Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mom, where are you?

I get it.  You're a single mom.  I don't know the circumstances all that well but based on the conversation I had with him where he explained that he lives 300 miles from you, it became clear that he is not present.

On top of that, you have your mother living at home being taken care of by you.  So she has to be loaded up into your car every time you leave because she can't be left alone at home.

Add to that the fact that you are having to drive your younger son back and forth to the hospital and doctor because of his blood sugar.  I totally understand.  It's next to impossible for you to be everywhere at once.

But you hired me to tutor your oldest son.  It's his senior year.  His cumulative GPA is 1.5 and it has been that way since his Freshmen year.  He can barely do algebra.  His handwriting motor skills suggest a learning disability (which btw no one knows how to treat, unless it's the day of their interview for the position of LD specialist, but that's the subject of another blog entry...).  Yet you waited until his senior year to get him some help.  I'm sure there are other factors (besides an AWOL dad) such as money, so I'm committing myself to be extra gracious about this situation.

But, four weeks ago, when I asked you to go online and check his progress, you said you weren't registered and that you needed to get the password from the counselor.  That was four weeks ago, and every week has been the same thing:  you promise to see the counselor and will get his progress.

I checked with the school.  They do not have a way for you to sign a release allowing me to communicate with his teacher.  They said that YOU must give me the password.  While I understand that your hands are very full right now, please understand that it is very difficult for me to provide effective tutoring for a failing student, if I cannot monitor his progress.  He needs accountability.

Right now, all I can resort to is to ask him how he is doing.  His answer is always "pretty good".  He confided in me that he was getting a C.  When I shared that grade with you, it was the first time you heard about it.  I can understand your dissatisfaction with that kind of grade.  I am dissatisfied as well and have admonished him to get it up to at least a B.  But admonishment can only go so far.

Yet, you want me to prepare him for Calculus.  He wants to be a software engineer.  When we met for the first time, before any tutoring had even begun, I told you that Calculus is probably not an option anytime in the near future.  So you can see why when we have our conferences, I keep reminding you that I probably won't be able to meet that goal.  That, chances are, he will have to take remedial math in college next year.  He will probably be able to manage it better because of the help I was able to provide.  However, Calculus is very far away right now.  I know he wants to be a software engineer and that calculus is involved in that.  However, I have to meet him where he's at.  Right now, he's in Los Angeles and needs a ride to New York.  Flying is not an option so we will have to drive.  It's extra difficult because he keeps getting car-sick and he have to make frequent stops.

The bottom line is that he is being left in the dust right now.  As I've said before, he needs accountability. The most logical way to provide that accountability is for me to monitor his progress online.  I need that password.


  1. Well, the password would be nice, but in the meantime take the kid's word for it. Or get him to bring you his latest marked assignments. What you really need is engagement from the mother, of any kind. But she is overwhelmed. But elder care, sick younger son, absentee/divorced Dad - the older son is the only one who's more or less functioning, who doesn't need ALL her attention 24/7. At least he's going to school and can function quasi-independently. I'm not surprised he's only getting what little energy she's got left, at the end of the day just before she collapses, after taking care of everybody else.

  2. Definitely a difficult situation all 'round. Since Mom is the one paying the bills (and, it seems, complaining on occasion about the results or lack thereof, even if she does little else), your desire for her to be more involved in solving the problem(s) is understandable. On the other hand, taking into account the realities of the situation (and some of the points about what might be summed up as learned helplessness in the excellent article linked below), and the fact that your tutee is pretty close to being a legal adult if he isn't one already, I'd be inclined to try to work with him as much as possible. That might, as Merely suggests, include taking his word about how things are going, which might actually be pretty well if he's pulled his grades up by a full grade level (and/or getting the password from him -- doesn't he have a way to check his own grades? If not, there's part of the problem right there). It might also include at least experimenting with being a bit more frank with him, man to man, about what the academic road ahead is likely to look like for the next few years, and the possibility that he might need to consider a different future career if his math abilities don't match up with his current ambitions (assuming those are still his current ambitions, or were ever his ambitions at all; it wasn't entirely clear to me who was present at the initial meeting where the ambition to become a software engineer was mentioned, or whether you can be sure that's his ambition, as opposed to mom's ambition for him). You're not a counselor, so there's only so far you can take this sort of conversation (though you might consider recommending a few sessions with career, college, and/or time-management-type of coach, who can do some of the same things as a psychological counselor (which it sounds like this kid could really use), but might be an easier/more palatable sort of consult to recommend. Ideally, you'd also find a way to tip this person off about the possibility of learning disabilities, in hopes that there might be some testing before the kid goes off to college).

    For the moment, though, and to the extent possible given the circumstances of your employment, and the limits of your own professional expertise, I'd suggest treating this student as much as possible as the adult he nearly is, and helping him to be accountable to himself (present and future), rather than mom, you, or his teachers. That might include at least suggesting that he needs to decide whether he's willing to continue on a very slow journey (nice metaphor; have you shared it with him?) to a possibly unattainable career as a software engineer, or whether he might appreciate help in exploring alternative plans that might share some features with his (presumably) chosen career, but might fit his talents better.

    1. I'd suggest treating this student as much as possible as the adult he nearly is, and helping him to be accountable to himself (present and future), rather than...


  3. You are Obi Wan Kenobi. You are her only hope.