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Without a Net

I am not a perfect instructor. I know that. I have on days, and off days. Sometimes way off. My patience has limits. My passion ebbs and flows depending on how many hours I’ve slept in a given week, how well I’ve been eating, and whether or not I’ve caught my daughter’s cold. I do my best, always. I sometimes fail.

Failing in what I do means that a tutor may not know her “stuff” when she sits down across from a student. That’s not tragic. We have an internship program built into our training. It makes for a pretty strong safety net. Still, someone has to fall first to be caught by that net. And falling can be the worst feeling in the world.

My students tend to do well, sometimes despite my less-than-best days. They meet their students where they are. They are gentle with kids who have learning differences. They recognize and steer clear of emotional bruises and scars. They shore up battered egos. But they don’t do any of that on account of me. They do those things because they are those people. They are moms, dads, helpers, and healers. They are good people, basically. Walking through my door is simply their way of announcing that they’d like to be good in some lucky kid’s direction.

Training tutors to work with kids is a strange balancing act between content and delivery. It is my job to train and drill syllable types. It is also my job to talk about what to do when a child starts to cry during a tutoring session. If my students focus too much on content, like syllable types, then I have failed them. If they are too deep into the content of a lesson, they won’t look up. Sometimes the look on a child’s face lets you know that a lesson is over, or should be. How often should I tell them to look up? Is that even a trainable skill?  Can I teach adults empathy and interest from scratch? Probably not. Thank God they are already good.

The bad news is that good people can fail as tutors. That’s just a hard truth. People who care and feel and are genuinely interested in helping kids read can fail. I’m not sure if I am the deciding factor when that happens. It certainly feels like I am. I can say that it is miserable. It also may be unavoidable. I have tweaked just about every aspect of training over the years. Still, every year, someone hits the net. I always feel the drop.

It takes a unique person to love language and children in nearly equal parts. It takes a superstar to fall, hit the net, and get up on the bounce. Those few people who can avoid falling at all while teaching a new spelling rule to a wiggly kid on a sugar high are full-on acrobats in my book. No more net for them; they don’t need it. They are good. In fact, some small thanks to me, they are awesome.

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