As a newbie tutor at a Southeast Seattle elementary school, I am learning that some of life’s most important lessons start in the first grade.
For the past few months, I have been tutoring first graders at Van Asselt School in South Seattle. It’s part of a longtime Mercer Island Rotary program. Some of my fellow Rotarians have been tutoring there for many years, but I’m pretty new at it.
When I recently walked into the classroom, the kids were all sitting at their desks. Some looked up at me and smiled or waved. I’ve gotten to know many by their first names. They are a very diverse mix, often from immigrant families from Asia, Africa or Latin America. When I look at their faces, I realize that they are the future of America.
Jonah Randolph, their teacher, had them working on writing and spelling. He does a great job, but it’s hard for him to give individual attention to all two dozen kids. So we tutors show up for a couple of hours every Tuesday.
Got something to say about a topic in the news? We’re looking for personal essays with strong opinions. Send your submission of no more than 500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “My Take.”
One little girl, Ramaya, called out to me, “I need help!” I sat down next to her and watched her copy from a sheet that Mr. Randolph had handed out to everyone. She was struggling, but she managed to write several words.
Then she pulled out a folded piece of paper with hearts drawn all over the front. She had written “You Love” at the top.
“Who is it for,” I asked.
She said she might give it to a boy at another table, but then she wrinkled her nose and said, “He chases me around at recess.”
Or she said she might give it to a girl who she often sits by. Then she tucked it away in her desk.
Most Read Opinion Stories
- WA Supreme Court can support racial justice with capital gains tax ruling
- What’s the deal with Democrats’ lack of enthusiasm for Biden 2024?
- Charging juvenile offenders fines they can’t pay is not justice
- The anesthesiologist assistant model is not a good fit for WA
- What kind of Republican is Nikki Haley?
Mr. Randolph called the kids to sit on the carpet and drew some names. Taking turns, several shared the stories they had written — naming the title and author (themselves), their favorite part, and then asking for any questions or comments.
If the speakers spoke clearly and the audience listened quietly, Mr. Randolph gave them “points” for doing well. First graders, boys and girls, can have a little trouble concentrating. They squirmed around a lot and whispered to each other.
As they were reading and listening, I looked up at a series of little posters on the wall. I recently started reading a best-selling book by Jordan Peterson, which is getting lots of attention these days. It’s called “12 Rules for Life.”
I counted the posters, and I realized that here were “12 Rules of Life for First Graders.”
1. Try new things
2. Smile and laugh a lot
3. Be ready to learn
4. Ask lots of questions
5. Raise your hand
6. Always do your best
7. Learn from mistakes
11. Be kind and respectful
12. Celebrate others’ success
It occurred to me that these were pretty good rules — not just for first graders, but for adults as well. I suspect Jordan Peterson would agree.
When tutoring time ended and the kids lined up to go to lunch and recess, Ramaya came running over to me. She handed me her card. I opened it. She had written her name inside, along with a couple of other words that I couldn’t quite decipher.
I thanked her and said we’ll work on those words the next time. We have a lot to teach — and learn from — each other.