A Caring Tutor Helps Child With Math And The Impact Of Childhood Trauma
By Jim Wambach
Strong one-on-one relationship helps a vulnerable child to trust again.
This past fall, I experienced firsthand the impact of childhood trauma on a precious, vulnerable young girl. I began working with “Nyesha” (not her real name) as a math tutor in October. The hope is that a tutor’s first meeting with their student lays the groundwork for a caring and trusting relationship. My first meeting with Nyesha, however, was difficult for the young girl.
When I went to bring Nyesha to her first Path2Math clinic, I found her absolutely frightened, hiding beneath her desk and refusing to come out. It took some coaxing from clinic coordinator Michelle Hutcherson to convince her to join us. During that first session, Nyesha was timid and not always there in spirit. I found out much later that she was experiencing tremendous difficulty at home, where child protective services had frequently been called. For Nyesha, home was not safe and nurturing and, to protect herself, she had withdrawn into herself on that first day of tutoring.
“I think they bring a lot of trauma into the classroom.” – Alexandra Brandenburg, second-grade teacher.
Ms. Brandenburg, her teacher, explained that many of her students experience violence at home or in their community, or are being moved from foster home to foster home. “I think they bring a lot of trauma into the classroom,” she told me. “Whether that’s from domestic violence to previous childhood trauma or just experiencing poverty.”
The impact of childhood trauma makes it almost impossible for a little elementary school girl or boy to learn. Initially there was no place that Nyesha found to be safe, including “Math Club” (the unofficial nickname for the Path2Math clinic). I realized that it was critical for Nyesha to trust me and feel safe before we could move forward with any productive tutoring. Thankfully we had started down that pathway from day one (once Nyesha got past her initial distress) and the transformation week after week has been amazing.
Nyesha still gets distracted, and occasionally stares into space during our tutoring sessions. Once I give her the opportunity to process, she reconnects. We have established a confidence that we’re here for each other and now act as a team to step through her math workbook. It has become more clear each week just how smart and capable she is, and she’s no longer frightened! In fact, when she was transferred from one class to another, Nyesha asked me to ask her new teacher to allow her to continue coming to Math Club. She was thrilled when I said, “Of course!”
As tutors, we consistently find a strong one-on-one relationship with a caring adult not only enables struggling children to catch up to their peers academically, but also creates an opportunity for a vulnerable child to trust again. For these children, that’s more important than academic learning alone.