26 January 2010


Tutor Tales, Volume 12

There is only so much one can blame on a medical condition.

The first time I told Doctor Nemesis' mother that every other word out of her firstborn's mouth was an obscenity, she apologised profusely and promised to talk to him about it. Then she explained that her boy's doctors had told her that his Tourette syndrome makes him say things he might not mean, while his ADHD makes him crave any attention--even negative attention--and she pleaded with me to be more tolerant.

So I bit my tongue and steeled myself to focus on nothing but sixth-grade Geometry (with word problems!)--which I've been doing since that call. In the meantime, Doctor Nemesis has repeatedly told me to f*** myself, go to h***, and suck his c***, with the saucy confidence of one who knows that Tourette, as defined by the adults around him, means never having to say you're sorry.

Given the diffused buzz of voices around the main area of XYZ Tutorial Centre, none of his foul language was ever really a problem . . . for others . . . until two weeks ago. That was when Doctor Nemesis suddenly used both hands to grab his crotch, thrust it back and forth at one of the high school girls, and made a nasty suggestion even I hadn't heard before.

I grabbed his ear and used it to yank him back so hard that he nearly lost his balance.

"Don't you ever say that to a girl again," I hissed. "I'm telling your mother about this!"

(Pathetic, I know--but I had nothing else to say. And since even pathetic threats have their dignity, I did ring his mother that night. She said she'd talk to him.
Luckily for all three of us, the high school girl thought he was just faking another spasm with the movement, and didn't really hear what he was saying.)

Will anyone argue with me when I say the time had come to find the right bar of soap to stuff into Doctor Nemesis' foul little mouth?

As with most of my best teaching ideas, insight into what that right bar could be came to me on the spur of the moment, springing from my head fully formed, like Athena from the mind of Zeus.

The first thing I did was change where he and I usually sit. After the first few times he bolted up from his seat and made me chase him, I elected to sit next to him, all the better to throw a leg over him or spring at him. Today, I resumed sitting across from him . . . all the better for him to see the new tabs I was keeping on his language.

"Every time you say a new bad word," I told him, slapping a blank sheet of paper between us on the table, "I will write it down. I will keep a tally of everything you say so that I have a record for the next faculty meeting."

His eyes nearly bugged out of his head. "Why? WHY??? It's not fair! You know I have Tourette!"

"Yes, I know you have Tourette . . . I also know that you take advantage of it. I'll bet that if you really tried, you could control it."

"F*** you! Why don't you believe . . . Hey!"

I had written "F*** you" on the paper and made a note that he had said it once.

"You're serious? Why are you doing this? Are you going to tell my mother?"

I bluffed: "If you try harder to keep those words in, I won't have to."

He looked truly distressed. "My mother is the only one who believes me now. Everyone else--all the teachers, all my relatives--they all say I can control it, but I can't control it. I just say it. Why don't you believe me? F*** you!"

I made another note on the paper.

"Oh, f*** you! This is all your fault, you know! I can explain . . ."

Then the brilliant Doctor Nemesis said something I never would have figured out in a million years: "I only really say those words because you talk to me when I'm trying to concentrate on my Maths problems!"


"Okay, then. I won't say a word until after you solve every problem thrown at you."

"Good. Shut up!"

Then he howled when he saw me make a note of that as well.

"That's not a bad word!"

"It's bad because you shouldn't be telling your tutor to shut up. Do you really want to get into more trouble?"

"No . . . F*** you . . . No, don't write that!" He took a deep breath. "You know . . . I love you, Teacher Enbrethiliel."

I stared.

"Oh, hey, why don't you write that? Why do you only write the bad things? You should be fair and write how many times I tell you I love you."

So I did. According to my record, he told me he loved me another three times . . . and threw the f-word at me another fifteen times.

He was also on to something when he said I shouldn't talk to him when he does his Maths. We had never worked so fast or so efficiently . . . and when he asked to go to the men's room and I told him I wouldn't give permission until he found the area of the triangle he was working on, he doggedly produced the right answer instead of trying to run away.

Yes, Doctor Nemesis, my dear boy, I love you, too.


christopher said...

How f***ing beautiful, ma'am. Seriously. You've really been on a roll lately with your writing. I'm very jealous.

Will you please go to UT grad school so you can tutor my girls?

ninjapeps said...

people use conditions like that, real or not, to excuse their behavior. after all, they can't be held responsible if they can't control it. it's apparently why a lot of jackasses claim they have Asperger's.

Enbrethiliel said...


Christopher: When I looked into Grad Schools in the US, those in Texas were actually the most affordable (especially after I took the cost of living into account). I don't know when I'll actually be able to root for the Long Horns at a live game, though. Thanks for your prayers!

Peps: I am making it my mission in life to keep Doctor Nemesis from growing up into a jackass.

twowaysofrenouncingthedevil said...

Yii, can of worms, eh?
I think it comes down to basic human charity, which is not something we understand well these days. True love does not mean blanket rules. It also does not mean blanket excuses. It means getting to know an individual well enough to know, more or less, when f you is a tick and when it is intended, and to treat each thing accordingly.

I've seen kids with "learning disabilities" and "ADHD" treated poorly in both directions in turn. First, they run into teachers who do all their work for them and let them hang from the chandeliers because they are disabled -- well, no, it's because it's easier for the teacher, in the short run, to just throw up her hands. Then I've seen one little girl in a dance class who was trying to understand but simply understood the directions in a way other than how the teacher meant it, but still in a very reasonable if out of the box way, and get derided for it ("now, look, everyone in the class has to wait because you weren't paying attention, I bet all the other little girls are really frustrated with you" teacher says, and little five year old girls immediately pick up that looking down on the girl is what they are supposed to do to be in favor with goddess dance teacher and go for it).

I had a friend who worked in special ed, and she did one on one with a kid who was severely mentally retarded. He would hit her regularly. She told me he was nonverbal, so this was his only means of expression, he got frustrated. It would be, she said, like a dog trying to talk (nice, eh?). I told her that, well, no -- setting aside the whole "he's a person even if he's mentally retarded" thing, we don't let dogs express themselves by hurting us, either. . .

Looks like you got this one down perfectly -- I wonder if ever in his life he's ever been expected to/allowed to explain himself to an adult so that they were better able to help him learn, instead of just dismissing him with rejection or dismissing him with unconditional acceptance of all he does.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hey, Marie! =D

You're right that it's easier on the teachers to just keep giving these kids breaks and keep passing them to other teachers--not just because it's a pragmatic strategy for teachers with a lot of students to deal with, but also because there is pressure from the administration and parents. When I was teaching high school seniors, one unwritten rule was that unless they were also awful disciplinary cases, they should be given respectable grades to help them get into a good college, where they would, presumably and ideally finally straighten themselves out. Perhaps that is what happened. Everyone knows that the tertiary world is a whole other playing field.

Now the thought of helping Doctor Nemesis get into college is making me exhausted . . . I doubt he's ever had to explain himself to an adult; he's used to either total acceptance (which is what he gets from his current school) or total rejection (which is what he got when he was kicked out of his last school in kindergarten).

Paul Stilwell said...

Forgot to mention here, this post is a beauty.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Paul! =) That tutorial session was a real beauty, too.

mrsdarwin said...

You're the sort of tutor I'd want for my girls, if they ever needed a tutor.

Question: can you get away with grabbing him by the ear? I think it was fully justified, but I know that in the States there would be cries of "abuse!" Do you have more leeway there?

Melanie B said...

I love it when inspiration comes fully formed like that. A brilliant and loving solution to the problem. (And a hilarious story.)

Melanie B said...

Oh and if you were to end up in Texas at UT there's a chance we could actually meet in person as Austin is my hometown and my parents still live there. In fact, we're headed to Texas next week. So here's another vote for you at UT.

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin: There definitely is more leeway in the Philippines, though that's probably the last time I should ever grab Doctor Nemesis by the ear! (My "cuss tally" was more effective anyway!)

He's a unique case, though, and there was another time I got physical with him without getting in trouble. He was running away and I had to bring him down with a flying tackle. My boss didn't say a word. Later on, another student told me that he had attempted something similar the year before, running into the street right after the light had turned green. Honking horns, screeching brakes, cursing drivers, all that drama . . . With a precedent like that, a tackle gets put into perspective! ;)

Melanie: That would be great! I hadn't realised I knew so many bloggers with ties to Austin. =)

mrsdarwin said...

We're in Austin too -- in fact, we're partying with Melanie! Too bad you won't be there... Nor Christopher either, and that makes us sad.

Noxxtis said...

Damn! I can't believe I missed this! (Field trip in Biak na Bato! Absent from Wed to Fri)

You're right. He does know how to use his disabilities to his advantage. And it's really funny too! God knows what kind of priest he'll make in the future...

Enbrethiliel said...


I was wondering where you were! Not a dull moment at XYZ Tutorial Centre! ;)

(At the rate Doctor Nemesis is going, he shall be Pope!)

Class factotum said...

My friend's brother really does have Asperger's. He's in his late 40s. Still lives with his mom and dad. He's staying with my friend this week and she is going to be guest blogging about it on my blog. Should be entertaining because Bob can be very funny. I've written an intro here: http://class-factotum.blogspot.com/2010/02/my-friend-petunia-and-her-brother-bob.html

I can confirm that Austin is a great place to live. Or at least that it used to be a great place to live. UT isn't that bad,, although when I was a grad student there I still couldn't bring myself to root for the Horns. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Class Factotum! Thanks for stopping by. =)