Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I’ve been thinking about offering to do tutoring for high school kids bound for college. There’s a lot to think about, enough that I should probably number the issues.

1. Are there enough college-bound kids in Valier to make the effort worthwhile? Classes in the high grades are very small. I have no idea how the kids do on their national tests. Maybe they don’t feel they NEED tutoring or maybe they figure they’ll just take vo-ed classes at two-year schools. If anything.

2. The parents of Indian kids have formed a committee which is chaired by Grinnell Day Chief, one of my best senior students in Heart Butte in 1990. Should I try to hook up with them or would that confuse the issue?

3. How should I relate to the school? They are paying for tutoring now, but I suspect it’s focused on underachievers and I’m aiming for the high end. I doubt they could justify paying for gifted or high-achieving (determined) kids, since they are seen as already having advantages. On the other hand, if they could arrange for credits or access to materials like videos, that would be good. I certainly wouldn’t want to work against them and for them to oppose me would be the kiss of death. It would be nice to work with kids in space at the school after classes, but maybe not convenient for the school. I could not and would not tutor kids in my own house, partly because it’s a distraction and partly for fear of sexual accusations. In fact, even at school I’d want open doors and other adults around, maybe parents.

4. Part of my interest is in developing English teaching materials, an enterprise for which I set up a blog ( and have accumulated literally boxes of books with ideas. This potential is sitting here unused. It’s not going out of date -- people still need training to write decent sentences and to think out the underpinnings of a good essay.

5. I would like to dodge grading of any kind. Grades have become so dubious and un-useful that they mean almost nothing. Mostly they mean that the student is obedient, comes from a good family and looks attractive. Unruly, disreputable, ugly kids in ragged clothes have no chance to get decent grades. Neither do they aspire to college. These days parents micro-manage kids lives so thoroughly and are so quick to offer to punch out non-cooperative teachers, that public school teaching is a hazardous occupation. I’m NOT kidding and it’s as much in Valier as it was in Heart Butte.

6. National test scores still mean something, though no one knows what. Maybe admission to a good school, maybe access to scholarships.

7. Much of tutoring, like all teaching really, comes from the impact of the personality of the teacher. It must be strong enough to keep kids from undermining goals (oh, they are so good at it), not so bizaare that the community is alarmed by the stories the kids tell (might be a problem), and warm enough to make kids want to work at the task (I HAVE had success here.) But there is a danger of slipping into counseling.

8. But what if the bio of Bob has such a strong impact that the consequences begin to change me with side-effects on tutoring? I mean, I’m already changed by the experience of getting this book published -- which it really isn’t YET, since the book has yet to hit the stores. There is so little profit, so little celebration, so little understanding that it’s hard not to be bitter. There are a few people -- mostly the people who have actually READ the book -- who are supportive and helpful, but the overwhelming reaction from elements at the Press, from the media, and from the community has been suspicion. This is partly not because of the book itself, but because of their convictions about what publishing is. It is not any more ANYTHING like what they imagine, which I now know, but they don’t yet. Also, opinion about Bob might intrude, but today’s parents are too young to have known him or even to have visited the museum. Shocking.

9. A side-effect of this tutoring might be materials that Montana English teachers might be able to use. Not that that would please them. My impression -- some people excepted -- is that they’re a depressed bunch of young women waiting for life to happen without much hope that it will. So maybe the focus is better on the Blackfeet, maybe Blackfeet Community College. Then the problem becomes transportation, but that might be solved by the proposed return of county-to-county bus service, except that they carefully leave the reservation out.

9. Commitment: what if I get some kids rolling along really well and then find that other obligations -- like maybe something to do with the book about Bob or his estate -- force me to break off. Wouldn’t it be better not to have gotten the kids dependent? (This is an old issue that goes way back and probably is just a knee-jerk in me that has nothing to do with tutoring.)

10. A woman in Valier stopped me one day and asked me to teach her daughter to paint. The daughter is a fine artist. This woman thought that because I was married to Bob, I’d know how to teach her -- what she REALLY wanted me to do was to make the girl a success, to make her “better than everyone else,” a money-maker. I tried to explain that my role was secondary. In the end the girl got married. I would not want tutoring to be used this way.

11. I should make myself look at advantages: it would weave me into the fabric of the community, it would mean that I myself was better known, it would be a contribution. It might inspire some serious writing of my own.

12. Maybe I could do tutoring online for a wider population. I should find out how to go about it.

1 comment:

Rebecca Clayton said...

I'd recommend hooking up with the committee, especially since you have a connection already. I believe it would help define what the parents, students, and you could expect.

For a few years, I taught an state-funded Adult Basic Education class (two three-hour class sessions per week) here in Pocahontas County, and that seemed to give me some credibility. It also got me a substitute teacher's license, which qualified me to teach homebound students, along with the usual substitute duties.

I haven't had any luck with private tutoring work--parents have a lot of strange ideas about what it would entail, and expect that someone else--the state, the school--should pay for it. Although I've offered to help people prepare for the GED exam for free, no one has taken me up on it yet. If it's not sanctioned by some official institution, it must not be any good, I guess.

I also have taught some college courses to nursing students at a small college's satellite locations. (I taught chemistry and statistics, but I know the ladies also took English, philosophy, and social sciences classes.)

I've stumbled on all these opportunities by chance--I couldn't begin to tell you how to search for them. If I knew, I'd be doing it myself.

I find myself thinking over ways you could get a free computer and install a free operating system on it, so you could have a backup machine in case the eMac goes on the fritz again. I know not everybody wants advice, but if you do, give me a shout and we could toss around some ideas.