13 March 2012


Tutor Tales, Volume 35

This week, I've been helping Star Shaker write her last book report of the year. She usually doesn't mind writing the first drafts on her own and having me look them over and give suggestions later, but there was one question she needed extra help brainstorming a paragraph for.

"Why did you choose to write your report on this book?"

You see, the truthful answer is: "A friend had a copy of the Korean translation that she lent me so that I didn't have to read it in English." LOL!!!

But of course she doesn't want her teacher to know that--not after she spent the first few months of the school year arguing that she could survive outside the ESL classes and take regular English along with most of her classmates. =P

Her brother, on the other hand, is not having such an easy time thinking up ways to cope with classes in English.

"Name all the planets in their order from the sun . . ."

Skid Breaker has to sit his Science exam in three days and he still doesn't have the names of the planets memorised. He told me that he knows them all in Korean, but that this is what makes them harder to think about in English. A classic Skid Breaker excuse.

I suggested that he create his own glossary of terms so that he'd have an easier time remembering which meant what, but as usual, that idea went down like a lead balloon. He gets really, really upset whenever I ask him to translate something, even when it's to make revision easier for him--and I can only guess why.

The last time we butted heads over this, he was nearly in tears as he pleaded, "I don't have to translate, Teacher, because I know it. I already know it!"

I felt like an evil villain when I told him, as gently as I could, that all the evidence was simply against him. I didn't believe he knew it, but the exercise I was asking him to do was meant to help him and not humiliate him.

Perhaps translation is something only the "dumb kids" had to do in his first language academy. But the fact is that Skid Breaker's reading comprehension in English is simply awful. My theory is that he skims the passages as quickly as he can, using the familiar words that stand out to orientate himself, and makes a wild guess about what the text is about. But this remains a theory because I can't get into his head . . . and he seems intent on keeping me out.

A friend once told me that it physically hurt him to write when he was a boy. And when I asked why he didn't tell a parent or teacher about that problem, he countered, "You don't know much about little boys, do you?"

That's a fair assessment: I certainly know next to nothing about one little boy--although it's not for want of trying. (But seriously, the next time I hear a man complaining that women want men to be mind readers, I'm going to lose it.)

There are strained moments when I wonder whether Skid Breaker's odd behaviour is his way of blowing smoke to hide an actual learning disability. Why else would he say he doesn't need to do certain exercises because he "can already do them"? But then I remind myself that it's kind of lazy to put the blame on him like that--and that I don't know the first thing about diagnosing learning disabilities.

Besides, I know that I'm not the best tutor for everyone. My own brother Camera Man gets help with his homework from my sister rather than from me because she understands him better. I'm really worried now that my failure to get in Skid Breaker's head (even if it's partly due--as I suspect--to him desperately trying to keep me out) has already chipped away too much at his confidence.

Image Sources: a) River Boy by Tim Bowler, b) Solar System

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