The summer after my sophomore year in high school I signed up to be a tutor for a summer school class. I needed to complete 40 hours of tutoring for a program at my high school, and I thought that the summer would be the best time to complete them. Little did I know that my first volunteer experience would be tougher than I expected.
I was placed as a tutor in a class with students who had disabilities. The class consisted of 6 students, all of whom were different ages, developmental levels and disability types. In addition to the students, there were 4 teachers, 1 main teacher, and 3 teaching assistants, and me. Everyone was squeezed into a well-designed, yet tiny classroom.
At that point in my life, interacting with anyone who had a disability was fairly unfamiliar to me. I have a cousin who has cerebral palsy, but his disability was never discussed with me or in front of me. The only reason I know that he specifically has cerebral palsy is because his younger brother brought it up during a conversation, and even then I was afraid to talk about it. I brought this same “don’t talk about it” mindset to the group of students I tutored, which ultimately hurt me. Neither did I, nor the teachers initiate conversation about the student’s disabilities.
In short, my lack of communication played a major role in my frustration with this experience. I felt overwhelmed, and spent the majority of the summer dreading my tutoring placement. One day I bumped into a student who wore braces on his legs while I pushed another student in a wheelchair. The student who wore the leg braces fell, and without saying anything the main teacher swiftly took the wheelchair from me. I struggled, but I said nothing and chose to stick it out in silence.
My time as a tutor ended on a positive note. On the last day, the class had a party. The students made me thank you cards, and I gave each of them bubbles. Recently, I recognized one of the students from this class as he accepted his diploma during graduation.
This experience shows the importance of honest communication. I wasn’t upfront with the teachers about my frustration, nor did I ask for help. Had I done this, I would have gotten more out of this experience. My first experience as a tutor and as a volunteer was a disaster, but it also taught me valuable lessons about being honest and communication.