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With bright tangerine walls, meticulously hung alphabet charts, and “remember to wash your hands” posters, Kumon Learning Center is not the place I would have expected to find my maturity. As I stand in the Center now, though, I look back and see how far I have come in my short time here.
I’m not sure if it was my love for math and English, or my reluctance to work in the fast-food industry that drew me to this part-time job. Either way, I arrived on the first day with an air of nervous excitement. Right away, my boss sat me down at a private instruction table, where new or struggling students sat to receive assistance. Without training or even spoken instructions, I was expected to help kids with their classwork for the day—from long division to writing the letters of the alphabet. Not used to having to really figure things out on my own, with no directions to follow for one of the first times in my life, the pressure terrified me. That first day passed in a blur of whispered questions to my fellow staff members and fumbling attempts at explaining mathematical concepts to preschoolers.
Fast-forward a month, through trial and error and dedicated observations of veteran employees. I was better prepared. Now Tenzin—a seven-year-old regular at Kumon—sat down at my table. Unable to sit still for more than one addition problem at a time and a notorious crier, Tenzin presented a unique challenge. When not giving me a loud discourse on her weekend, which only quieted with my incessant reminders to use our “whisper voices”, or attempting a break for the door to avoid her classwork, she needed my help with math. Armed with my personal addition strategies and faded memories of my mom’s peace-making tactics, I determinedly set out to help Tenzin learn.
By the end of our hour together, she could add ones through fours. I had managed to convince her to sit quietly and finish her work, before giving me a detailed description of her unicorn Pillow-Pet. I was finally figuring the job out and living up to my responsibilities. Before Tenzin went home and the next kid took her place, she wrote me a note saying, “I love you teacher.” She wrote it on my desk in permanent marker, but it was the thought that counted. In Tenzin’s mind, I was a grown-up, and a successful one at that. Looking at myself from this new perspective, I realized that I had grown up.
My first day at Kumon, I was unsure of myself, and unaware of how to really take charge and teach kids when I was still a kid myself. But by throwing myself into the deep end, and jumping into a difficult job with little instruction, the initial panic and confusion gave way to rapid personal growth. Within a month, my confidence in my actions had grown exponentially.
The transformation into adulthood comes when it has to, and for me, this was when students looked to me for help. I was now the one giving the answers, not receiving them. No longer an adolescent, I began to make my own decisions and leave my own mark on the world. Kumon gave me the opportunity to make an impact on young minds and lead as an authority figure, fully stepping into my role as a productive member of my community. When walking through the local grocery store now, I run into kids and parents I know from Kumon. The kids hug me, and the parents stop to chat. They don’t see me as some annoying teenager, but a respectable person who teaches their children. We talk, not as an adult to a child, but as equals.
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