When to Hire a Tutor: If You Think Your Child Needs a Tutor…You’re Too Late!
This will probably be one of the worst articles you will read on one of my blogs, in terms of grammar, flow, semantics, and overall structure that is! In fact, in many places it may seem more like a rant. In other places, a lament!
It started as one thing and, like many of my articles, it veered sharply off course almost at once!
Unfortunately, I honestly believe there is far too little honest emotion expressed when it comes to the predicament many of our children face…and it is expressed far too late!
That may be the case here!
Because we are failing a generation of young people!
Students I see today cannot read faster than 150-190 word per minute (average is 190-240), they can’t write an intelligible essay, if it wasn’t for EasyBib they wouldn’t understand the difference between MLA and APA. Incredibly, many can’t convert fractions into decimals, don’t understand percentages, and utterly fail beyond Algebra I.
We are concerned with math and science and our children cannot write in complete sentences!
A key question:
Do we neglect academic pursuits on purpose?
I have asked myself, and many others, that question so many times over the years, more times than I care to count.
I guess the answer is like most answers, it is complex:
Some do and some don’t!
More to the point:
I would argue that there is a serious neglect at every level, and it is reaching epidemic proportions!
Our children are not prepared to…T…H…I…N…K…much less spell, write, read (speed and comprehension), form a hypothesis, k now what the scientific method is, the definition of biology, the definition of anthropology, chemistry is the study of, know when the civil war was fought, what great accomplishments George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are known for, who Charles Darwin was, who Marie Curie was (much less her husband’s name) and what she is known for discovering, where Gettysburg is and what happened there, what the Gettysburg Address is and why it was central to the outcome of (which) war, how to write the formula for oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, what natural selection is, what an embryo is responsible for, a placenta, what DNA is, what RNA is, what amino acids are……………
And I could go on for days!
I am not talking about kids coming out of elementary school or even middle school. I am referring to students graduating from some of our better high schools, even our nation’s colleges and universities! There are students graduating from four year colleges and universities who not taken an essay exam or written a single paper…in four years of undergraduate study!
I’ve worked with some of these graduates and it is tragic!
They can’t write a personal statement for a job application, never mind one for entrance to graduate school.
Yes! Graduate school!
Here is a question for you:
- What are we going to do with 50-60-75% dropping out of many school systems…well before the 12th grade, many by 9th grade?
- What are we going to do with their children, children growing up in poverty and without adequate role models?
- Why has it come to this?
Well, again, it’s complex!
Many are unwilling and/or unable to foot the bill, the tax bill specifically, to make the necessary improvements. Others feel our government is so mismanaged that pouring more money into the black hole that are our nation’s coffers is useless.
Here’s another question for you:
What could we have done with the money our government shelled out to Wall Street Banks? The same Wall Street banks that had pocketed millions, even billions in profits prior to the crash of 2008!
Think I’m exaggerating?
- Read: The Big Short by Michael Lewis
- Read: Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin
- Read: Inside Job: The Rogues Who Turned Finance into a Criminal Enterprise and How They Hijacked the United States by Charles Ferguson
- Read: A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers by Lawrence G. McDonald (Facebook friend and Twitter buddy…and an honorary cousin) and Patrick Robinson
I could go on!
If you aren’t ready to throw your head out of the window of your car, house, office, anywhere by now and shout:
“I’m mad as H*ll and not going to take it any more”
by the time you finish the above-mentioned books?
It isn’t going to happen!
And I’m not even going to go into what the recent military actions have cost us!
Just one bomb, just one: $1,000,000.00, at least!
We have squandered our children’s educations and possible of grandchildren’s. And we are still arguing partisan politics?
The dog and pony show goes on! (more to follow)
Sadly, many educators are so burnt out after years of working in schools that are no more than 8am-3pm holding cells for children we don’t know what to do with, they have lost hope.
Even worse, many teachers and administrators are so jaded they don’t want to know how to fix a system they believe is beyond repair. Many educators are simply treading water and waiting for retirement…or disability!
Not only are the children lost, I would argue we are losing a generation of teachers, as well!
Many educators, and some for good reason, feel that teaching at many of our nation’s institutions has become a Sisyphean exercise:
Bring them in, move them on, and get them out…with no end in sight!
Like Sisyphus, constantly pushing that boulder up the hill, only to begin again!
Metal detectors, locker checks, assaults, security in the form of off duty police, dogs…Yes, dogs!…and worse. Ceilings falling in, classrooms in trailers for years at a time, no heat, stifling heat, expired food (dated) in lunches, no lunches, and worse…
Can burn out be far behind?
Burn out for the teachers and despair and apathy for the children!
Are the teachers and administrators to blame?
Most people in education entered teaching because they love –loved- kids, they believed teaching was a noble profession and a way to give something back, to reach out and, perhaps, change the world one child at a time. Perhaps they had a teacher who touched their life in a special way, made a difference.
Saving the Life of One Child
I have often said, and I have heard others say:
“If I can change just one child’s life, make a difference in the life of just one struggling child, perhaps it will all have been worth it!”
I have had students like that, in academic settings and on sports teams I have coached.
I call them “project kids!”
Not because they are from “the projects,” not at all! In fact, most of my “project kids” are from good homes, single homes, struggling homes, supportive homes, neglectful homes, lower class homes, middle class homes, upper middle class homes, well-functioning homes, disfunctional homes, and from the homes of our wealthiest citizens.
In other words, the “project kids” come from every segment of society and every socio-economic bracket; every race, creed, ethnic background, and so on.
They are everywhere and, in most cases, they are invisible…some barely holding on…but invisible!
My “project kids” have given me so much, so very much!
One “project kid” gave me my life back!
Funny thing about life, just when you’ve had about all you can handle, when you feel like there’s no more meaning, when you are basically all tapped out, someone is put in your path that makes things seem possible again.
The “Project Kid” Who Gave Me Back My Life!
We’ve all called “do-over!”
A do-over is that time when a game isn’t going our way and we want just one more chance? We all called it as kids.
The ball went out of bounds: Do-over!
Struck out: Do-over!
I think the big people have one for golf: Mulligan?
I don’t know for sure about that last one. I play golf every 7-10 years just to reassure myself I have no business on a golf course. And now with my back completely shot….
Yeah, you get the picture!
Well, I was way beyond calling for yet another “do-over!”
But I got one anyway!
My most recent “project kid” was like that, a young girl who had witnessed a tragedy, a friend’s death, in a terrible accident. Her friend died in front of her and she was devastated…as we all would be.
“Jane” (not her name and perhaps not her sex) was struggling with depression and was close to failing several of her classes. Jane’s Mom and Dad are both professional people and both of them love Jane very much. Jane’s parents were willing to do whatever it took to help her get beyond that terrible tragedy and help her move on with her life.
But both parents were struggling!
Mom and Dad were not only struggling with how to help their daughter, they were struggling with their own feelings of frustration. To make things worse, they were having trouble reaching Jane at all; they were wise enough to know they might lose her altogether.
I got a call and they asked me to come over, I said I would come over that evening. I have interviewed students and parents in their homes for years, particularly when I am considering whether to take on a student or not.
We met with them around their kitchen table.
I like to meet a prospective student in their home, where they and their parents are most at ease. Meeting on the prospective student’s turf helps me get a better sense of the dynamics between family members; and, I am more likely to see the child without their defenses up…particularly as the interview continues and I focus on Mom and Dad, away from the child.
Do they listen?
Do they lean in?
Do they fidget?
Do they ask questions?
Do they try to refocus our attention on him or her?
All these are keys and invaluable when attempting to get a handle on whether or not there is going to be a good fit or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had children who were openly hostile and I have taken them on.
One young lady was failing chemistry miserably, if there is another way to fail chemistry let me know, and I was going to be her 5th tutor!
She finished the year with an A!
Yes! Just as hostile as Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting!
But there are not many that openly hostile…thank goodness! It is very tough to reach kids that negative…but I seem to have a gift. And I love kids!
The importance of love, passion, and empathy cannot be understated!
And above all?
Honesty and respect!
Once you lose their respect…you pay heaven & h#ll to win it back.
But it is possible!
So, there we were: Mom, Dad, little brother, and Jane. I can see it like it was yesterday!
I was listening to them and watching Jane out of the corner of my eye. I usually try to incorporate the student into the conversation early. In many instances, the child is surprised to be asked what they think and I win points. This pays off later, as they usually don’t forget that I asked them for their opinion in what seems like an “adult conversation!”
Fortunately, Jane was beyond the point of fighting about whether or not she needed a tutor, she knew she needed help too.
So, I said OK!
Funny thing was?
I had just recovered from a 12 year battle with a life threatening series of illnesses and infections (osteomyelitis of the spine was the primary diagnosis). I had wrestled with depression, primarily caused by the length of the illness itself, combined with chronically acute back pain, and several surgeries over more than a decade.
I wasn’t really prepared for Jane! However, I knew Jane needed help and I knew I could help her.
I also had to get on with my life…or give up!
So I said OK again!
Then, on the way home I asked myself if I was nuts!
“Probably,” was the response!
Well, to make a long story short, we ended up saving each other. Today Jane is my friend. A good friend!
That’s feels funny in today’s world, Jane is a teenager (a senior this year) and I am 56 years old and a Grandpa. But Jane and I shared something in those sessions that no one can pay for and I can never repay. Yes, we got a ton of work done, a ton! But we also helped each other in some intangible way I can’t really describe…and it worked for both of us!
I can’t repay Jane, her parents, or God for the good it did me.
But it saved my life…of that I am certain!
Interestingly, there would be times when Jane would come to my office, just shot, unable to think, to do much of anything…so we talked, she played with our dogs, she talked to my kids, my grandkids, and my wife. She had dinner, helped with chores (always paid), and my wife bought her favorite candies and sodas. We did everything to make sure she always felt like one of us.
She became a part of our family…another one of our children!
Jane slept when she needed to sleep and we listened to the latest music when she had something I just had to hear.
We watched Avatar and The Blind Side when they first came out and we talked about the meaning of each, how they related to her and her own world view and how our society might view them. We talked about the historical meaning behind Avatar’s story line.
I did tell Jane’s mom I didn’t want to be called Miss Sue! See The Blind Side if you don’t know what I mean…it will be worth the time, and the laugh!
Anyway, as the year progressed, we talked, we healed, we grew, and we learned!
Because I listened, I helped her learn, and she helped me come out of my despair and believe in myself again.
As stated above, I can’t repay Jane, her parents, or God for the good it did me. I have put much of the torment and the pain of those years behind me and, with another school year approaching, am looking forward to watching Jane graduate from high school and go on to college.
From a scared 15 year old girl to a fine young lady about to graduate, I have been able to touch “just one child” again and remember what that feels like.
In fact, there have been quite a few project kids over the years!
- Some of the kids were on softball, basketball, or soccer teams.
- Some of the kids were gifted students in need of a little confidence and someone to believe in them again.
- Some had Asperger’s.
- Some suffered from traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
- Some were struggling with ADD.
- Some with ADHD.
- And some just needed a little help!
Incredibly, they all gave back many times what I was able to give…in each and every instance!
That is why most people begin to teach, whether as a K-12 teacher, a university professor, or a private tutor.
I prefer the freedom to make my own way in life and work with the children, and adults, who really need me. That’s why I select the students I end up working with…because I feel they need me; and, maybe, I need them a little.
I have been a mentor, a coach, a tutor, someone to confide in, and someone to lean on.
In every case, eventually I end up being Jack. I end up being someone put there to help them get to where they want to be…or away from where they are now, as painful as that may be!
In return I have received friendship, warmth, love, a few gifts, and that special something I can’t name but anyone who has earned and held the trust of students knows.
This series will continue because I have roughly 10,000 words written and there’s no end in sight! If you stayed with me through this article, thank you!
I hope you will stop back!
Let me know what you think. Your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and experiences are valued.
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Professor John P. J. Zajaros, Sr.
Serving Ohio for more than 30 Years!
PS, Yes, I am aware that I violated every grammar rule writing this article, post, or whatever it is. Check the rest of the blog for evidence that I can, indeed, write. I try anyway!