Joining SEAL, I had no expectation of what it would be like to tutor an elementary student since I had never done any sort of volunteer work solely with children. Although I was worried about working with a first grader, my semester volunteering with SEAL allowed me to gain valuable insight into working with children. In the spirit of recognizing our mascot (and being corny), here is some seal-themed advice for the next wave of SEAL volunteers:

  1. Dive in: If you want to have a good tutoring session, make sure to immerse yourself in the environment. Yes, you may have an exam later that afternoon and a midterm two days from then, but your Reading Buddy will really appreciate if you can make your time together about just the two of you. Focusing on just your Reading Buddy will let them know that you respect what they are saying, which is vital in trying to build a relationship with them.
  2. Keep your balance: As the seal mascot on our shirt balances a book on its nose, you too need to be able to complete this spectacular feat. Just kidding, but you do need to remember the balance between being a mentor and a leader with your buddy. This often means reminding your buddy that you do actually have to read. Additionally, this might mean refocusing your buddy’s attention if they get distracted or reminding your buddy of the golden rule when they are interacting with their peers. Also, maintain a balance between reality and fantasy. We all imagine that by meeting with a Reading Buddy once a week that we will leave them reading Shakespeare at the end of the semester. That isn’t going to happen. In the best case, your Reading Buddy will read with greater confidence and at a higher level. And in the worst case–there isn’t a worse case. The good thing about SEAL is that your buddy will benefit even if you don’t see a noticeable change in their actual reading. Your buddy has been exposed to more reading than if they had not been in the program, and will have fostered a relationship with a committed and responsible adult. For some students, this may be more valuable than the actual reading itself.
  3. Follow the current, but don’t be afraid to go against it: Every child in the program is different and will come in with a different set of skills. You don’t want to be the person that comes into their life and forces them to read a chapter book when they are only comfortable reading short picture books. As you ease into working with your Reading Buddy, follow their lead. This will help build their confidence as they realize that they can achieve more in reading than they thought they could. With my Reading Buddy, we started with rhyming books and have built up to “chapter” picture books by reading a slightly more challenging book each week. For other buddies, they may struggle to get through a page. Recognize that they probably understand their issues and are likely not happy to show them off to a relative stranger. It is best to help guide them through sounding out words and building their verbal skills rather than showing your frustration and taking over reading for the day.
  4. Clap! : Like our mascot’s propensity for clapping, SEAL volunteers should pick this habit up. Whether it is clapping, high fives, or any other form of encouragement, every volunteer needs to show they are proud of their Reading Buddy when they make an effort. My buddy’s happiness when I congratulate him on his progress is one of the best parts of tutoring because I know he is building his confidence in reading and in himself. Just by encouraging and praising your buddy, you could make them see reading and academics in a more positive light or reevaluate how they see themselves.

– Carly Williams, Blackshear Elementary Volunteer

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