I have several part time jobs. One of them is tutoring. When I tell people this they usually ask me what it is I tutor and my response is- they’re middle school kids, whatever they’re doing, I just figure it out. Smug- yes, overconfident-yes. Now these kids aren’t dumb in the least. When I was a kid if you had a tutor it meant you were in danger of being held back. It was a sign of shame. Like “you need extra help with your school work? Dude, this is South Carolina. It ain’t that hard.” On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, however, if you don’t have a tutor it means you’re poor and your parents don’t love you.
So this year I have a brand new “client.” He’s in the eighth grade and his parents are very wealthy. His mother is a wonderful woman, very excited about her son’s education. She informs me that he is going to need some extra help in math. Great.
My math career in school could easily be defined by the phrase “when am I ever going to use this crap?” I was one of those people who sat in my algebra 2 class and scoffed at the idea that I would need to know quadratic equations. I was going to be a famous actor- if I did need to know quadratic equations, I would hire someone to do it for me. Little did I know a short 18 years later, here I was, in Manahattan, depending on my Math skills to support myself.
So we crack the book and he opens to a section that might as well have been M.I.T level Calculus. I have absolutely no idea how to even start any of the problems on the page. Upon seeing his assignment he rolls his eyes, sighs, and says
“Yeah, these,” I reply, “I remember these…”
We dive into the first problem, he is doing all these formulas, I am literally just writing numbers on a page and nodding my head.
He finishes, looks up at me:
“Is this the right answer?”
“Well, is it?” I said, hoping to use the Socratic Method to get out of this prediciment.
” I think so …but I’m not sure.”
“Let me look in the back of the book, we used to um, uh, use a different, formula type thing, when I was in school… yeah… let me check in the back of the book.”
So I looked at the back and the kid had gotten the answer right. Fantastic. So I put out the most scholarly airs I could muster and I said to him:
“You got the answer right. Good job. Now I want you to pretend like I don’t know how to do this problem. Pretend like I have no idea what’s going on…and show me exactly how you got that answer. And speak clearly and directly into this tape recorder.”
And without skipping a beat, he says:
“I knew you were going to have me do that.”
I looked like a brilliant tutor. And I figured out how to do the problem. I felt like a total genius. Until, problem number 2…