In my tutoring career’s twilight, reflection cannot help but breed in the newly cast shadows. Eduardo, who may well be one of my last students, provides a ripe opportunity for pupil mediated self-dissection. He sits at the table, chugging along through rote mathematics. Rote learning, you scoff, is this 1920? No, it’s 2016 (your stupid question deserves a stupid answer). Teaching maths has bestowed upon me a much deeper understanding of the properties of numbers, and this ability is born not only from continual exposure to conversation, but to exercise. So I make the boy exercise. The explanation already presented, my work thus done, I twiddle my thumbs for the best part of an hour, only breaking twiddle to correct the odd error. The end of our time approaches, and I’ve come to realise that this is the moment I make my money; I load Eduardo with compliments, unique to him, unique to what he’s achieved that day, and I mean every one of them. There are many things I fail to do in lessons, but a slap on the back at its end, remains my ever-constant and all important feature. While I still don’t find fault in this method, reflecting as I am now, I will concede that it can however, occasionally, seem (perhaps) a slightly overpaid gesture.
When I think back on my years of schooling I remember the five or six times a teacher (in what may have well felt like a gesture) paid me a straight out compliment. I felt abashed but I added it to my store and from time to time held it like a warm pebble.
A friend’s son, up for interview, was being shown round an Oxford college and was making arch remarks, irking the undergraduate showing him around. The student dumped him in the quad saying ‘you don’t have to be clever – we are all clever here – why not try to be kind?’. I heard that recently but it felt like a personal message that had been travelling through time from when I stood in a quad wanting (very much) to be clever.
You sound like you are being both clever and kind.