her journal. Her teacher reads her responses out to the class. Her teacher doesn’t mention Eliza’s name, but Eliza knows it’s her journal.
When Eliza gets her journal back, she finds comments in green ink from her teacher: ‘Great explanation!’ on one page. ‘I am impressed with your thoughtful response’ on another page. ‘Really good connections!’ on the last page.
Eliza smiles. She shoves her journal into her bag. But, this time, it’s with pride.
So They Don't Want to Read With Me?... And Be Inspired?
My first day tutoring. I’ve brought books — not any old books, my favourite books. This is going to be so much fun. I get to read with these kindergarten children, and I get to inspire them — the way I’ve been inspired by my teachers, this is exciting.
I walk in, and the kids are at a table, eating snacks. I introduce myself, I learn their names, and then I ask: “Who wants to rea-ea-ead?”
I’m waiting for a reply but nobody says anything. I ask again: “Who wants to rea-ea-ead?”
“We don’t want to read,” they chant.
“I want to play.” “I want to colour.” “Can I go home?” That’s what I hear.
So what is going on? I’m asking myself: don’t they want to read, and have fun with me, and be inspired?
The kids disperse, and some are playing with toys, some are on the computer, and others start colouring.
So I walk over to a table with two girls and a boy, and they’re colouring.
“Hey, guys, I have this really cool book… Wanna read it with me?”
“No,” they say.
“Do you want me to read it to you”?
“No thanks,” they say.
“Well, it’s a great book — look at the pictures… aren’t they cool?”
They glance over… but only just — they dare not read.
The day is over and I’m disappointed. I couldn’t even get one kid to want to read.
* * *
I come back again next week, with the same ambition: to inspire! I’m determined to get one of the kids to read.
It’s the same day, all over again.
I walk up to the two girls and the little boy. They’re still colouring: “Would you guys like to read with me today?”
“No,” they say. “No thanks.”
“Okay. Well, I’m going to read to you.”
I begin to read. I don’t know if they’re listening. They don’t look up from their colouring, but I still read all the way through to the end.
Then the day is over. I’m disappointed, once more, that I wasn’t able to get one child to want to read.
* * *
I come back again the following week, with the same ambition: to inspire! I’m determined to get one of the kids to want to read.
It’s the same day all, over again.
I walk up to the two girls and the boy who are colouring again: “Would you guys like to read with me today?”
“Can we all read together?” the boy asks.
“Sure! That’ll be fun,” I say.
“Can we pick the book?” asks one of the girls.
So we sit together, and I read to them, and they listen — they’re actually listening. Wow, I think: I can’t believe they’re listening.
The day ends, and I’m content. Okay, I think, today wasn’t too bad, they listened to the book, I’m almost there.
* * *
I come again the next week, yes, with the same ambition: to inspire. I’m determined to get one of the kids to read.
It’s the same day, again.
But wait…now, this little girl — she’s running up to me:
“Look, Amrita,” she says, “I brought a book from the library, I practiced reading it, can I read it to you?”
Wow, this is great, she wants to read. I didn’t have to ask and she wants to read. Have I done it? Did I spark an interest in literature; did I inspire?
I’m not sure. But this is ok, this little girl wants to read. We grab our chairs and sit down, and she begins to read: “Once upon a time...”
Waiting for Me at the Door
I walk towards the main building. I have no idea what to expect from this next tutoring session. School’s over; the children are outside on the playground.
Will they remember me from last week? Will they look forward to another session? Do they want after-school help, or are they there because they have to be?
I’m deep in my questions, focused on getting inside the warm building.
I look up at the door. A familiar figure. He’s peeping around the door at me. I wave.
He smiles excitedly. Opens the door for me. Greets me. He could have been playing outside, running around. That's what he did last week.
But, this afternoon, he’s waiting for me right at the front door. And now he walks me down to the classroom.
Helping with the Homework
By Grant Petersen
She looks me straight in the eye: “So, the difference between simple past and past progressive is…?”
I’m trying to convince her I know something — anything — about English grammar, even though she’s correcting my mistakes more often that I’m correcting hers.
“Erm…” I stumble, struggling to comprehend her Grammar 12 worksheet in the surrounding hubbub.
She smiles at my convoluted examples and tense face.
“Do you understand what I mean?” I ask.
“Sort of,” she laughs. “Why don’t I try a couple questions… and you can look them over.”
She focuses on her worksheet as I look around the room… Aha! A boy with nothing to do!
I remember him. Last visit, he was wrestling and calling out… and throwing paper rockets.
“So… do you have any homework?” I ask him.
“Nope!” the boy responds.
“Really? None at all? What grade are you in?”
“That’s not fair – I got tons of homework in grade five!”
“Games!” the boy yells.
“No,” I say, “we’re gonna try something different...”
“Aw…” he stares blankly at the table. “Well, yeah… I’ve got homework... I have to trace my hand five times on this piece of paper.”
“Cool! What’s that for? Social Studies?”
“Um… it’s like history, sort of.”
“Oh! And you talk about other countries and stuff too, right!”
“Yeah! And our country, too. All of that. All of that together is Social Studies.”
“Cool. Yeah, it’s not for Social Studies.”
“No! No it’s for art class! Weirdo.”
“Awesome! So let’s get to it then.”
“Can you help me?” he asks.
“I’ll support you,” I say.
“Okay, so you trace it for me then, okay? And I’ll watch.”
“No way!” I laugh. I’m not doing your work for you. You know that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to support you, not help you. Support you in doing it all yourself. ”
“But I suck at it!”
“How about we use this scrap paper for practice?”
To get ready for this endeavour, he sharpens his pencil, his brow furrowed.
One minute goes by. Two minutes.
“Do you think it’s sharp enough?” I ask mildly.
He shoots me a grin.
Three minutes go by.
“Alrighty! Time for practice!” I say, as I gently swipe the sharpener from his hands.
“Can I trace your hand first?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say, excited at the prospect of pencil hitting paper for the first time today.
He traces around my hand, biting his lower lip and, at last, completes his squiggly creation. He sits back in his chair; tilts his head away from the paper. Then looks back at my hand.
“Gee, you’ve got small hands for a guy.”
“Okay, okay… let’s try with your hand now.”
He plops his hand down on the paper and traces out five copies of his own hand, not that much smaller than my own. He continues to bite his lip as he adds artistic flourishes to each tracing.
“Hey, that one hand looks like a mummy!” I say to him.
“You know those old Egyptian kings?”
“Pharaohs!” the girl shouts from her corner. She’s finished with her grammar work, so she comes to join the fun.
“Pharaohs… ” the girl explains: “They used to wrap them up in long strips of cloth when they died.”
I hope the doesn’t ask me about death again.
“Oh, I’ve seen those in cartoons!” he says. “They were real? I thought they were fake.”
“Well, they’re definitely real,” I say, “but they never came back to life or anything.”
“Hey, you drew this?” the girl asks him.
“It’s really good! And whose hand is that on the piece of scrap?”
“Oh, that’s Grant’s hand.”
“It’s pretty small for a guy, eh?” she laughs. “Look — my hand fits perfectly! Look at that, eh!”
Unable to contain my smile I snatch the paper from the girl as they both laugh at my tiny hands. I put the scrap in the recycling bin…
* * *
When I get back to the table, the boy looks me with wide eyes and a wider smile as he plops down his some papers.
“I got more homework!”
“What kinda homework? P.E.?”
He sifts through loose papers in his folder to find his new worksheet: ‘Antonyms.’
I look at the definition on the worksheet: “An antonym is a word opposite in meaning to another.” I guess I’m learning something too.
“So what does the title say?”
“Antonyms!” says the boy.
“Antonyms…” says the girl, overhearing us: “Doesn’t that just mean opposites?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I say. Maybe she should be tutoring…
“I’ve already finished two of the questions in class!” the boy says with a puffed chest.
“That’s a great start. So, then, what would be the antonym of ‘bright’?’”
He searches through the possible matches: “Ummmm… ‘untrustworthy’?”
“Well… What does ‘bright’ mean?”
“It means when all the lights are on.”
“And what’s it like when all the lights are off?”
“Dark…” He looks at the list of words again: “Dark!”
“There ya go! Nice job. So, what’s the antonym of ‘bright’?”
“It’s ‘dark’ I tell you!”
I laugh again. “Awesome! …Next: What is the antonym of…”
As I read off the questions, the girl peeks over our shoulders again and joins the fun. It becomes a group effort, and in five minutes we finish off the worksheet. This is the most work I’ve ever gotten out of that boy…
The session is over, and everybody is packed-up and ready to go.
“See ya next week, Ravi!”
Why I'm Here...Where I'm Going
My first day tutoring. I come into the classroom. I find the teacher at his desk. The teacher is in a wheelchair.
And that’s when it strikes me — like a bolt of lightning… suddenly illuminating my life in the brilliant flashback of a faraway and long ago memory.
I’m in Mr. Tanner’s Grade 4, Twelfth Avenue School. The recess bell sounds. We race outside. The shrieking and chasing and grabbing of freeze-tag draws me into the game.
Then, out of the turmoil and noise, something pulls me away: over there; something silent, still.
A wheelchair. In the wheelchair, a figure hunched forward. On the figure’s face, a sad, haunted look.
“Over here… come on!” My friends are calling me.
I hesitate. I waver between freeze-tag and the figure in the wheelchair. Now, drawn back to the shrieking and chasing of my friends; now, pulled to the lonely figure in the wheelchair.
I feel my friends’ eyes on my back, as I turn away from them. What will they think?
I push on towards the figure: "Hi…,” I call out, “What's your name? I’m Lindsey."
The boy looks up, startled. Then… quizzical… intrigued… delighted.
"Michael,” he whispers: “My name’s Michael.”
I think I hear my friends pause in their play. They’re staring our way. In a moment, the game picks up again.
Michael’s grinning. He tells me about his class, his teacher, his friends. As I walk and he wheels, his smile grows brighter, wider. Mine, too.
Something’s changed. The school’s the same. The playground’s the same. My classmates are the same.
It’s me. I’ve changed.
I’m still the same. But I’m also different.
Through this small act of breaking away from my circle, I’ve set something in motion.
I’ve opened myself up. To someone who is different from me.
And I realize I want others to share in this learning; to learn with me, alongside me.
And what I want them to learn is that sometimes we can act in a different way.
And so become different.
And so make a difference in the world.
One by one. One difference at a time.
And now, this afternoon… as a Friends of Simon tutor… I am reconnected to all this.
And I understand, more deeply, why I’m here. And I know, more surely, where I’m going.
“He-e-elp!” exclaims Diana, staring at her math homework.
I walk over; sit down next to her.
“I can’t do this. It’s too hard. There’s too many steps!” She lets out a long sigh.
I take a blank sheet of paper from my binder and copy the first long division question: 2763 divided by 6.
“I’ll do it with you, Diana. We can have a race!” I suggest
“You?You’re going to do it, too?” Diana’s eyes are wide with hope.
“Of course. We’ll do it together . . .You ready?”
“Sure!” Diana answers. “One, two, three, go!”
I don’t really race her. I ponder the questions slowly, peeking over her shoulder to make sure she’s getting the steps right. I give her a tip when she writes down an incorrect digit. I ask a question to point her in the right direction.
Eventually, Diana forgets about our race. She just keeps plugging away at her long division.
Sometimes being a tutor is just about ‘being with’. ‘Being with’ our students, side by side, elbow to elbow, quietly, patiently: that is how we can best serve them as they solve their own questions.
Close your eyes, put out your hands!
It's six-year-old Blaiz’s last day at a site where I’ve worked closely with him, once a week, for several months.
Before we part ways, we decide to do our favorite activity one last time —drawing!
Blaiz carefully creates an image, shielding the paper from me. I do the same.
"Close your eyes, put out your hands," he commands. "Okay, now open!"
I look down at the parting gift. My eyes tear up. My heart swells. With a piece of paper and crayons, Blaiz shows me the impact I have on him.
"It's you!" he explains. "Standing in a stormy night with a pink heart over your head, protecting you from the lightning and rain."
Of course I remember you!
I enter through the once familiar doors into what now feels like a whole new world. As I walk down the halls, I smile at the faces Ipass.
So much has changed in the two years since. “Will anyone remember me?” I wonder.
As I walk into the classroom, the students begin coming in. I smile and greet them, each with a new name and story for me to learn. I get settled at the back of the room for the day’s activities.
“Ms. Melissa!” a familiar voice echoes across the room.
Before I can turn around, a small girl has wrapped her arms about me, holding me tight.
“Hi, Aria!” I say with excitement. “Wonderful to see you again!”
“I’m so glad you’re back!” she yells. “I’ve missed you so much!” She stands back and smiles up at me, clapping with excitement.
“I can’t believe you remember me,” I say. “It’s been so long!”
“Of course I remember you!” Aria says reproachfully. “I still have the drawing we did together! Now I’m reallyexcited to be here!”
I smile wide as Aria takes my hand and walks me to her desk, excited to see what’s in store for us this session.
It's just a stupid story and then we answer stupid questions
It's homework time at our site.
I notice a student, Mohammed, sitting at an empty desk, staring into space.
Sitting down next to him, I ask, "D’you have any homework today?"
He doesn't look at me. Just shrugs. I take that as a ‘Yes’.
"May I see it?" I ask lightly.
Reluctantly, Mohammed pulls the homework out of his bag; throws the crumpled papers on the table.
"It's stupid!" he says, "I don't want to do it."
I pick up the papers, smooth them out. "What d’you have to do?" I ask.
"It's just a stupid story and then we answer stupid questions," he replies.
I ask him what the story is about, and when it's due. We talk.
Finally, I say to Mohammed: "If you do it now, you'll feel so much better because you won't have to think about it for the rest of the night."
Ahmed shrugs again. I feel discouraged but remain sitting quietly with him.
Ten seconds pass, twenty, thirty. A minute, then two.
Mohammed shrugs again and sighs. "Fine! I'll do it!"
Ten minutes later, I'm circling around the room, but I see that Mohammed is almost done. Another student, who has arrived late, has sat down next to him.
The late student is complaining loudly to all who will listen that he wants to play a game, not do homework.
Before a tutor can respond, Mohammed turns to him and says, "Just do it, man — you'll feel better because you won't have to think about it for the rest of the night."
We just resolve, whatever happens, to not give up on Khaled
At one of my sites, we have a boy, Khaled (not his real name), who is a newcomer refugee from Syria. He has two younger friends in the group who are also from Syria, so he sticks with them and they speak only Arabic to each other.
This is fine with us, at first. But as the weeks go by, it becomes more and more of a distraction. When we’re having group discussions, Khaled and his friends will clown around and giggle and talk in their language over the rest of the group, while others are trying to be heard.
In time, this becomes an issue, and we ask the advice of the Site Coordinator, who tells us that if this continues Khaled, the leader of the group, will have to leave the program — at least for a while.
I know that Khaled’s leaving the program would be a relief to the group as his behaviour is disruptive. But I also know that, deep down, Khaled and his friends appreciate our help and really want to belong because they see the value in Friends of Simonto improve their English and overall school performance.
So we just resolve, whatever happens, to not give up on Khaled. Instead, we draw up a written contract with him, a mutual agreement detailing how he can stay in the program by being respectful, co-operative, and attentive member of the group.
Ever since then, Khaled has been a model student. He remains quiet and attentive when others are speaking, does not disrupt and, most importantly, is working diligently on his English.
This afternoon Khaled explains to me and his friends the intricacies of learning to drive a stickshift. No easy task — driving or explaining how to do it!
The bell rings, and students trickle into the library. We tutors gather at a cluster of tables near the back, eagerly waiting for the students to sit down.
I am a new tutor here, so I walk around trying to make conversation.
We launch the session by playing a guessing game we’ve prepared ahead of time, where the students guess facts about the tutors.
“LOVES DALMATIAN DOGS” is the next fact on the board.
“Who is this about?” the tutor at the front asks.
The students look around, examining our faces for any hints. All of a sudden, a student yells out, “It’s ROTINI!!!”
We all burst out laughing: “Who’s Rotini?!”
I stand up, and between giggles, manage to say, “You’re right, it’s me! But my name is RUVINI.”
At that moment, I know this is going to be a fun site.