It wasn’t until I was staring at five impassive faces that I knew I had failed. My first lesson – a lesson filled with awkward silences and detached attention – was a total bust. I was confronted by challenge: how was I to spark interest in their young minds?
In the summer of 2016, I was fortunate enough to work for an organization that allowed me to tutor a group of mentally impaired children. Throughout my life, I considered myself an astute student – one that was capable of learning as well as teaching. I walked into the room, a room enclosed by four walls, with confidence in my ability to teach. Little did I know that this pride was to emerge as my greatest nemesis. This certainty that I had in myself was baseless and unfounded – I had never tutored a day in my life; yet, I continued to affirm that I had some innate qualification to instill knowledge in others. I was flooded with quixotic visions of being an older confidante, being a beacon of light for these thriving individuals, being an image that they could count on throughout the onerous odyssey that is school.
Subject. Predicate. Singular. Plural. Possessive. It were as though I was just nervously spurting out English. As I finished dictating my lesson, I received a panel of blank stares – none of which showed any sign of understanding or enthusiasm. My confidence was shattered. I looked from face to face, hopelessly searching for some indication of comprehension. I found none. There was hardly a twinkle in their eyes. Stoic. Vacant.
I walked up to the whiteboard, heart in my stomach, and wrote down, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” With a disillusioned spirit, I monotonously asked my students, “Can anyone identify the subject, predicate, and prepositional phrase of this sentence?” I didn’t expect much. Maybe a few head shakes no, but mostly expressionless gawking. You could see my eyes brighten when one of my students raised his hand. “Why is everything so square?” he asked. I was confused. “Square?” “Yeah, like, one thing to another to another to another. It’s too square.” The session was over.
Square. Noun. A square is a figure with four straight sides and four congruent angles. Adverb. Directly; straight.
It hit me.
My lesson was lectured. It was expressed in a rote manner. It was too precise. A square is structured – there is no room for miscalculations, for different lengths, for a slight, subtle difference. Everything must be organized. In a world full of lush textures, vivid colors, and exquisite complexities, structure makes one see in black and white. Language, I realized, was to be free.
I had driven myself to give the children an enticing and enjoyable class. By the next lesson, with my realization in mind, I was able to capture their attention. Loaded with a cluster of storybooks and catchy rhymes and songs, I was able to correct the skewed perception I had of my potential.
“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut,” I read from “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!” by Dr. Seuss. As those words escaped from my lips and into the space of the four-walled room, I realized, again, that this was the spring that fed my ultimate downfall. There is so much in the world to discover, and I needed to rekindle that love that I had for language. I was trapped in a four-walled room, encapsulated by the pursuit of success and not by the pursuit of passion; I never went beyond what education dictated, and was incarcerated by the scripture of the tangible.
Photo ©2004 by Richard Schatzberger [CC-BY-SA-2.0]