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A Better Arithmetician Than Me

Here’s what motivates this committed tutor to keep coming back as a volunteer at SDRT.

Written By: Stephen Gilmour

I first heard about SDRT in the summer of 2017. A friend and coworker told me about a tutoring program that he had joined. He told me about a boy from Syria with whom he had been working and how this student was smart but had a hard time focusing on his homework. While the boy preferred playing with Legos or kicking around a soccer ball, he told me how, over time, he could see the student slowly getting better at math, reading, and spelling.

As a Christian, I believe that investing in the lives of kids through a program like tutoring is something that God could use to love and help others, and I knew that refugee tutoring was something that I wanted to do.

The first day that I came to tutoring, I wound up being paired with a boy from Syria, and it wasn’t until the end of our time together that I realized that he was the same student that my friend had been telling me about. For the rest of the year, I tutored this student on Tuesdays, and my friend tutored him on Thursdays.

I quickly learned that my friend was right about this student being smart. The first couple of sessions we worked together, the student talked me into spending the majority of our time playing games, doing push-ups, playing with LEGOS, and re-reading the same book that he had already memorized. After several weeks, however, the two of us got to know each other more; I found that he seemed to grasp concepts more easily when they were linked to things around him, like drawing pictures of things we read about in books and that we could be more productive when the session was punctuated by taking breaks. He learned that he was a better arithmetician than me.

He learned that he was a better arithmetician than me.

Some of the most important things that I’ve learned from tutoring came when students that I had worked with for several months told me that they no longer wanted to work with me. The first time that this happened, I was embarrassed, and although I quickly paired up with a different student for the evening, I was bothered and wondered what I had done wrong. This was the first time that I questioned if it truly was worth investing time and energy into tutoring kids when I came away feeling disappointed or discouraged. Over time, God helped me to understand that I had started to use tutoring as a way to feel good about myself and how good of a person I was. This understanding led me to realize that tutoring was an opportunity to love and serve others, regardless of how I felt before or after each tutoring session. The time spent at tutoring each week is truly a gift, and I feel immensely privileged for the chance to be involved.


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The time spent at tutoring each week is truly a gift, and I feel immensely privileged for the chance to be involved.

-Stephen gilmour

About Melissa Phillips

Melissa is one of the founders and currently serves as administrator of San Diego Refugee Tutoring. She has four incredible children, years of teaching experience and a supportive husband who also works in education.

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