5:00 – 6:40 AM
I jump out of bed and hit the gym. There’s something about that early morning workout that gets me pumped and ready to start my day! Next, I drink my protein shake with a big breakfast, toast on the go! No time to cook a feast. After getting dressed, it’s time for my short commute to Great Oaks Charter School. I walk out of my apartment looking forward to the brisk New Jersey air that hits my face as I turn the sharp corner past the Halsey Deli and Dunkin Donuts. Even-though, I had a “big” breakfast the aroma of sausage and bacon are almost too much for any tutor to pass up. I pause to look at my watch, no time for that today.
6:40 – 7:00 AM
As I approach the school a few students have arrived early and are waiting patiently in the front hall of the building. I fist pump one smiling student and head upstairs to gather my packets for my 6th and 8th grade tutorials.
7:00 AM – 8:00 AM
By 7:00a.m. I am in my DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) class room. As an 8th grade ELA (English and Language Arts) Teaching Assistant, I oversee about 12-15 students reading silently and writing in their journal for one hour. DEAR is one of the most peaceful parts of my day and generally my DEAR classroom is pretty calm. I enjoy helping students engage and find reading interesting. It’s also amazing to see the growth in students’ comprehension levels and cognitive skills from that hour spent in the morning. As 8:00am creeps up I dismiss my DEAR students and then head to the Big Hall for my first 6th grade math tutorial.
8:03 AM- 8:55 AM
At Great Oaks I tutor 6th and 8th grade students in Math and ELA. I always look forward to my 6th grade tutorial in the mornings, because my students are usually upbeat and energetic. During these past couple of months, I have really bonded with my 6th grade students and I feel that our relationship goes far beyond our two tutorials each day (ELA and Math). My students generally breeze through the math packets, however they have a hard time grasping the ELA concepts. One of the best strategies to get my students engaged during ELA is to find a way to connect the material to their personal lives. It is sometimes amusing listening to their vernacular that they have developed. Sometimes they teach me slang, and then I remind them to remove it from their school vocabulary. Math tutorial is smoother then ELA tutorial. Once I demonstrate a few problems on my white board, my students are able to work independently. Because my students easily understand mathematical concepts, I can take some time during math tutorial to check-in with them. We do a lot of self- reflection. Our brief conversations allow us to get to know each other and contribute to the development of our relationship. After tutorial with my awesome 6th grade students, I transition to one of the 8th grade classrooms.
9:00 AM-10:45 AM
My role as one of the 8th grade ELA TAs (Teaching Assistants) requires me to be present in the classroom or grading homework for the next two hours. While in the classroom I observe the teacher and assist in any way possible. Some of my tasks include passing out graded assignments, escorting students to the nurse (some of them try to escape the lesson), helping students with independent or group work, and leading class readings. Great Oaks Tutor Corps has granted me the privilege of also being part of the NYU Teacher Residency Program. I get hands-on experience in the classroom combined with classes offered by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education.
10:54 AM-11:47 AM
When the 10:54a.m bell rings it signals the start of my 8th grade math tutorial. As my students keep looking at the clock, anxiously anticipating lunch, I correct their work and have them review answers that were incorrect. As much as they hate revising their work, it is beneficial and necessary for their academic development, though they hate to admit it. It is a very different experience working with 6th graders than with 8th graders. Their maturity levels are drastically different and so are their interests and hobbies. The way I connect with my 6th graders is not the same as I do with my 8th graders. Switching gears is something I do well and is a skill that I am thankful to have mastered.
Finally, it’s lunchtime! Usually, I get a half hour to an hour lunch break. My lunch usually ends up being left over dinner or occasionally I venture out to Just Fish, a delicious soul food restaurant around the corner from Great Oaks. I have become a regular there. My order consists of fried cat fish, mac n cheese, greens and corn bread. After that filling lunch, I am feeling rejuvenated and ready for my next rounds of tutorial.
After lunch I have back to back tutorials. First I meet with my 6th graders for ELA then my 8th graders. On Mondays, after my last tutorial, I have a meeting with the lead ELA teacher and the other TA to discuss material for next week’s packets. As a TA I design the 8th grade ELA tutorial packets. I find it to be a great practice as I work towards becoming a classroom teacher.
By 4:00p.m. my day is over! Or so I used to think. Though the school day may be over, my job isn’t done. I leave Great Oaks and head back to my apartment to begin packets for next week. I also grade homework and work on my own homework. That’s right I have homework! As I stated before, I am also a part of the Great Oaks/NYU Teacher Residency Program. Every Saturday I attend class at Great Oaks with nine other tutors, where we work towards our teacher certification and master’s degree from the NYU Steinhardt School of Education. Our next semester will consist of teaching at Saturday Academy, one of our enrichment programs for students. Some of my responsibilities in the Teacher Residency are lesson planning, attending classes, doing group assignments, visiting nearby schools, and assisting the 8th grade ELA teacher. By the time all my work is completed, it’s past midnight and I am ready for bed.
I’m only two and a half hours away from my home in Connecticut, yet it still seems so far away. I grew up in Hartford, CT and went to school in CT as well. I was extremely excited about my move to New Jersey. Ready for a change of scenery after college, I leapt at the opportunity to share some of the knowledge that has been bestowed upon me. I thought my college career was the busiest time of my life, but I was wrong. My role at Great Oaks Charter School is demanding, but I honestly couldn’t imagine doing something different. Working with these students and my colleagues for the past couple of months has truly been a rewarding experience and I am grateful for the opportunities that the Great Oaks Tutor Corps has granted and continues to offer me. This is a once in a lifetime experience that I will cherish!
Christopher Rodriguez is a 2013-2014 member of the Great Oaks Charter Tutor Corps Urban Education Fellowship in Newark. He is a graduate of the University of Hartford with a degree in U.S. History and Sociology. After his service year at Great Oaks, Mr. Rodriguez will continue to serve at an institution in Newark, NJ while completing his master’s degree.