I worked for 20+ years in information technology for Monsanto and, after retiring, didn’t want to sit around the house. I knew I wanted to do something that would make me feel like I’m making a difference, and something that involved person-to-person contact.
I learned about the tutoring opportunities available through the Oasis Institute, including some near me in the St. Louis area. Tutoring seemed like a natural thing for me. My mother was a teacher who worked with academically at-risk children, and I had shadowed her as I was growing up.
Now I work as an OASIS tutor at Mullanphy Elementary, a learning center affiliated with Missouri Botanical Garden. I meet twice a week with struggling children in kindergarten and first grade, sometimes individually or with a small group, whatever the teachers deem appropriate.
I try to build a relationship with each child, asking them to share things about themselves: favorite foods, colors, etc. The kids open up pretty quickly and we learn more and more about one another as the year goes on.
When I first started, I thought there would be a stigma for the kids who were getting pulled out of class to receive extra help. As it turns out, the children love the extra attention. They see it as a bonus. The other kids often ask me when it will be their turn.
In my 5 years of tutoring, I have worked with as many as 18 children in one year, and teachers often let me know that the students are moving up and improving in their abilities. The kids also know they are improving. I’ll tell them, “A few weeks ago, you had a hard time doing that, but look how well you can read that now! You really are getting better and better.”
How does tutoring benefit me? It’s the opportunity to interact with these children and the satisfaction that I’m making a difference in their lives. I walk into a classroom, and even if I’m trying to be unobtrusive, they’ll notice I have arrived, and say, “Mr. Larry is here!” It’s a very heart-warming experience. Older kids that I have tutored in the past often run up to me in the halls and give me a big hug.
I often rail against the wrongs I see around us that account for many of the news headlines and dominate conversations around politics and social ills. There is little I can do to significantly change these things in a short time. Tutoring is my way of engaging with these issues at the micro-personal level, tutoring children in a local school to be more successful so they do not get left behind.
My day-to-day focus is on the children in front of me. They remind me of the story of thousands of starfish washed up on a beach; I’m a person rescuing and returning them to the sea, one starfish at a time.