EUREKA - Walt Woosley hopes to help children through painful times like he had growing up. But to do that, he has to revisit his own past.
As part of an education psychology class he's taking at Eureka College, Woosley is back in some of his old classrooms, working with children who - like him - have fallen behind due to absences, or who just need a little extra help understanding assignments.
The 21-year-old Secor resident and Eureka College sophomore was raised in an unstable family life. His father died when he was 3 and Woosley spent the next several years bouncing among his mother, other relatives and foster homes. "It was pretty much an ever-evolving situation," he said.
Sara Kaufman, a kindergarten teacher at Eureka's Davenport Elementary School, remembers having Woosley as a student. "He was very quiet," said Kaufman. "He was just the saddest little thing you've ever seen."
His unstable home life led to an unstable school life that can make it easy to fall behind, said Kaufman, adding, "I think his background has made him a very compassionate worker with young children. He told me that he does remember the sadness and frustration of not understanding."
Woosley said the best way to help children is getting them interested in classroom activities. "It is a matter of finding out what drives a kid and getting them interested," he said. "There were always teachers growing up that did that. Any time frame, I can pick out that teacher."
The experience has Woosley trying to determine if he wants to be that teacher. As part of the Illinois Army National Guard, he spent from May 2003 to July 2004 in Iraq.
"Especially since I hadnÂ't been in a classroom for awhile, I started questioning if that was really the place for me," he said.
Kaufman has no problem seeing her former student in the front of a classroom.
"His patience in working with children and helping them get caught up is terrific," she said. "In his experience, he can understand the frustration of some of the children and knows how that one-on-one attention can help."
Woosley also knows how students can be difficult to reach as they get older. "I would always push the envelope. Basically, I would do the opposite of whatever I was supposed to be doing," he said. "I was the kid at the back of the classroom who was annoying and you wished wasn't there."
The turnaround came in his junior year at El Paso High School, when he volunteered to help with an elementary school art class. Soon, he was teaching art, working in summer camp and after-school activities and mentoring students through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. In addition to Kaufman's kindergartners, Woosley works three times a week with fourth-graders in Karen Gerdes' classroom.
Woosley said he doesn't remember much about his time in Kaufman's class, but there are reminders of his time at the school. Fourth-grade teacher Inge Zimmerman, who taught Woosley in first grade, still has a picture he drew of her on her classroom wall.
As Kaufman watches Woosley work with her students, she thinks back to that sad little boy.
"It is neat to see him come full circle and see that this little guy you were so worried about has made it," she said. "And that is what he wants for those children."