Steve Dunham’s Trains of Thought

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Joyce Hottle, Classroom Buddy

By Steve Dunham

ANSER Transmissions, November-December 1999, copyright 1999 Analytic Services. Used by permission.

“Mrs. Hottle!” the kids all scream when Joyce walks into the classroom. Actually, Joyce is not married, but she is a parent figure to the fourth and fifth graders she tutors at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. “They are so enthusiastic,” she says. “They want to learn, and they love the attention.” The kids get individual English lessons from Joyce one hour a week as part of ANSER’s Partnerships in Education Program.

The pupils have English as a second language, and Joyce provides high-intensity language training (“HILT”), though she points out that “high-intensity” doesn’t mean “complicated.” “Everything is basic. I just talk to them. It’s amazing what they can pick up.”

Working with Joyce, the pupils read and write stories at the first- or second-grade level. “The pictures help explain the words,” says Joyce. “The hardest thing I’ve had to do was explain abstract words.” She notes that HILT is a perfect tutoring assignment for functional staff people like her. (Joyce is Ruth David’s Executive Assistant and has been at ANSER since 1985.) No degree is needed to tutor pupils in elementary English, and the work is not technical, says Joyce. The main point, she says, is to use the language, rather than to teach grammar. “I don’t even know what a gerund is.”* Nor did Joyce need special preparation to work with the children. “The teacher, Grace Avis, sets up the lessons and tells you what she wants you to do.”

Patrick Henry Elementary School uses tutors for first, second, and third grades in the morning and for fourth and fifth grades in the afternoon. The fifth graders especially need help as they prepare for middle school. Volunteers can be a lunch buddy, a classroom buddy, or an after-school buddy. Joyce is a classroom buddy. She helps children in the classroom with reading, spelling, and writing. Usually they sit together and read a story, and then the pupil writes a few sentences about it to show comprehension.

Six years ago, James Bellora, then an ANSER editor and cartoonist, persuaded Joyce to try tutoring. They worked together for a year and a half, and Joyce has been doing it ever since. (James continued tutoring for two and a half years after he left ANSER.)

Besides the reward of seeing the children’s English improve, as well as the acclaim she gets when she walks into the classroom, Joyce has received many tokens of affection from her pupils. At the end of each school year and at Christmas she gets handmade cards from the kids. One year she bought them travel games and candy canes. One boy gave her a card that read, “I don’t like peppermint. I sold the candy cane to my sister for two bucks.” Joyce said she wouldn’t give him any more candy canes if he didn’t like them, but he still wanted them—he liked making money.

Joyce also likes tutoring at Patrick Henry Elementary School because it’s in her neighborhood, and she believes in supporting one’s neighborhood.

Anyone who’s interested is welcome to go with her and see what it’s like, says Joyce. You can also contact Kermit Burnett, ANSER’s official point of contact for Patrick Henry Elementary School.

*A present participle used as a noun, such as tutoring in “Joyce likes tutoring.”