Tuesday, June 19, 2007


The Tutor

Today’s tale takes place way back in the ancient times of the early 80’s. This was after Al Gore had invented the internet, but before it had invaded every home, office, and coffee shop. I had just graduated university, and, to gain experience in my field (which was computer programming), I had taken a job with my alma mater on a year-long project. I was renting a small house near the campus, and, to supplement my income with a little extra beer money, I did some tutoring of undergraduates.

I was tutoring three students, all of whom were female, which was certainly a fringe benefit. Two just needed a little reviewing or reinforcing in math or freshman-level computer programming classes. The third young lady, however, was somewhat more challenging.

She was an attractive blonde sophomore named Peggy (please no blonde jokes). She was popular, friendly, and very bright. However, she had the attention span of a moth who spots a candle flame. I wasn’t so much helping her with class work as trying to get her to stay organized and get her assignments completed on time. When we’d meet, she’d let me know what she was expected to accomplish in the next few days, including reading assignments and tests. We would write up a list of tasks and prioritize them, then she’d stay a while to read or work on homework while I watched TV or read the newspaper. If she needed any assistance, she would summon me.

This arrangement worked rather well for the fall semester. Peggy’s grades were decent, higher than they had been the previous two semesters. Her parents were happy, and she had lifted herself out of academic probation. So the tutoring continued into the spring semester. Unfortunately, the results did not.

Peggy began to, inexplicably, miss some of our tutoring sessions. When I would inquire of her why she would fail to appear, she attributed it to “other things [she] had to do.” If I asked about the “other things,” she would dismiss it with a shrug and a “you know.” Rather than going over her upcoming assignments, see seemed more interested in talking about some great party she went to or some cool guy she met. Her focus seemed to be off.
Things came to a head just before spring break. We had a session scheduled for Thursday, as she had two important midterm tests the following day, which was the last before the break. And yet she, again, went missing. I tried calling her dorm room, but I received no answer (remember, this was the 80’s, before everyone was assigned a cell phone at birth). Since, as a working stiff, I did not get spring break, I shrugged it off and settled for a night of pizza and television before retiring for the night.

A week and more passed, and I did not hear from Peggy. I assumed that she had departed campus for the break. Finally, as students began to return, I received a call from her. Apparently, she had flown to Las Vegas for the break, and felt that packing for her trip was more important than studying for her midterms. She assured me, however, that she had taken time to review her notes and had done fine on her tests. She promised that, now that the break was over, she would re-dedicate herself to her class work, and would be meeting me to resume our tutoring the following evening.

When she arrived the next day, however, she did not look quite so confident. She came in, tossed her books onto a table, sat down, and started to cry. When I inquired as to what was upsetting her, she told me that her test results were not quite as fine as she had expected. In fact, she had failed both tests miserably. She had not, in fact, reviewed her notes before her tests, but had actually accompanied some friends to a local drinking establishment, returning quite late. She rushed thru her tests because she was anxious to leave for her vacation. Her grades were so poor that she was in serious danger of not passing either class, and possibly being asked by the school to not return due to poor performance.

I was not happy. Although it was her grades, it felt like I had been wasting my time for the last six months. We had gotten to a point where she was developing good study habits, and then she completely ignored everything that she had learned. I told her that, if she didn’t want my help, that was okay, but that I was going to drop her and see if any other students were seeking a tutor. I told her that if she missed any more tutoring sessions without calling me first, that I would no longer tutor her. She promised most strenuously that she was going to work harder and that she wanted my help. We went over her upcoming assignments, I helped her plan her time accordingly, and then she left.

Two days later, at our next appointment, she once again was a no-show. I made a note to myself to contact the school and request a new student to work with.

At 11:30 pm that night, my phone rang. It was Peggy. She apologized most profusely. She explained that she was on the planning committee for the spring dance at her dorm and that they had a meeting. The meeting lasted longer than expected and she had forgotten about our tutoring session. She swore that she was working hard and that she would be back for our next appointment.

I said no.

She begged. She pleaded. She cried. She promised, and then promised some more. But I held firm. I told her that she could go through the school to find another tutor, but that it would no longer be me. After more pleading, I agreed to let her come by the next night to convince me to keep working with her, although I told her that I had no intention of yielding.

The next installment of this story will describe what occurred that fateful next day.

Go to Part Two

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