I wanted to address a question from the second CSL discussion, which I also could not participate in. The question is, ” To this point, what are you giving, and what are you receiving? Is your experience one
of mutual learning?” Over the course of CSL I felt like I was giving and receiving differently. Sometimes I felt as though I was being academically useful (helping with homework, reading to students, etc.), while other times I felt as though I was being more emotionally useful (such as actively listening to students talk about problems with their siblings). I think it was mutual, but initially I didn’t think very much about what I was receiving. I supposed when I started volunteering I saw myself as not able to learn anything from the students because they were so much younger than me. I may have suffered slightly from White Knight Syndrome – I saw myself going in, powering through homework problems with ease, and at the end of the semester all my students would have improved tremendously thanks to me. It was more wishful thinking than anything – I have no teaching experience and had no idea how to even help a student read a book. I think I gained a hugely valuable skill that I previously thought was worthless: how to interact with children. I don’t have many children in my life, so I didn’t know what to talk to them about or how to be helpful without giving away the answers. Through my time at SJ, I feel like I started to understand the different communication styles that children have. For example, they are very blunt about things and don’t realize how abnormal some of the things they say are. By the end of my time at SJ, I could easily hold a conversation with a student I had no idea how to talk to at the beginning of the semester. Additionally, as I observed other tutors I learned how to more easily teach concepts to children. So sadly for my ego, no children miraculously learned to read with my help, nor were their lives likely changed by my presence. But as time went by it became more meaningful when at the end of the day I had been through a deck of phonics card without the child having to stop in frustration, or when they seemed more willing to employ moth techniques I suggested.
I would like my last post to address a topic I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks: how to say goodbye at the site. While I am entertaining the idea of volunteering (less frequently) next semester, I can’t promise that and have something come up that prevents me from following through. As we discussed in class, it’s much more appropriate to say goodbye and surprise the children with a return rather than leaving them expecting it. I’ve grown very attached to the girls at the site; even though they frustrate me sometimes they work so genuinely hard on their work, and I find their excitement regarding their homework somewhat inspiring (I know I haven’t been that thrilled about getting a question right in over 10 years!). Sometimes they surprise me by remembering something I told them about myself weeks ago (such as my favorite color) and by referencing things I drew or books I read that they are still trying to imitate or learn to read themselves. Kate and I tried to tell them today that it might be our last day, but they didn’t understand. They thought we meant it was our last day that week, and also maybe thought we were overreacting by saying goodbye so many times. I believe I will be returning next Thursday afternoon because at that point I will be finished with my finals, but I don’t think Kate will be going. I know they might be disappointed, so I have been thinking about the best way to explain that I won’t be there to tutor when they return from Christmas break. We discussed in class that we can’t assume we’ve made some tremendous impact on these children’s lives, and that we need to accept that even though we feel like the connection was important that they might be used to be coming and going as volunteers do. However, I would like to make it clear that I will not be returning because even if they couldn’t care less, I don’t want to run the risk of any of them thinking I would leave without telling them. It’s a conversation that needs to be had, but at this point I wish I was volunteering at a site I could just slip away from without anyone feeling too affected.
This post is late – chronologically and conceptually. On the first reflection day SJ had not begun yet so I was unable to contribute. Going back through the discussion questions made me want to respond where I could not the first time around. Now that I am wrapping up my CSL, I want to answer the question, “How do you feel about CSL being a requirement in this course?” When I started the class, I believe I would have said something along the lines of, “I think it’s a good supplement, but it could be any class with CSL and it would be the same thing.” However, now that I’ve mentally integrated class discussion with my time at SJ I am very glad we had CSL hours to complete. While it was a struggle to finish the hours on time (I just barely finished mine because SJ didn’t start until October), I feel like it gave me an outlet to observe the readings happen in real life. I’ve been aware of feminist issues for a long time, but going to SJ took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to interact with others in ways that I hadn’t needed to before, and I found myself learning more than I expected. I wasn’t just learning about women and gender though, I was learning about my own biases and evaluating my own experiences. Further, I was able to take it further than gender. The second question from the first CSL day I would like to answer is, “What do you see as your biggest personal challenges going into your CSL experience?” I had wondered if I would get along with the permanent, adult volunteers after meeting the SJ employee and getting the email from the site coordinator. One thing I wish I had been able to cover in my CSL final paper was the power the adult staff had over the students. The college-aged volunteers were typically gentler and kinder with the students, despite the fact that they were only volunteering a couple hours per week and did not have anything tying them to the site. The primary problematic adult was actually the staff member from SJ, the same one who exclaimed, “Eww!” when Rebecca burped. She was not at tutoring every day, but the days she was there were particularly tense because she seemed to have no problem getting very close to the children and intimidating them when they misbehaved. One boy had to go to the bathroom and she wouldn’t let him until after he did his work, at which point I took him because she forgot. She was even annoyed when she saw me walking him out of the library and told him he had one minute to use the bathroom and get back to work. She is also the staffer who pushed children’s hands together for prayer during snack time. I was always under the impression that if someone chose a mostly-thankless job (non-profit work), they were passionate about what they did. Unfortunately, she just seemed angry all the time and as if she was already at the end of her rope by the time she got to the school. The follow-up question on the CSL discussion day was about how we could overcome this challenge. This wasn’t a very conducive environment for students to feel safe and comfortable, and at times I found myself disagreeing with her but didn’t feel like I could say anything to oppose her. It was always stressful having her there, and watching her intimidate the kids – who normally acted perfectly when she wasn’t around – was an aspect of CSL I wasn’t expecting. As CSL ends, I’ve found I’m actually happiest about not having to see her anymore, rather than being glad to have so many hours of my week back.
In this post I want to address a unique commonality I found between myself and one of the girls I tutor, Rebecca. I can relate this experience best with Jones’ concept of “crossing boundaries,” or breaking down barriers between groups by learning about each other. During one of our tutoring sessions two of the girls were talking about their home lives, and it felt like a great place to probe the students for more information about what their families are like. However, I got much more than I expected: both of them started discussing family members who had previously been incarcerated. I was shocked at first. One girl was talking about how her mother just returned over the summer from at least two years in prison. I was mostly surprised at the ease with which she told me (a near-stranger) about her mother being in jail. It was nice to see that even though this girl had been separated from her mom for so long at such a young age, she was still thrilled to have her back in her life so she could “do homework together.” Rebecca responded to this with the information that her 21-year-old brother had been jailed numerous times. Knowing how important my siblings are to me, I felt sorry for her until it dawned on me that when I was just a few years older and my brother was just a few years younger, he was sentenced to time in jail. I noticed immediately how differently Rebecca felt toward her brother being in jail. When I was in fifth grade, my brother went to jail in May and when I graduated from elementary school in June he still wasn’t back. To be honest, I was very hurt that he made a choice that left him in legal trouble instead of being smart and available to me (his geographically closest and youngest sibling). Rebecca, however, just discussed her brother’s time in and out of the system nonchalantly. I’m not sure if this was a product of emotional maturity or immaturity (as in, she is not old enough to understand the weight of going to jail). I told her that my brother had been in jail as well, and she was very interested that we had that in common. It was certainly surprising to me to have those conversations while volunteering, and especially surprising that of all the things I could have in common with some of these girls, we each have had family members who have been in jail before.
Even though my site services six- and seven-year-olds, I have noticed more and more how regularly the little girls are talked to gender compliance. According to Crawford, most gender conformity pressure isn’t placed on children until around the age of 12. However, I am already seeing ways in which these girls are disadvantaged due to how adults believe they should be behaving. These disadvantages come from two areas: their parents and the volunteer staff at SJ. The parents have control over what their children go to school wearing, and some clothes are inappropriate for elementary school. I don’t mean too revealing, rather I’m referring to girls’ immobility when they are wearing skirts and dresses. For example, at one of our recent volunteer days, one girl (“Rebecca”) wore a skirt because it was unusually warm. The children had so much energy that we had to exercise and play “Red Light Green Light” and “Simon Says” before they were calm enough to do their work. Unfortunately, Rebecca could not participate in “Simon Says” because of her outfit. Because the children were allowed to be “Simon” for the group, they were demanding actions that required random mobility (i.e., do a handstand, do six somersaults, roll around on the floor until “Simon” says stop, etc.). Rebecca did not want to play at first because she could not partake in any of the directions due to her clothing. When she did decide to play, she would be out first whenever there was an action she could not complete due to concern about modesty. It makes me wonder why parents send their little girls to school at an age when they are so physically active. Additionally, they get to go out for recess, and a skirt or dress limits the playground activities one can partake in if she has learned to be concerned about modesty. This makes it harder for girls to spend active time with their friends, and I’m assuming will just not play but rather sit and talk somewhere. If parents really want their little girls wearing the most feminine clothes they can find, it would at least be helpful if they could put leggings on their daughters so they can still run around like the boys in pants do.
The adult volunteer staff members at SJ also say some frustrating things to the girls. In one particular instance, after eating snack a little girl burped and excused herself. Everyone was working but the burp caused the whole library to become quiet. No one said anything except the two adult volunteers, one of which said, “Eww! I can’t believe that came from you!” and the second of which said, in a very hushed tone as if she was scolding her, “Okay, now that’s not very ladylike, did you know that?” Not only would that have been humiliating for a seven-year-old to be the center of attention just for burping, but to be shamed and then criticized for a natural bodily function is absolutely beyond my realm of comprehension.
In this post I want to discuss the assumptions I made about the kids before I actually met them. Dunlap wrote about how students are likely to have their own stereotypical beliefs challenged when they volunteer with groups who are different from them, and I found that to be the case with my CSL site. I wasn’t sure what types of kids I would be working with, but at the training day for SJ at UMW they mentioned our site had children who were “underprivileged.” The various trainers spoke at length about how we would be reading aloud to the children, but hardly mentioned them doing homework or any other education activities. They also kept placing emphasis on how unhappy their backgrounds are, and how they need extra attention because of it. With that in mind, I had very specific beliefs about the students before I even met them. I expected them to be behind in school and unmotivated, as well as troubled over their home situations. I’m disappointed at the way the kids were characterized by the volunteer trainers for SJ. While no one is perfect, people who work with these children should not conflate “underprivileged” with “uneducated” or “unhappy.” If they had instead focused on various activities we can do with the kids (during which they are also actively participating), I think I would have taken a different approach to the situation. But, they are not only to blame. I allowed myself to stereotype them without thinking critically about those stereotypes. I felt disappointed in myself after meeting them and realizing how wrong I was to think they would all possess those characteristics, but it served as a learning opportunity for me for the future.
In this post I want to address something unrelated to gender: one of the things I find most challenging at my site. Rather, one of the people I find most challenging. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s one of the kids rather than the adults. If it were the adults, I could express my frustrations to them directly, but when it’s a child, you have to be more gentle with them. One girl, Anna, seems very far behind the others with regard to her social development and academic ability. It both worries and frustrates me, because on one hand, I’m concerned about why she isn’t doing as well in school as the other students her age, and at the same time I don’t have the skills to work with this girl to help her learn. To give you some examples of why I think she requires someone with a particular ability to teach students who are behind:
- She absolutely cannot hold a conversation. The longest one I’ve had with her (after working with just her for over six hours of CSL time) involved me prodding her into answering specific questions about an assignment she had. Every time I have asked her about anything other than school work she shrugs and says, “I don’t know,” and laughs. This was the answer to “What’s your cat’s name?”, “What were you for Halloween?”, and “When is your birthday/What did you do for your last birthday?” She does this in response to the other children as well.
- She doesn’t understand any of her classroom assignments, or the SJ worksheets. With the other students, they are eager to work on their own so they can present their answers to you, but with Anna you must work every second with her or she just sits there and cannot figure it out. This makes working with other students at the same time very difficult, and now a tutor is assigned to work with just her. She tends to just guess until you tell her it is right, but displays no understanding of logically thinking about her answers. For example, she was doing a worksheet on which the student connects two letters (‘sl’) to a double e (‘ee’) in the middle of the page, to a final letter to complete a word (‘p’). I asked her, “Which sounds right, ‘sleep’, ‘sleed’, or ‘sleese’?” and she will just list them back to me, but not even in the same order (sleed, sleese, sleep), and clearly did not think at all about the words and whether they were real.
I don’t have enough experience with kids her age to know if this is normal, but none of the other kids are this incognizant. To me, a child who needs this much attention should be working with one of the program coordinators who have more experience and resources. Dunlap discussed that there would be challenges with specific people, and Anna has certainly been that for me.
In this post, I’d like to address how the boys express gender norms comparatively to the girls. In class we discussed how clothing is extremely gendered, which remains true for children in early elementary years. The boys tend to wear a lot of blues and sometimes greens, and almost all their backpacks and very “boyish” (blue, sports-related, flashy, etc.). On the other hand, every single girl has told me that her favorite color is pink (and her second favorite color is purple) and this is very apparent by their clothing, which is typically one of those two colors. Similarly to the boys, their backpacks are also clearly gendered by color.
The boys and girls behave similarly, but they are treated differently. We talked in class during the Crawford socialization chapter about how girls are taught to be more quiet and reserved, whereas boys are forgiven for being rambunctious. However, at my site I have noticed nearly the opposite. We have a big problem with one boy in particular who is constantly running around, putting his feet on his chair, and talking out of turn. But, we also have one girl (who reminds Kate of Honey Boo Boo, if that gives you any idea of what she is like) who does the same thing. Both have been addressed as acting inappropriately, however the adults are much stricter with the boy. It has even gotten to the point of scolding him that makes me feel like I should say something, but usually the adults doing the reprimanding are employees of the school and not volunteers. They have spoken harshly toward him, forced his hands together for prayer, and always talk about how much of a problem he is when he is not there. The girl, on the other hand, just has a note in her folder reminding tutors to make sure she is “more focused.” She is never asked to sit down except nicely by a tutor, which she usually obliges. I am not sure why this would be – maybe the teachers are more tired of the boy’s behavior and have less patience with him than the girl, or maybe they find him more obnoxious because he is less kind than the girl. Either way, it is hard to understand why these children are being treated differently for expressing the same behaviors, and it seems like they are being treated in a gendered way even if it is the opposite of what typically happens. To me, it seems gendered because the boy is spoken to somewhat seriously and loudly at times (how boys ‘typically’ interact with one another), whereas the girl is reprimanded very softly and politely (how girls ‘typically’ act with one another).
Typically at my site I notice things related to gender that have nothing to do with the children. For example, my site coordinator is a woman, and all the volunteers at FES are almost all women, except Mr. “John” who comes in sometimes. In fact, all the school employees I’ve interacted with have been women – I have yet to see one man who works at this school. The CSL reading mentioned that women are primarily volunteers, especially with children, and this is very obvious at my site. To follow, my site coordinator is interested in very stereotypically feminine activities. In her initial email, she asked up what we like doing, and she said, “Some of my favorite things are [...] jewelry design, sewing, anything to do with beads & shiny baubles, baking and music. Even though I’m 29, I still enjoy dress up and costumes.” I can’t compete with that, I think I just said I like napping. For Halloween, she sent us all texts asking us to wear a costume representing a character from a children’s book. The options she gave were very feminine, including multiple princess crowns/scepters, Tinkerbell wings, and fairy-related gear. She came dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, but her outfit was feminized – she used pink and silver face paint to do the mask, and added plastic jewels to her face to make it more sparkly. I ended up being a princess, complete with scepter, crown, long gloves, and a tutu (all of which she brought for me).
The volunteers at our site are all students at UMW in the education department. I thought this was an interesting connection because they all not only volunteer with children, but want to spend their lives teaching kids this age.
I started volunteering with Stafford Junction last Tuesday, October 7th. There are nine children in the program and Falmouth Elementary School, five girls and four boys between the ages of 6 and 8. I’ve been pleasantly surprised both days I’ve volunteered because, at least from the girls I’ve been working with, there hasn’t been anything too worrying when it comes to gender typing development. However, on the first day when all the children arrived in a group, they immediately separated (as well as verbally announced this separation) into girls-only and boys-only tables. This continued the second day, with three of the four boys always sitting together and leaving one boy out, and four of the five girls sitting together and leaving one girl out. The girls are very taken with Kate (McCarty), and the larger groups tends to want her to sit with them. I’ve been working with Sara (name changed), who has surprised me each time I’ve been in with how much she wants to work on her homework. The girls at Kate’s table seem to get distracted, but Sara wants me to give her more math problems and play hangman to practice her spelling. I asked her if she thought she was better at math or spelling, and she said she was better at spelling but she liked math more. This really surprised me, especially since Crawford discussed that girls learn at a young age that they aren’t “as good” at math as boys are. Luckily, Sara either hasn’t internalized that, or her teacher does a good job giving students equal opportunities to try. Even though she struggles with basic addition right now (she’s six years old), she uses the blocks to help her count and has gotten every single problem I’ve given her correct except for one. When she makes a mistake, I try to follow Crawford’s advice and encourage her to find the problem she made, rather than telling her the answer or giving no further helpful feedback. I’m looking forward to working with her more in the coming weeks because she is so diligent in her work and actually wants to learn how to conquer these problems. Each teacher tells us something to work on with a child, and her request for Sara was to get her to do her work without distractions. So far, that hasn’t been a problem with me, but the situation might be novel enough that she is still (typically) on her best behavior.