Lots of exciting things happening with my family in the past week!
First of all, I’m pleased to say that Emma and I are now aided by another pair of students from our class: Arman and Samantha. We will have “joint custody” over the Nepali family for the rest of the semester, or so to speak. I think this is great, because they are still adjusting to life in America, and their children still need to be brought up to speed.
Progress with the boys is moving at previous rates, with no real changes occurring in any of them. What I have noticed over the past four weeks, though, is how tutoring quickly turns into a family affair in their household. When my group and I come over to visit, the two youngest boys are there along with either their father or their mother, rarely both. However, as soon as we arrive and set up shop in the living room, word quickly spreads throughout their building. The absent family members return home; relatives stop by to say hello and to give their children an opportunity to work with us after we finish work with Gopal’s, the apparent patriarch, youngest children.
I’m equally astounded and annoyed at how quickly studying turns into a group affair. Sometimes it’s difficult communicating the lessons to Gopal’s sons, because they have such a limited grasp on the English language. More often than not, the boys’ relatives or friends (if they’re also visiting) will start shouting out the answers in English and playfully chastise Gopal’s sons in Nepalese until they write down the correct answer.
Usually I find this irritating. It’s pretty obvious that the friends, who speak better English than Gopal’s sons, are trying to impress Emma or I (and now Arman and Sam) with their knowledge. It bothers me in particular because I continually stress that none of Gopal’s children will actually learn this material unless they figure it out for themselves. I can give them all the correct answers to their math homework, and they’ll get a good grade for the assignment, but what will happen on the test? I won’t be there to tell the correct answer when they stumble.
Still, despite my frustrations, I am nonetheless impressed by the older generation’s involvement in the younger one. Gopal and his wife often sit on the sidelines and go over previous assignments, urging their boys to practice writing after they finish homework. They also bring assignments from their ELL classes for the volunteers and I to correct; in some respects they are actually much more eager to learn than their children.
Gopal himself provides an interesting example. Gopal carries a worn little black notebook that he can usually be seen writing in from time to time. On Monday he asked me to explain the values of different American currency, so we went through the motions: a penny is one cent, a nickel is five cents, etc. He wrote all this information down in that notebook for review later that day, or perhaps in an ELL class. I noticed that he has rather beautiful handwriting; even when he writes in English, everything is neat and legible.
But make no mistake, Gopal and his wife are totally and fully dedicated to the development of their children. We offered to take the boys to the park after homework, but by the time we finished (5PM – after tutoring for two hours straight) Gopal laughed and told Arman that it was too late for that. I was disappointed to hear that; we had planned the trip to the park, and at 80 degrees the weather couldn’t have been better, but I digress. I still want to take them there, before the weather gets too cold or the sun starts to set too early in the afternoon.
I am left wondering what else my group and I can do for this family. So far their sole interest in us is our ability to teach their children; every so often a trip to the clinic is mentioned, but that would be for the two oldest sons, and only when neither parent nor relative is around to chaperone them to Wilson.
Not that I haven’t found this enjoyable or rewarding, but I can’t help but ask: what else needs to be done? Since we now have four volunteers working with the family in groups of two twice a week, there has to be something.