Page created 6/16/09
One Tutor's Win...
Chess is a nice diversion, but rarely a life-changing one. Of course, that cheap Harry Potter chess set is an exception. There is an
appeal to its tattered, soda-stained battlefield and its plastic army-men pieces (replacements for knights and bishops long gone AWOL).
But visual appeal aside, this chess set gives me the means to contact my otherwise unreceptive students.
I signed up to tutor for Hollywood Education & Literacy Project International for a single-minded purpose: to fulfill community service
requirements. Curious to see academic growth firsthand in the teaching process, I expected the mind of every child to be open and
hoped to leave a lasting impression on my students with ease. Yet, upon first stepping into the learning center, ready to teach all I know, I
was assigned a very uneasy student. With a smile on my face and a book in each hand, I approached him, determined to make him feel
comfortable. He was seated in the corner, impervious to my advance. And as I sat down in front of this preteen, an uncomfortable
atmosphere fell between us. His cool gaze nullified my attempts to be kind. He refused to be taught, refused to read, and refused to
disclose his personality. To him, reading was not cool and he certainly was not going to be taught by some jovial, overly-enthusiastic
teenager. So he sat and stared blankly at the book I had placed in front of him. My pupil spent an hour this way, numb to my coaxing.
Ten minutes before lunch we both knew that not a word of the paperback between us would be read. So I chose a different tactic.
Leaving the book unopened, I journeyed over to the board game cupboard determinedly. The boy's gaze followed me as I snatched out
the only non-word game. He could resist my teaching but was simply no match for the lure of recreation.
We set up the board and Anthony slowly warmed up to me. I offered him the first move cautiously, as one would offer a nut to an uneasy
squirrel. And as Anthony reached out and moved his pawn diagonally, I cheered silently. An illegal move, but a move nonetheless.
We played into our lunch period, but Anthony came to trust me. He didn't speak much, but from the look on his face, he was enjoying
himself immensely. After our third game or so, I leaned over the ghosts of my former pieces and asked if we could eat lunch together. A
grin grew on his face that meant the world to me. The levee that had barred us from speaking crashed open. Anthony, bursting with
conversation, tripped over the words that spilled out of him. As we walked to the kitchen, he elaborated on his school experiences. While
I ate my sandwich, he listed his favorite movies. While I slurped a Dr. Pepper, he explained his social life. And not a word of it was
wasted on me.
After lunch, with the promise of more chess, Anthony sped through a few books. Following that hour of determined silence, I relished
each word he read. And I sensed that he went home less burdened by the task of reading. Anthony will never understand this but that
poignant afternoon encouraged me to come back the next week. H.E.L.P. International is more than a weekend obligation, soaking up
my Saturday. The kids I teach aren't a burden so much as a stress-relief, because ending the week instructing kids who have such an
enthusiasm for knowledge is inspiring. And now, chess is the cornerstone of my time there. I still play the game with Anthony among
others waiting their turn. But I usually hold it in reserve for students particularly difficult to crack.
-S.B., H.E.L.P. Tutor
Contact Ann Hazen
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