How do I feel about my experience with Study Buddies? Meh.
My study buddy was an adorable 6 year old boy named Mohamed. His smile will make anyone's heart melt, he cleans up after himself, and he is very smart when he puts his mind to something. I worked with him all year, and although he can be frustrating sometimes, as any 6 year old can, I usually leave with a sense of accomplishment and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you feel like you've done something good. Two days ago, on the last day I would ever help Mohamed with his homework. he told me he hated me and didn't want me to come back next year.
I had been nervous about our last meeting, wondering if he was going to be sad that we wouldn't be seeing each other anymore. It was one of those bittersweet selfish thoughts; I didn't want him to be sad... but I kinda did. So when I told him I was signing up to come back next year and his reply was "Nooo!" you'd think it would have hit me pretty hard. But I knew then and I know now that it wasn't personal. I know that I did the best with him that I could have. I know that it's hard to sit and listen to a stranger tell you what to do, especially when you're a six year old Muslim boy and that stranger is a college age woman. I also know, from working with Mohamed all year, that he is a particularly headstrong, proud, and easily distracted boy. These qualities are especially deterring when sitting in a room fun of games and toys in front of a big window with the whole world outside, and the situation placed me in the role of disciplinarian. I had to be the one to tell him he couldn't run around the room reenacting his favorite Bad Boys 2 moments, that told him he needed to stop coloring a picture of gangsters and do his homework, that told him he couldn't go to the water fountain alone, or to the staff-only equipment room. I was just another voice of "no," and as that was the only impression he ever got of me, I understand his feelings.
This experience was very enlightening for me. We are spoon-fed the glamorous image of tutoring that little underprivileged kid who only wants to learn against all odds, that they will fall hopelessly in love with us and we'll keep in touch for the rest of our lives. I saw some groups there who looked like they were connecting, that they were friends who were having a great starry-eyed journey through the winding road of knowledge. But I also saw some very tired looking volunteer faces of students like myself, doing it for class credit, in whose eyes I saw little but "alright, here I am again." I also heard some mentees complain loudly about their homework assignments and the way the service was being run. Mainly I was so busy trying to raise my voice as little as possible while still commanding polite authority over my six-year-old rebel, trying to explain to him why he couldn't do whatever he wanted after his homework was done, and letting him win at board games because he threw a fit if he ever wasn't in a commanding lead with the ability to constantly gloat.
When I signed up for next year and Mohamed protested, I asked him if he didn't want me to come back next year. When he said no, I was slightly offended, but cheerfully replied "OK, well then I'll come back and work with someone else." All in all it was a rewarding experience even though I don't necessarily think I had too much of an impact on his impressionable little life. I mean, really, he knew how to do 85% of his homework without me saying a thing. Half the time he told me he didn't want me to help (unless he was asking me for the answers). But the times he did need my help, and I could help him, really was that warm fuzzy feeling. It was sparse and tough to get to, and sometimes I wanted to tear my hair out, but it was worth it. And if I can fit it into my schedule, I will try and come back next semester. Who knows, maybe I'll get that fairy tale bonding experience we see in the movies. Maybe not. There's only one way to find out.