Yesterday, I arrived at The Arc Mid South at 9 am to participate in my first classroom session. I was excited and a bit nervous. I knew that the classroom session consisted of about 3 hours of instruction for students with varying degrees of intellectual delay, some of which are preparing to the take the GED exam. I knew I’d be working one on one with some students. I assumed it would be math since that is one of my strong points.
I walked in the classroom and I was immediately greeted by a student with an iPhone app that changed the tone and pitch of your voice. She held it out enthusiastically and asked me to say my name. I happily obliged and her request was met with a high pitched version of me saying “hi I’m Stephanie!” Everyone laughed, as did I. Any anxiety or stress I had immediately vanished. This room was full of life and I got the distinct impression that no one here was capable of judgement.
The 3 hour session was broken up into 3 “periods”. For 1st period I sat at a table with 3 students who are going to take the Gateway test in May. We did Algebra. I made a point to learn their names immediately so I could always address them by their names. One of my students breezed through the problems. One struggled. One was in between. I sat closest to the one who struggled so I could offer quick assistance if needed. I lavished praise on my student who finished her problems quickly and accurately. I got up when my student who was “in between” got stuck every now and then offered some minor assistance. I have never taught or tutored before, but it came to me without much thought. I felt challenged by their challenges and accomplished by their triumphs.
For 2nd period I worked with 2 students who were working on the same type of algebra, but they aren’t taking the Gateway, they are just there to learn. They were amazing. I sat midway in between them and I spent my hour going back and forth checking answers, helping when they got stuck and lavishing praise when they excelled. I would be working with one student and the other would exclaim “teacher! I think I got it!” So I’d go and look and sure enough, they had the correct answer. I felt like I was learning the material for the first time right along with them. Their excitement was mine and their frustration was mine as well. I want them to succeed like I want myself to succeed.
For 3rd period I watched one of the main teachers engage a group in instruction. I cannot explain the talent she possessed as she led a discussion on science. Everyone was engaged and excited to learn, eager to answer questions and motivated to do well. If someone became bored or seemed detached, she would bring them back just like that with an enthusiastic question or statement. My heart soared with appreciation. Everyone deserves an education and to learn, and these individuals were relishing in the opportunity to learn.
And just like that the 3 hours was over. Everyone was so appreciative that I came and wanted to know when I would return. I promised I would be back next week and I left feeling happy. Happy for this life and all the experiences it holds. I am thankful for my own education and that I am able to help others in this way. I look forward to many more classroom sessions, and, no doubt, many more triumphs.