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Miss Miho

Miss Miho, what’s the area of a trapezoid?” I turned around quickly from passing out pencils to find Charlie, a jolly sixth grader, inquisitively staring at his workbook. Shoot. Think Miho, think.

“Well, let’s look at the picture. What’s given?” There we go. Start asking him questions about the length and height. Kill some time. Charlie obediently answered my questions, while I shuffled through all the multivariable calculus formulas that I had cluttering my brain, until Charlie’s eyes lit up with a momentous A-HA! “Oh yea, I remember!” Charlie exclaimed, while frantically erasing his previous work. Whew. Good, Charlie.

As a Duke student, I am told time and time again within the Duke bubble that I am bright, accomplished and fearless. Yet, when put in a classroom of six sixth graders as a tutor and teacher’s aid, I mysteriously begin to sweat, twitch and stutter for the entire 53-minute period. I also have to retrieve my skills of sixth grade math from the black hole of my brain in order to be “Miss Miho,” knowledge provider of all things multiplication-based. And with their past End-of-Grade standardized test scores, as well as their current grades, these are the students that, according to the teacher, need my help the most. Talk about pressure.

“Miss Miho, how do I find the area of a circle?” Yes, easy question! I walk over to Will’s desk with pencil in hand, ready to show him the magic of plugging numbers into formulas. My explanation begins, but is shortly interrupted.

“But what’s pi?” 3.14. The area of a circle constant. Two vertical lines with a squiggly hat. “Why is it called pi? And why do we use it for circumference too?” Will, must we ask all these questions? Again, my stuttering kicks in full force. I try to cough up some words, an explanation of some sorts so that he’ll still trust Miss Miho for help, but my attempts prove futile. Failure. Must work on explaining concepts well.

While I dream of one day administrating my own school, I know my first couple of years post-Duke will be in the classroom as a teacher of 20 to 30 young, growing minds. Without question, the only way I can adequately prepare for such tasks is to dive right in to tutoring these six students, to remind myself how I learned in the sixth grade.

“Miss Miho, what’s 0.75 as a fraction?” Kia looked stumped, until I instructed her to do what I did in my sixth-grade fraction lessons: “Think money.” Eureka. “OH! Three quarters,” Kia told herself, while I hid a smile. Accomplishment.

Although I know several Dukies who tutor, I know of only a handful who consider teaching as their future career. To graduate from Duke to become a teacher is considered a faux pas and a waste of $40,000. (Ironic, since none of us would have gotten here without our teachers.) When I tell friends I’d like to do something Teach-for-America-related, they usually try to talk me out of such a “scary” experience by bombarding me with horror stories. Yet, as an economics major, I am surrounded by students who strive for jobs that entail 80-hour work weeks performing mind-numbing, number-crunching slave labor. In my opinion, that is scary.

“Miss Miho, come help me!” a frustrated Charlie pleads. I look at his work amidst eraser dust. Raise your energy level, Miho. Charlie is stuck on the last problem, thrown off by being given the diameter, not radius. Patience. Yes, he’s nodding his head. “Oh, that’s easy,” Charlie says. “Thank you!” Accomplishment.

Even if teaching is the “unbeaten” path here, Charlie’s “thank you” echoes the countless ones I’ve given to the major influence of my own life: my teachers. If I can make a difference in students’ lives, just as my teachers did, then I will be doing something right in our woeful public education system, which then, hands down, beats a cubicle and a six-figure salary. As for now, I’ll tutor, make mistakes and learn with these sixth graders, hopefully without stuttering or sweating too much.

“Miss Miho, you want to play a math game now? We can teach you.”

Yes. Please, teach me.


[Note: Students’ names have been changed.]

Miho Kubagawa is a Trinity sophomore. Her column appears every other Friday.


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