Some years back (I won’t say how many), when I was a high school student also enrolled in a community and technical college as part of our state’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program that allowed high school juniors and seniors to attend a college and simultaneously earn high school and college credits, I had the opportunity to tutor a group of various math students in a troubled youth program. I was also earning some catchup credits for high school graduation for doing so. However, one student I worked with turned my motivations for simply getting the credit into something more.
Anxiety about math
I was introduced to this boy (for the sake of confidentiality, we will refer to him as “Andy”, not his real name) by a teacher whom I got along very well with and was very fond of at the time. I was a high school senior. Andy was in the ninth grade and had all the same struggles typical male teenagers face entering high school and the social experiment of adolescence. He also had issues with anger and frustration, along with some problems at home, so he lashed out sometimes. My teacher thought I could connect well with Andy.
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At first, I thought she was crazy. Andy’s anxiety about math probably stemmed from some of these other issues in addition to social shame. I think Andy didn’t want to be humiliated for not knowing the answers, so he preferred not to try at all. He would distract himself from the problem altogether, but I could tell he was isolated and really needed someone to trust.
— Tutor Pace (@TutorPace) August 3, 2015
Support is key
Andy really didn’t have a strong support system as I later found out. Most other students were too afraid, unconcerned or passive to deal with trying to tutor or assist Andy in some way. His classmates dismissed it easily as Andy’s normal behavior patterns.
Rather than digging in and being very forceful, a move that would likely draw Andy further inward, I tried a more social approach. I got to know a little bit about Andy. I asked him about school, life, home, his hobbies and what some of his interests were. When I got Andy to focus a bit more on things that he felt comfortable about talking about and actually interested in, he was actually engaged. That is the right time to swiftly move into the math problems. Of course, I would face more resistance and other obstacles with Andy trying to revert to his comfort zone of poor behaviors, but he was a ninth grader learning how to eventually become a man of his own.
I found out the Andy loved cars and racing, along with anything that had a motor including dirt bikes, boats, ATVs, motorcycles and of course, monster trucks. Since Andy was so acutely interested in powersports, I worked the personal questions into the math homework that we both knew that we weren’t getting out of, either one of us! It worked out very well.
— Tutor Pace (@TutorPace) August 12, 2015
Sense of achievement
I would watch Andy’s confidence grow more and more throughout that year. With every achievement and a clear connection to his actual life, Andy felt like he could actually be somebody and achieve things in life, and even at school and social life. Andy’s social life did improve too as he learned valuable life and social skills in the tutoring session in his ninth grade year. His demeanor had changed and he started making friends. There was more. Feeling empowered and more confident than ever before, Andy himself started helping others with their homework, engaging with them on problems without inverting his personality one bit!
What really struck me though, was when I went back to visit my teacher while I was in college. She was very excited. She told me that Andy had become a tutor in the same program. Now I had a great sense of achievement, moving from adolescence into adulthood as a man headed out to a larger university.
Andy’s case isn’t isolated though. There are millions of children out there that need someone to individually connect with. Innovative online tutoring services like Tutor Pace have become a miracle for thousands of kids out there that need help. Visit Tutor Pace now to Chat with a Live Math Tutor Online.