~ Wednesday, January 30, 2008 ~
I LOVE MY JOB
Traveling to most of my students' houses requires between one and three hours on trains (that's one way, not round trip--yeah, I do a lot of reading), but a week ago I started working with a student who is within walking distance of my apartment. First time in over a year I've had a student right here in Brooklyn.
If there's any quality that's common to all my students' parents, it's that they are all exceedingly wealthy, and they all care deeply about their child's education. So I meet a lot of people who have both good values and the means to act in accordance with those values. It's a nice business.
The students themselves are more varied, but most of them are taking their SATs, which means they are somewhere between 10th and 12th grade. In general, the girls seem to know who they are by this point, or at least they seem to have reached a stable state, while the boys seem to be on the brink of figuring it out. It's a sweet age. They all have an earnestness and an energy which is lovely to be around--they're privileged kids who've nevertheless been raised to work hard, and they do, and having never yet been burned by unassailable defeat, they are confident in their beliefs that they will one day conquer the world, if they can only master the skill of taking standardized tests.
On Sunday evening I called up a new student about whom my (fantastic, brilliant, awesome) manager had just written to me, and his mother answered. She started out by grilling me about my qualifications and success rate, which put me on my guard (I never know what to say to questions like that...how effective is my tutoring? Well, how hard is your child going to work?) but I answered her with a less flippant version of that and we moved on to logistics like day and time and place and duration of lesson. Then she told me something about why her son is so busy--he's on his high school's fencing team--and I mentioned that I'd taken some fencing classes in college, and from there the conversation leapt and bounded from fencing to California's schools to New York's CUNY system to bioethics to Jewish day schools to Californian vs. New York Judaism to interfaith marriages, and nearly an hour later, she told me she'd like to introduce me to a widowed (widowered?) friend of hers if only he weren't too old for me (twice my age, in fact), so I was saved from having to respond to that potentially awkward invitation, but at any rate, she seems to have decided I'll do, and I'll be meeting the fencer in a few days.
But I brought the Brooklyn student up for a reason. Today was my second meeting with him. Last week when we were talking about how to write an effective 25-minute essay, I assigned him the same prompt he'd already used to write his first essay, only this time I told him to argue the opposite viewpoint. The prompt was "Are things always what they seem?" and his first essay had taken the easy view, saying that things often aren't at all what they seem to be. This one, then, was harder, and he struggled with trying to find examples to support the idea that things are always what they seem, but he ended up finding some interesting examples and writing quite a sophisticated essay.
His handwriting, though, is rather chicken-scratchy, and I had to squint a bit to make out his words sometimes. One of the examples he chose was a chair: he argued that something that looks like a chair really is a chair (he's gonna love Plato), and if we're not sure we can trust our eyesight, we can certainly trust our sense of touch that will tell us it's a chair once we're sitting upon it. He then pointed out that this would not be the case if the chair had a trick seat, the kind that makes you fall through as soon as you put your weight on the seat. What he actually wrote, as best I can remember, was,
"An exception to this would be a gag chair, whose bottom would open up as soon as you sit down on it."
Only there's that handwriting of his, and in this case it made the second g of 'gag' look like a y.
It's a good thing he's got a sense of humor, because I was so seized by the visual that I just about lost it, forehead on the table and tears and everything.
~ prattled by Miriam at 12:00 a.m. [+]
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