Employed For A Day

I had my first and last day of tutoring today.

As we left it yesterday afternoon, I had thought that I was either coming in to tutor today at 12:30 or 2:30. (Today was a weird day since it was parent teacher conferences, so the kids got out of school really early.)

I planned on going to yoga this morning with my roommate Hannah. As I was on my way to the studio, I get a text at 9:45 asking if I could come in by 11. I say yes and turn back around to head home, throw on clothes and head out the door. The M then has mechanical problems and stops on the bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan (this gives me anxiety and on bad days sends me into a panic attack.) Thankfully, we aren't held too long but when I get off at Essex, it starts to rain. I, of course, am umbrella-less since the forecast I explicitly checked before leaving projected cloudy skies but no rain.

I arrive at the center exactly at 11:00 am. Reception is empty. There is one man teaching an adult English class. I sit in the waiting area unsure what to do. The teacher pops over during a break and tells me I should try going up a floor to look for Tommy, the man of the last minute emails.

I locate Tommy and he tells me someone should have been there. I ask if anyone is expecting me, a new teacher, today. He says no.

The girl who was supposed to be there, Shu, arrives and we take off to pick up the kids from their school. We are already late. I try making conversation but it doesn't really stick. At one point I tell her my father speaks Mandarin and I add that I assume she speaks Cantonese, being from Canton. She tells me she speaks both and we don't talk again after that. She's walking so fast I almost lose her a couple of times navigating the Chinatown sidewalks. I wonder if I offended her, or said something dumb.

We pick up four kids from this school and walk back in doubles, each of us "teachers" holding hands with one of the boys and the two girls holding hands in the middle. I make conversation with Brandon, whose hand I'm holding. It's a little disconcerting how much we have to talk about, me being a supposed adult. He talks to me about the Pixar movie Inside Out, Teen Titans (which I am surprised to learn is still a thing) Oreos and Minecraft. When we get back to the center Shu tells me that I shouldn't really talk to the kids when we're walking them back from school, it's dangerous for them not to be paying attention in Chinatown. I ask her how long I'm staying, since the text just said come in at 11. Until 6 she tells me.

Since the schools had a weird half-day, there is extra time to fill at the tutoring center. The kids are herded into the largest classroom to watch a movie, which is chosen by Googling "kid friendly movie online". I am assigned to watch the kids (yes, by myself) and then told to take them to the bathroom. I don't even know where the bathrooms are. I start to take one boy to the bathroom by himself and the other kids start laughing because I'm supposed to take them all at once, lined up in single file lines with the bathroom keys.

Once at the bathrooms, Grace, one of the little girls I walked home from school gets upset because an older girl calls her a loser in Chinese. The older girl's friend jumps in to debrief me on what happened making the whole thing, of course, much more complicated.

"I think you hurt her feelings, could you apologize to Grace?" I ask of the older girl.

She, of course, does not apologize. I ask Grace if she feels any better she shakes her head no and starts crying and the chatty friend of the older girl suddenly pretends she doesn't speak English, despite just explaining the entire fiasco to me. When I talk to her she shrugs, shakes her head and responds in Chinese.

"I know you speak English," I say, exasperated. I don't know any of their names, this is a disaster.

She uses her thumb and forefinger to make the universal sign for "a little" and says in a heavy, fake Chinese accent, "Only a little."

Back in the movie room my job is apparently just to occasionally say "Shhh guys!" The boys in front of me keep turning around to ask if we can do something else. I feel bad because the movie is bad, even for a kid's movie, and it's hard to hear and see the projection. I'm happy to lead them in a game or two, drama classes have at least equipped me with that skill, but I don't know what the fuck is expected and allowed. Every time I leave the room to come out and ask a question Shu is talking to someone else and I don't want to leave the kids alone in the room for too long.

At one point, I overhear her explaining their ESL program to a mother and father.

"How often is the principal here?" The dad asks.

"She's here on the weekends," Shu responds, which is definitely not the answer he wants to hear. "And she pops in from time to time. She has another job."

"Ah, so she does this for the money," The dad says outright. I commend his directness.

Then it is snack time (no one has told me what the eff the schedule is and I can't flag anyone down long enough to ask.) After snack time the kids go into their classrooms to do homework. I'm assigned to a classroom with 11 kids, the most by far, and when I ask everyone to go around the room and say their name we get stuck at the very first student, Jin Long, who introduces himself as "Chicken Nuggets."

Shu pops her head in and asks "How's it going in here?"

"They won't tell me their real names," I say, sheepishly.

Jin Long says "My name's Blahblah!"

"If that's what you want to be called, then that'll be your name from now on." She looks around the room. "If you won't tell Miss Kris your name you'll have to wear a name tag every day, OK?"

Mercifully, another tutor arrives and comes in to help me out, because other than learn everyone's names, I do not know what is expected of me and the children. Am I teaching a lesson? Do we read together? Does everyone silently do their work and ask me for help when they need it? What happens when a student finishes their homework? I volunteer to take some kids to the bathroom, a skill set I now have mastered. When I come back Miss Lauren (the other tutor) has written on the board:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Read for half an hour
  3. No talking

She seems confused to have me there and says nothing to me as I stand by the wall, not knowing where else to go. I don't want to break the silence to ask her questions. I focus on memorizing the student's names.

Xin Ping, an adorable little girl dressed in a white leopard print coat and all pink gets up at least 20 times to exchange out the book she has picked for another one. Should I go over and read with her? The classroom is so small, I don't want to block the aisle and disturb the other kids.

Tommy comes in at 4 and says I can go home. He tells me today can count as a work day since I did work. I ask him how payment works and he says we can collect the money "when we need it." I ask him when I'm coming in next and he says he doesn't know, but he'll send me a schedule later. I leave and call my mom to debrief her on the crazy that just happened and immediately start crying, not even knowing I had been holding it in.

Once home I write off a quick e-mail to Tommy explaining I don't think the tutoring center is the right fit for me and my current situation. I apologize for any inconvenience I have caused them.