Friday, August 12, 2011

you a marine, you understand

three or four months ago i contacted a non profit organization that helps at-risk 17 to 22 year old people prepare for the 'real world'.

let me backtrack a second here. one of the many benefits provided to me by my employer is the ability to volunteer for 2 hours during each work week. to me, that meant getting out of work for two hours each week, to go play.  furthermore, my company is on a volunteer high right now so not only do i get to skip work to play but i also get a big pat on the back for doing so. it's a win, win, win (me, company, tutored person). in this case i'm considering teaching math as playing, which may not be true for all people.

things all came to fruit in july, when i heard back from the organization that i had contacted. they were in need of a tutor, and i was in need of using 2 hours of work to go do something that wasn't work, was productive, and above all -fun. a guy looking to get his GED had joined their program, and i was the man to help him out.

to date, i've had about five tutoring sessions. the fellow that i'm tutoring is 22 years old, he's got a 9 month old son. he told me that he dropped out of high school when he was in 11th grade.  honestly, i don't have much information beyond that about him personally. i'm a tutor, not a social worker. i've been told by the staff that he's had a pretty rough time growing up, which i can believe. one of the only other facts about this person i know is that he once mentioned to me his brother was at 2 strikes. i don't ask him personal questions, he doesn't ask me personal questions.

i approach this challenge with one goal, do what i can to equip him with what he needs in order to pass the GED. what i am not is a mentor, role model, miracle worker, problem fixer, or anything else. with only a few hours per week, there is no time to waste trying to do anything besides academics.  and of course, i'm not qualified to do much more than teach math, science, and english.

a normal tutoring session will start off with 30 seconds of chit-chat. how was your week? anything exciting happen since i saw you last? then i break right into it, because we're not here to talk, we're  here to learn. i start off with a review of what we did last week. i just make up a problem or exercise that uses concepts that we covered last week. here's the latest example:

there is a sale on your favorite jeans for 35% off. they cost $300 dollars normally. how much do you pay for these jeans if sales tax is 9.5%?

this may sound trivial to most, but the people who go through this program have dealt with anything from homelessness, to juvenile detention time, to substance abuse, to all of the above and then some. i had attentive and caring parents who lovingly shoved this type of information down my throat at the earliest capable age until i got it. not everyone is as lucky as i am.

other problem concepts include square roots, volumes, surface area, geometric properties of triangles, and fractions.

i like to think of myself as a san francisco version of robin williams character, sean maguire, in the movie good will hunting. the only difference is that i'm not trying to fix my tutee's severe emotional problems. and i'm not the hidden and forgotten best of the best in my field. and my tutee isn't a troubled genius. so really, there's very little similarity because will hunting was a super math genius, but that feeling of helping someone who needs/wants the help is there. and we both get something positive out of it.

two sessions ago about 10 minutes into the session i sensed quite a bit of negative energy. he was feeling frustrated and ready to just throw his hands up and quit. i stopped mid problem and said let's take a 2 minute break.  we both sat down away from the white board.  after 30 seconds of silence i told him that i'm ready to go over the same problem as many times as we need to and in as many different ways as possible until he understands it.

two minutes later a completely different person was standing at the board trying to grind out math problems. the rest of the session time flew by. one week later i was greeted by a smile, and a handshake. i greeted him back with the question "how do you take a percentage of a number?", and when "uhh... oh, multiply!" blurted out of his mouth, i returned the smile.


jonyangorg said...

how he like your apples?

Mr. Tamayo said...

You can use my math song if you want.

feeling entropy said...

you sir, mr T, are THE math man.

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