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Headshot of Kayley Gould

Kayley Gould, '23

Viewing Unknowns as Learning Opportunities

“I don’t get it.”

This phrase used to terrify me. As an aspiring teacher, each time a student said these words, my heart would sink. I wondered what I was doing wrong and doubted my ability to explain key concepts.

In particular, one fourth-grade student I worked with while tutoring at the Homework Club in the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park continuously called herself stupid. Whenever she was frustrated she would tell me, “This is too hard. I don’t get it.”

Once, during a session focused on multiplication, she became so frustrated that she left in tears. I knew I needed to make a change. The following week, instead of jumping straight into math, I talked to her about her day and the play she was auditioning for, wanting her to know I cared about her as more than a math student. She shared that she was being teased for not speaking “proper” English, and she was often afraid to participate in class because of it. I told her that she had the same right to participate as any of her classmates and that I was proud of her for stepping out of her comfort zone to audition for the play.

After our conversation, I could tell she felt more comfortable around me. I encouraged her to try multiplication once more. We reviewed three problems, and she was finally able to correctly multiply on the fourth. I taught her the exact same method as the first day and the same way her teacher taught her in class. What changed was the strength of our relationship, her belief in herself, and her willingness to make mistakes.

My first contact with the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park was in 2018, when a friend invited me to come tutor with her there. Before that, I, like many other Bay Area residents, did not know the mobile home park existed, despite living five minutes away.

When I started college, I knew that tutoring the students at the mobile home park was something I wanted to continue as I was extremely interested in pursuing service that worked toward education equity. I wanted to be more educated about the population of students I worked with, so I took classes on the well-being of immigrant youth, issues in and the history of Latinx/Chicanx education, and language diversity. These classes gave me the language and background to learn more about what affected the students and advocate for policies that supported them as people and learners.

This is my fifth year working with the after-school tutoring program. I now serve as the program director, where I manage the logistics and daily operations of the program, communicate with parents, and recruit and train volunteer tutors. Engaging with these students and families has taught me so much about education and working with linguistically and ethnically diverse students. I will continue to grow and apply this knowledge as I enter the the Stanford Teacher Education Program next year.

While “I don’t get it” statements used to scare me, I now know that these moments are the best learning opportunities for both me and the students I am working with. Now, whenever I hear this statement from a student, I smile, and add one important word to the end of their statement: “yet.”

Kayley Gould, ’23, received her bachelor's in English and is a graduate student in the Stanford. Graduate School of Education. She was an Issue Area Coordinator for education and a community-engaged learning coordinator during the 2022-23 academic year, and was also part of the Public Service Leadership Program. Kayley is originally from Los Altos, California.
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