Tutor Tales, Volume 23
Just after three tutees became four, the four are threatening to revert back to three. Earlier this week, Doctor Decimator's mother asked to speak with me about a change of plans. She might be needing me to tutor her son any longer.
His grades have not shown any real improvement since I came on board again--and although she doesn't blame me at all, she thinks it would be best to enroll her son in his own school's after-school remedial programme.
"He just has so many distractions at home," she explained. "I think keeping him in a classroom setting will help him concentrate better."
I wanted to say, Ma'am, your son isn't distracted. He's lazy. But instead I turned to a very uncomfortable looking Doctor Decimator and remarked casually, "I've always thought that, in the end, all students get the tutors they deserve."
But then what do the tutors themselves get?
Having concluded that bit of official business, Doctor Decimator and I hunkered down to work. Or should I say, to wrestle? He needed to finish three pages worth of word problems on percentage that he had started in study hall. Or rather, he had to do them over because he had "answered" them using his favourite method of half-assed guessing--closely related to the making of pretty-patterns by filling in the circles on a multiple-choice answer sheet--and of course got them all wrong.
Well, nearly all . . .
There was one wild guess (better termed a lazy guess) that was actually correct. When I pointed it out, he was as delighted as if he had won the lottery--which, really, would have given him better odds. And I was so tickled that I didn't insist that he solve it properly for the full score.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg with him. Let's do a deeper dive now, starting with the problem of how much to pay for an item after the price goes up by 8.5%.
"Oh, this is easy," I told him. "Start by finding the decimal form of 8.5%."
He looked as if I had asked him to do higher level calculus. "I don't know how to do that."
It was another case of his famous amnesia. "Yes, you do, Doctor Decimator. We worked on conversions to and from fractions, decimals and percentage during my last visit."
"Well, I don't remember . . ."
I walked him through it. "What is 50% in decimal form? . . . Right. . . What about 5%? . . . Good. . . So what is 8.5%? . . . Um, not quite. Try again."
Anyway, he was able to solve that problem. Whether he will be able to do it the next time he has to is anyone's guess. And that's the story of his academic life.
Next for us was an increase in temperature from 32 degrees to 36 degrees. Find the percentage of the increase, etc.
The boy slumped back in his seat, looked up at me and asked, "Do I multiply or divide?"
"If I don't tell you, is there any hope that you'll give it some thought instead of just guessing?"
His eyes didn't leave mine. "It's division, right?"
"Right so far . . ."
He divided 32 by 4, got 8, and was about to write it down when I stopped him.
"That's not the right answer."
He grabbed his calculator to check it and then shoved it in my face.
I persisted: "You're not dividing them the right way."
"Then how should I divide them?"
"The only other way you can."
We must have squared off like that for a whole minute. I just wanted him to think for himself. He just wanted me to stop taking his homework more seriously than he does, when he has already confided in me that a classmate in the honour society lets him copy everything. (It's just too bad he can't also cheat off the tests.) And I don't know what it says about my character that I was the first to crack.
"Well, if it's not '32 divided by 4,' then it must be . . . ?"
He did some calculations. "125?"
"Not after you remember where the decimal point goes."
"1.25? . . . 12.5? . . . 0.125?"
I don't know whether Doctor Decimator would make a good poker player, but I do know I'd make a bad one. He just rattled off all the possible answers and figured out the correct one by my facial expression when he got to it.
And because of this, I'm going to be fired.