n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Every now and then something you do turns out to have meaning. Today involved a few of such... specifically, three thank-you's, one being an older (and awesome) student stopping by my office just to say 'thank-you.'

I have in my backpack my student evaluations from last quarter. I know that no matter what it says, what I will take away from it will be overall disheartening. It's the way I roll, I guess. A cluster of positives offset by a cluster of negatives always equals negative, even if the positives are lengthy, specific, and akin to my vision of myself. At this point, I'm scared to even look at them... their thrust always being what I could do to be a more perfect vision of each individual student I have had.

I wish I were such a teacher that everyone would agree how awesome I am. Who are these teachers, anyways?

So I will instead focus on the really amazing thing that happened today, which is that I was treated to dinner by the parents of the girl I've been tutoring for the past three years. Maybe it took a dinner out to realize I've been working with this same student for THREE friggin' years. I met her when she was a student at the community college, via craigslist, and have tutored her through general ed classes such as ecology and gender studies. I then helped her apply to the local university, and once she was accepted... through her varied classes there, and then her more specific upper-division sociology classes until now, when she is two quarters away from graduation (the bulk of her required work happening now, and her thesis happening this summer).

KL is dyslexic in such a way as it truly impacts her reading and writing, and she has worked her ass off to get to where she is. Tutoring her at first involved a huge effort on my part to understand what she struggled with, and then as time passed, developing an appreciation for her strengths as well. I've helped her mostly with writing, but also to a large degree with reading. Meaning that at times, I've read almost her entire syllabus for a class and parsed the meanings out with her.

For me, tutoring has meant learning the difference between letting her learn through hard work, and digesting the work for her. At times, I have wondered whether I was doing all the hard work in her stead. But this problem also lead me to question: what is the harm of being transparent about what I know? Why not tell her how I read the same pieces that she also read? What stops teachers from acting as interpreter as well as judge of interpretation? In other words, as instructors, sometimes we create difficult puzzles in the hopes that our students learn to solve them, but maybe helping them solve a few... or a lot... gives them a pathway to follow later when they are alone, and struggling. My instinct has always been to cast my students into the void, to encourage and cheer, to be happy when they get there. But maybe that ability to "get there" is a skill that not everyone intrinsically has. Maybe sometimes students need the result modeled, or maybe they need to watch the entire process, or maybe they even need to be given the end results... just to know that most problems have a solution, that every resolution is approximate, that knowledge is a seed and fruit simultaneously, and that teachers are not gods but eternal students... also striving to get it.

At various moments tutoring, I have held back or given everything I know about the topic. I have read things and asked pertinent questions. But I have also read things and completely divulged everything I understood. As a teacher, I often feel more hampered by the need to get the students to do the work. As a tutor, I felt less hampered, I think. Regardless, maybe sometimes both teaching and tutoring are about showing how, precisely, I would do the work. And then students can take off from there. To my relief, KL was almost always a student who took off from there... surprising me sometimes as she showed me what she now knew that I didn't know she knew.

Anyhow, I'm rambling. But I met KL's parents, who obviously adore their daughter, and as I adore their daughter too, it was a meeting of the minds. They made me feel good about my tutoring. Granted, I've been paid, but also I have been interested.
And they gave me daffodils in a vase, bought me dinner, invited me to visit during special parties, and KL's father commented softly that helping his daughter was "the best money he's ever spent." I think they might be the sweetest, kindest family I've met in a long time, and it makes me think about all the sweet souls like KL out there who don't have that love and financial support her family offers (hmmm). Well, anyhow, it was pretty amazing to realize what an impact I might have made in this one person's life. Not just one quarter as a teacher for many, but three years with one...

I felt proud, and patient, and also lucky to have found such a student -- one who meshes with me as a tutor and doesn't take advantage or ditch or slack off. Pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime deal, I think. I also got a bit sad, realizing that she will graduate soon, and maybe this means it's time to find a new beautiful thing to invest in.


Oh, and Writing Group was sweet tonight. We still don't have our groove, but it's starting, I think. Peanut shells and country blue-grass beer and softball talk, plus catching up talk, plus languagey trying talk, mmmm yeah.
That is so exciting! I was a writing major, (now I've graduated, and I'm very happy about it), but I love to think back to all the people who helped me get to where I am today. I am so right-brained that math and science are just a shot in the dark for me. It is so inspiring to see the loved ones of someone you've taught thank you. Since I graduated, I go and talk to groups of 5th grade students about "Why is Writing Good?" I tell them, in more simple ideas, some of the things that I learned, and I bring them all journals and pens. I also give them a little list of ideas to help them get creative when writing. About a week after I did this for the first time, I had so many parents tell me that their children wouldn't stop writing! It's funny how sometimes, all it takes is one person to make a really huge difference for someone, even if you're just encouraging enthusiasm. Love your post, so inspiring!
Journals and pens. I like that it actually could be so easy... plus the attention and enthusiasm too, I guess.

Keep on keep on doing the good work, and thanks.
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