Over spring break, I had several different experiences with students that were extremely eye-opening. I had the opportunity to work with multiple children with different home lives, race, and incomes. Each one had vastly different motivation levels, and I was able to guide them through math homework and lessons. Two weeks ago, I traveled to Dallas, Texas on a mission trip. My team worked at an after-school program called Wesley Rankin. This organization is located in the heart of Dallas and provided students in the area with transportation, free dinner, homework help, and much needed one-on-one attention. Two of the students I worked with all week were in first grade and completely refocused my love of teaching.
One little boy I helped was named Iyasu and he was so full of joy and energy. His favorite subject is math, so you can imagine my excitement as a math major. Each day he eagerly grabbed his homework and caught me up on what he had learned that day. We worked through an subtraction problems together using unifix cubes even though he had memorized all of the basic facts. I was able to practice posing questions about his thinking and typically he could answer completely and write out his work. His love for math and learning was truly encouraging, especially because he was always up for a challenge.
On the other hand, I also assisted a little girl named Felicia. She often lied about having math homework because it was so difficult for her. I practiced using manipulatives and number strings, but what she needed most was encouragement and praise for hard work. It had me thinking about growth mindsets and how desperately this sweet girl needed to develop one. Each day I would ask her how school was and the answer was always the same, “BAD!” I knew that there was very little I could do for her in just one short week, however, it made me realize how much of a passion I have for low-income students.
Learning should be enjoyable and every single child deserves to know how great they are instead of being constantly told what they are doing wrong. Our goal as a team was to shower them with compliments and encouragement. Throughout the week, Felicia updated me about problems going on at home, and it was evident that it had a significant impact on her. My heart broke a little each day as I would watch her and other children be more worried about getting something for dinner rather than doing homework. This is what really impacted me. The reality of these kids is that they do not always get to act like kids. They worry about not getting enough for dinner as they beg other kids for seconds. Many of them struggle with family hardships on a regular basis. In their lives, how could school be the most important thing?
Yes, these kids need help with their homework, but what they need more is attention and support. They need to be seen as equally capable and smart as every other child. Each of these kids need opportunities to learn that are meaningful. They need a future and the tools to get them there. What amazed me the most was the joy and laughter they all have. Each of them come from broken homes, yet they can still see the good in their lives. So, why do we as teachers struggle to see the potential in all of our students? Every child needs the support and encouragement to get them through the troubles they face at home. I realized that I want to be a teacher so that I can help kids. Far too often I see volunteering at schools as something that looks good on my resume instead of a way to positively impact a child who needs lots of support. Of course I want them to learn, that is how I can give them the opportunity to be successful in their future because they cannot get there on their own. So, the biggest take-away for me was the importance of growth mindsets and supporting every student. Kids like Iyasu need just as much attention as those like Felicia. As a teacher, I want to build interest to learn in every student and I believe that starts with genuinely caring about each child so that I can teach them accordingly.