Today I realized something about being a tutor.
A big part of it — maybe as much as half it — involves nothing more than … being nice.
By that I mean being kind.
By which I mean that if someone looks at you, as a young man did today, shaking his head and saying, “It’s crazy … I don’t know what 3 x 6 is,” I don’t laugh or chuckle or say anything remotely mean or mocking. Instead I just say, “It’s o.k. Look, I tutor people every day who don’t know what 3 x 6 is. Who cares, really? Let’s just try to figure it out … or use a calculator, as long as your teacher doesn’t mind.”
Really. That is a lot of what being a math tutor is about. Being nice. Really nice. Really understanding. And being there to be accepting of people no matter how much mental pain they may be in about math. Because there’s a lot of pain out there. Many people are carrying loads of pain about math. They feel dumb. They feel like it’s some huge reflection on whether or not they can make it in the world.
And so it is my job, as a tutor, to listen to their worries and to assure them that they will get better. And that even if they keep struggling, as they probably will, to some extent, it is ok. They can still live good lives, and math is not going to define or confine them,” to quote Bob Dylan a bit.
Don’t get me wrong in terms of what I said up above. A math tutor has to know the material … extremely well. And he needs to know how to teach the material and the skills of math. But once he gets that down, once he gains in competence, he can really open up his heart and help people with the emotional struggles they go through with math as well.
I generally like being a tutor. It feels satisfying. I love seeing people go through the gradual transition from hating to have to see me, to feeling somewhat ok about it, to starting to feel good because their grades are going up and they are starting to get it better. They start to walk taller, literally as well as figuratively. They come right into the office, after several weeks or months of working with me, and they tell me exactly what they need help with. They become their own best advocates. And they get over that horrible feeling that math is holding them back.For the most part, to be honest, the students I work with don’t end up loving math. For the most part, they go from hating it to feeling ok about it. And that is ok with me. I just want students to feel like they can understand many of the parts of math and to feel competent in relation to math. Seeing that transition occur is the best reward I can get, and it actually happens more often than not.
So if you or someone you know needs a math tutor, I suggest you find one. It can make a big difference in a person’s life. A good tutor can really help a young person grow.