Thursday, March 29, 2007

You Like Apples?

Because my teaching contract ran out last week, a friend of mine recommended that I start tutoring for this little company that basically pimps out smart people to people who need help being smarter, or at least better in school. The hours are flexible, I enjoy being of service to people, I get paid fairly well for my time, and the student population at large generally walks away with a little more spring in their academic step.

Today, I got a call at 8am from my favorite nerd pimp, asking if I would be able to tutor a college student who is having trouble with the on-line "Logic" class that she is taking from one of the local community colleges. Apparently, the student got a 10% on her last test, and was anxious to work with a tutor today. Despite the fact that it meant missing my morning gym time, I agreed to haul across town in bad weather to meet the student within the hour. Here is a reconstruction of our meeting:

I walked in and introduced myself, sat down, took out my laptop, fired up the failed test that was sent to me and asked her to tell me about this so-called "Logic" class. Meanwhile, I noticed that she looked like a deer in headlights the minute I walked in the door. Realizing her discomfort, I attributed this to her anxiety about needing a tutor. Instead, she said this:

"YOU are actually going to TUTOR me in this?"

"Um...yes, well, I'm going to try. It looks to me like a lot of this material is really similar to the logic puzzles in LSAT and GRE tests. I've done both. Do you do Sudoko puzzles? I love them. It's not hard stuff when you figure out that it's all just a game. So, I guess my job is to help you figure out how to play the game better, and you should be just fine in the class."

I was being especially cheery and intentionally upbeat. Learning is fun, right?

"But HOW OLD are you?"

I laughed and suddenly realized that her deer-in-headlights-discomfort was actually her own internalization of the fact that she was probably old enough to be my mother. For some reason this was a problem for her?

"I think you'll agree," I said, in an ever-so-charming, reassuring, yet uber-Socratic tone, "that learning can occur at any age and intelligence cannot be expressed in how many years a person has been on the planet. Anyone can be a teacher and anyone can be a student. In fact, I think that the best teachers are the ones who are consistently open to learning from their students."

I watched her jaw clench. I was careful to be light but respectful. Clearly this issue was bigger than me.

"Believe me," I persisted. "I've spent a lot of time putting stuff into my head. I'm actually over-qualified to help you with this."

Her jaw clenched harder. She folded her arms across herself. She still wasn't satisfied. She told me that my pimp told her that I was getting a PhD, so she expected someone much older. Actually, she didn't say "older" she said "more mature". But then!-Then had the audacity to say that she wasn't "prepared to be tutored by a cheerleader".

A cheerleader?!!!???!!!! Is she serious! Oh my god, she's serious!! She didn't #$&*-ing JUST SAY THAT!!! She actually just said that to my face!!???!! Wow...

Of course, there are several ways that I could have responded to this. I could have pitched a fit. I could have pulled out all of my credentials, thrown them in her face and told her to "eat it" in four different languages. I could have taken me and my cute pony tail out of there faster than she could have yelled after me. I even could have apologized to her for her own issue that had nothing to do with me and then told my pimp to find someone else. Instead, I took a deep breath, reached over and touched her hand and leaned in to look her dead in the eyes.

I told her that if I was in her position, I would understand her anxiety, too. I told her that if she wants to get another tutor, I won't take it personally, but there was a reason why I was selected for this job as opposed to the other tutors in the company. Then I made a deal with her.

"I haven't taken your class, and to be honest, I've never expressly taken a Logic course in my life. I don't have your textbook, and I haven't heard a single lecture from your teacher. But I'm going to make you a deal. Without studying as you did, I'm going to sit here right now and take the test that you just failed. And then you're going to grade it against the right answers. If you're happy with the results, then maybe you'll see what I can offer you. If you're unhappy with the results, then your judgement of me is fair, and I'll go back to my entire PhD committee and tell them that I'm quitting my job so that I can really be a cheerleader when I grow up. Who knows, maybe I'll even get a job at Hooters? How does that sound? What do you say?"

I made sure to smile with as much patience as possible.

She seemed annoyed, but willing to see me fail the test that has apparently stepped on her psyche this week. It's interesting to see how some people look for other people to fail so that they can be justified in their own minds.

I'm not going to lie, the test was tricky. On the inside, I agonized over one question, but I didn't let her see this. In fifteen minutes, I handed it back to her for grading, and the best part is that I didn't get a single wrong answer.

I worked with her for the rest of the hour and showed her how to draw pictures for logic puzzles. Her anger with the world and resentment towards me specifically never dissipated, but the volume did get turned down a bit when she figured out an answer on her own.

How 'bout them apples?


I-66 said...

I'd like to race you with a sudoku puzzle :)

Namaste said...

haha. 66. we're having a cook-off and a sudoku race now? what's next?

E. Morena said...

You handled that well, Namaste. But I am feelin her just a bit though. Although I am not as old as I imagine your student was, I understand the insecure feeling of being taught by someone younger and more...accomplished than oneself. I like to see it as a challenge, however, as my quest to be the Smartest Person in the Whole World is never ending. :)