I am sitting in that little room again, cluttered with computers and decrepit chairs, spending time with a student, ten-year-old Sarah. We meet weekly so I can provide support for her school work. Sometimes she struggles with motivation, despairing over her self-perceived lack of skills. Other times she doesn’t struggle at all – just providing a half-hearted effort at the exercises I put before her.
I have been trying so hard to break through to her growing indifference. I know she has troubles at home that distract her and cause her to be discouraged. Sarah is bright, with a love for animals. She has a beautiful smile and an intelligent sense of humour, making her more cluey than a lot of the other children of her age. Sarah is mature beyond her years, understanding that the her family circumstances places restrictions on the activities and luxury items she is allowed.
I see that Sarah’s needs go far beyond simple literacy support. In this government school where religion is compartmentalised into neat little slots of Religious Instruction given by approved volunteers, how can I even begin to tell her that I have been praying for her, that I yearn for her family to know the love of God?
All I can do is to offer concern and friendship in the limited time we have. As the term has progressed, I realise I have to convey some reason for hope.
At the end of the half hour, I push her to open up about her attitude.
“What sort of writer do you think you are, Sarah?”
She rolls her eyes in defeat. “I’m terrible; I’m just no good at it.”
“Do you think you’re as good as Casey?” I prod, asking her to compare with another student I provide support for.
Sarah looks away as if I am trying to make her feel bad. “Of course not – she’s smart!” Sarah spits out the word like it leaves a bad taste in her mouth.
I ache to build her self-confidence. I risk the possible repercussions of making judgements on other students. “Well, I think you’re better than Casey. She took a whole half hour to do this worksheet, and you finished it in less time, and that’s why you are doing this extra writing.” Sarah doesn’t look at me.
I continue, “Hey, do you know why I push you to do this work?” I pause briefly, not expecting an answer. “It’s because you have lots of ideas; you write really interesting stories. And the reason why you struggle sometimes is because you want to express yourself better. You just need a bit more practice and you will be such a great writer.”
In a flash, I think of all the other wonderful skills she has, and how I care for her. If only she knew what a special child she is…. My eyes start to fill with tears. Oh, how unprofessional! I look out the window and casually press at the corner of my eye to stop the flow.
Sarah shrugs her shoulders and collects her pencil and rubber. I take a big sigh and look at her, wondering what else to say. How much am I nagging her… is anything sinking in, or is it all going in one ear and out the other?
I smile and get ready to leave the room also. “Hey, don’t ever think you are not smart – ‘cos you are.”
Sarah flickers a look at me.
“See ya next time,” I say, and stand at the door, watching her depart. I think of my inadequacy to make a difference in her life, and wonder what I can do to challenge and guide Sarah. I will keep thinking and praying and preparing. Until next time.
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifice God is pleased” Hebrews 13:16 NIV