Each quarter, Project MARS/AmeriCorps collects “Great Stories” from its members in which they reflect on their experiences mentoring in the classroom and the progress they see students making. In this month’s story, Haley Hack talks about the joy of helping a kindergarten student learn to write his name.
When I moved away to college for the first time I started pursuing a degree in Elementary Education. I was set on being a Kindergarten teacher. It seemed like it would be like a fun job, and I would get to plan activities and crafts, and games every single day. So when I was assigned this year to serve in an elementary and middle school I was thrilled! I couldn’t wait to meet the students and start helping them learn in fun new ways.
With lots of expectations and a buildup of what I remembered Kindergarten to be like: I stepped into the Kindergarten class here bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I introduced myself to the teacher and she introduced me to her students. The teacher asked me how long I was available to help and I told her that I was able to stick around for the entirety of the morning. She then asked if I could pull a specific student (T) to help him write his name.
I gladly agreed and asked T to step away from “carpet time” to work with me. He sat down and I ignorantly asked him to just go ahead and write out his name as I handed him a sheet of paper and a large learning pencil. T looked back up at me with confusion as he said “I don’t know how to do that!” I told him that was okay and to just start with the first letter. He told me again “I don’t know how to do that!” I told him the first letter of his name and for a third time he said “I don’t know how to do that!” Teary-eyed he looked up and said “I don’t know which one that is, so I can’t do that.”
I quickly realized this wasn’t the situation that I was expecting and was going to promptly have to change my mindset and approach.
We started from scratch. Every morning I would go to the Kindergarten classroom, take T to a separate workspace and began teaching him each letter of the alphabet first. From there I focused specifically on the letters to spell his name. He began grasping the recognition of each letter and lit up with pride!
Now that he knew these letters, every day that I would come he was eager to try to write his name. T still expressed bits of frustration when writing the letters posed a challenge, but he persevered.
On a Tuesday morning in October, for the first time, T wrote the entirety of his name independently. While it seems like a small feat to adults who are well-versed in reading and writing; this was an incredibly big deal. I’ve never experienced such deep joy on behalf of someone else’s accomplishment. To know how hard he’s worked for this goal and to watch him work towards it everyday absolutely changed my perspective.
While I’m not helping with crafts and projects each day like I’d initially imagined, the service I get to do brings far more joy and I’m so thankful for T and the lessons he continues to teach me in service to his school.