Well, you flunked the midterm. What are you going to do now? : On the importance of having a tutor
Math was never my strong suit and in 11th grade, at the time when most of my friends were talking calculus, I found myself failing out of the geometry class which those students lacking skills in mathematics took at my high school as a last resort. This was in the days before the Internet and hardly anyone at my high school worked with tutors face to face. We just would struggle to do the best we could. I kept getting lost in my geometry class and had trouble asking for help. Our teacher, Mr. Prince, was a kindly man who explained things with patience, but to me he might as well have been speaking Klingon. I was completely lost.
After the midterm Mr. Prince called me to his desk and said, “Well, you flunked the midterm. What are you going to do?” I didn’t know what to answer. He said, “If you manage to get an A on the final, you could still get a C in the class. Barring that, you will have to take geometry again in your senior year.” It all felt hopeless, but I told Mr. Prince that I would try to get an A on the final, even though I could hardly imagine how.
The rest of the semester I sat in class listening as best I could. I loved the stories behind geometry about how Euclid brought together the work of all those philosopher-mathematicians who came before him into a book he called The Elements. I loved the philosophical side of geometry but didn’t understand the problems and theorems. I knew it was believed that Euclid was a student of Plato, and I would daydream in class about those days of sitting out in the open under a deep blue Athenian sky debating philosophy with Socrates, the greatest teacher of them all. As I daydreamed, Mr. Prince would write theorems and equations on the board that looked like they were written in Ancient Greek for all that I could understand them. All the other students seemed to get it. I alone was lost.
A week before the final, Mr. Prince stopped me in the hallway. “I see you are trying hard, but you are still not doing well on the quizzes. You may have to take this class again.” I was nearly in tears. A friend walking down the hallway saw me looking miserable as I stood in front of my locker. She was a math whiz and so I felt shy in telling her why I was upset.
“I’m failing math.”
“Calculus? I know how hard that can be for some people.”
“No, not calculus, geometry.”
My friend looked surprised for a moment, but then was very polite.
“Not everyone gets math. But I can help you.”
“How can you help?”
“I can tutor you. I tutor my brothers in math and they all end up doing well. When is your final?”
I told her how the final was on Monday, just after the weekend. There was really no time at all.
She said, “Just come over and bring your text book.”
That weekend her mother brought us cups of hot tea as we sat at the kitchen table with notebooks all around us, and my textbook open between us as my friend went page by page. She started with page one and proceeded to teach me the entire year of geometry in just one weekend.
Every time I felt lost she would patiently explain exactly where I was stuck and what I needed to know to get unstuck. Something magical happened. I was beginning to understand. Sometimes you just need extra help and someone to sit with you and move slowly through the material taking the time necessary to explain it so you get it.
That Monday I not only passed the final, but I got an A, much to Mr. Prince’s surprise. He called me to his desk after handing out the graded exams and quizzed me on a few extra questions to make sure I hadn’t cheated.
“How did you manage to do this?”
“My friend helped me. She tutored me all weekend.”
Mr. Prince was silent for a moment. Then he smiled.
“You have a wonderful friend,” he said.
I think of the word tutor, its origin from the Latin verb tueri, meaning “to guard” or “to watch” and how that is in a sense what a tutor does - watches over you and stands guard in a protective way as you work with him or her to make the unclear become clear as a bell. I wonder if I had been born later, in the time of the Internet and could have reached out for online tutoring or online homework help, if my math grades would have been consistent A’s instead of that one A at the very last minute.
Also, with the Internet I would have been able to play around on sites such as Mud Math Fun Facts where I could have read the history of the Pythagorean Theorem or played math games on the Cool Math site. And that too would have helped me develop math skills.
And above all, if the Internet had been around when I was in high school, I would have reached out at the very beginning of my math troubles for homework help and online tutoring at 24HourAnswers.com. I would have found expert tutors offering solutions to my math confusions, instead of having to depend on luck and the kindness of a friend at the very last minute a weekend before my geometry final.
If you are having math troubles, 24HourAnswers’ highly skilled tutors are ready and waiting to help.