My First Student

By Bailey Barfield, 2019-2020 Literacy First Tutor

As I get acclimated to this new normal of sheltering in place, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my service year up to this point. On the Monday when we all should have been returning to school after spring break, I found myself thinking about my students. In particular, I reflected a lot on my time with one student who graduated from the program a few weeks before spring break.

Alejandro was the 3rd kindergartener that I graduated, and this graduation felt particularly special. Alejandro had been with me from the very beginning. In fact, he was the first student that I ever picked up from class for a tutoring lesson. And since that first day when I picked him up first thing in the morning, I started off almost all of my days as a Literacy First tutor the same way — spending time with Alejandro.

It’s always bittersweet to see a student graduate, because while we want them to learn and outgrow the program, we also selfishly don’t want them to leave us. It was especially bittersweet to see Alejandro graduate, because not only had he worked so hard and made such incredible progress, but he was a bright, happy constant in my mornings for the past few months.

From early on when we started our lessons, I knew that Alejandro would need extra support from me in order to reach the level that his peers were reading at. I made a lot of instructional changes in the lessons to make them more accessible for him, and in doing so I learned a lot about the ways he learned best. Alejandro was a visual learner — if I tried to sound out each sound in a word for our “guess the word” game, he would have a hard time recoding it. But if I wrote down three different words, he could easily find the one that I had sounded out. Over time, though, these instructional changes that I initiated early on became obsolete. He needed the extra support to build his foundational reading skills, and then when he was ready, I was able to take off the training wheels and give him more freedom in his lessons.

I’ve written before about another Kindergarten graduate who seemingly learned to read over night — it truly felt like one day she was having trouble recoding a single word, and the next she was reading full sentences. With Alejandro, the progress was slow and steady. Each lesson I had with him, I could see the lightbulb getting brighter and brighter. It also felt like I was watching him grow up right before my eyes. As with my other kindergarteners, they are at an age where they truly seem to be growing each day — they get taller and more articulate and of course, they are learning more and more.

Through working with Alejandro and really focusing on what worked for him and what didn’t, I started reflecting more and more on the idea that each student learns differently. What works for some students won’t work for others, and vice versa. And now, thanks to my time spent with Alejandro, I have that mindset each time I start working with a new student.

Unfortunately, teachers don’t always have the time or resources to tailor every lesson to fit each student’s needs, but as tutors we have the luxury of working with kids one-to-one and finding out what exactly works best for them. This is a time where they can learn in a way that is accessible and makes them feel successful, with complete attention from one adult for 20 to 30 minutes each day. Not only does our time with our students help them become stronger readers, but it can also make them feel cared for and seen.

While it’s looking like there will be plenty of time in the near future to keep reflecting on our service, this is what I am thinking about now: the “hidden” benefits of our time with students that cannot be reflected through graphs on Tutor Central — the consistency, the quality one-to-one time, the emotional support. I miss lessons with my kids, but even more so, I miss giving them a safe space that is all their own each day.

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