I came to Experience Corps as a retired teacher, looking for a meaningful community connection where I could awaken some of those dormant teaching skills in a child-centered environment. This is my seventh year as a volunteer tutor. My first assignment was in a second-grade classroom, where older kids stopped by on many mornings to give their former teacher a hug. I knew this was going to be my kind of place!
As in most schools, each set of students features a broad range of abilities and readiness for learning. So teachers generally ask Experience Corps tutors to work with individuals or very small groups of first-, second- or third-graders on basic reading skills, in 20- to 30-minute sessions, several times a week. The teachers support us with lesson plans and ideas, and we are welcome to innovate. By early spring, we start to see all kinds of progress, and we have also developed warm relationships with our young “tutees.” One of the best rewards of the tutoring experience is the welcoming hug that greets us when we return in the fall. I count myself lucky to now have fond relationships with individual children in every grade of my school.
Respectful and appreciative relationships with the teachers is another reward. When they get to know us, they sometimes ask us to work with a child who needs special nurturing, or with “above level” children who need extra stimulation. One year, I worked with three first-graders who were reading like fourth-graders, and the teacher suggested I do science experiments with them to spark their interest. We made “Oobleck” (a la Dr. Seuss), studied how sound travels around corners through a hose, and fashioned masks out of papier mache. In the past few years, I have read chapter books with small groups of advanced third-grade readers. Of course, these assignments are optional on the part of the tutor, but I personally enjoy the leap from sounding out short words with one child to listening to perfect five-syllable pronunciation from another.
I look forward to my two or three days a week in my school, depending on my time commitment. Our sponsor, Metropolitan Family Service, gives us terrific support: interesting and timely workshops, ready ears for any concerns, and as liaisons with our various schools. In addition, some of us earn a small stipend, which is a nice dividend.
Retirement can leave one feeling unfulfilled, if well-rested. Joining Experience Corps has satisfied my own need to be communally productive and purposeful, with some welcome scheduled hours among the more amorphous ones. It has been an intellectual and social activity that I look forward to every September, and have reaped its plentiful rewards.