I love helping students understand things. That’s something I only discovered this fall, during my tenure volunteering at St Francis International School.
Elementary school kids aren’t too thrilled when you drill them on grammar. Nor arithmetic, multiplication tables, or spelling. Trust me, I know. I’ve been drilling these subjects into the kids at St Francis International School since August. They squirm uncomfortably in their chairs, stubbornly insisting that they get it, that no, they really don’t need my help, that wrong answer they just wrote down was a fluke. A former chair-squirmer myself, I override each student’s objections, plop myself down stubbornly in the nearest teeny-tiny chair, and drill grammar and multiplication until, seemingly magically, my students get it.
That’s the moment I live for- the one when something clunks into place, and suddenly my student understands something he or she didn’t two seconds earlier. It’s wonderfully clear when that epiphany moment happens. There’s this shy smile that overtakes the student’s formerly haughty expression.
I saw it when cool eighth grader Brian, already grumpy at being forced to spend his precious recess practicing for the Catholic high school admissions test, suddenly understood the mysterious pattern behind using commas to connect clauses. For a moment, the haughty expression masking his day dreams of throwing a football were replaced by a shy smile towards his desk.
I saw it when Veronica, a mathematically struggling fifth grader, suddenly understood subtracting mixed numbers. Ignoring her fluttery insistence that she needed no help, I sat beside her until she too wore a shy smile, emboldened by five correct answers in a row.
On days when I have those encounters, I leave St Francis School feeling no less exhilarated than my students. I helped someone understand something! I taught a child something that I myself didn’t understand when I was his or her age! That day, a child wouldn’t have to suffer a pain I’m still familiar with: the embarrassment and frustration of not understanding something that seemingly everybody else got easily.
Volunteering at St Francis reminds me of perhaps the most basic principal of ministry: Ministry begins in using your own experiences to make someone else’s life a bit better, even if your own experience was nothing more than confusion and self-doubt.