Saturday 01 Oct 2016

School Daze
Matt Seinberg

How many of us remember being 16 and doing well, or poorly in school? At that age, I was in tenth grade, and the subject that I always had problems with was math. The only grade I didn’t have problems with math was ninth. That year was my best ever in school, and I never did that good again. I had grades that were consistently over 90 in all my subjects, and most of was because I had good teachers in all the subjects.

In every other grade, I had to have a tutor to make it through math class, and sometimes it was the teacher who did it during a free period or after school, or another teacher from a different school looking to make some extra money as well.

I bring all this up because I’m having déjà vu with my oldest daughter Michelle, who is having the same problems in math that I did, except she’s tried to hide it. I’m sure I told my parents I was having problems and needed help. Michelle had not told us anything, so we were blindsided when her last report card came and she had a grade of 57 in math!

She refused to accept any blame, and said her teacher was bad. Knowing Michelle, as I do, I told her she had to accept responsibility for her actions. Then we got on the phone with her guidance counselor, who of course was siding with the teacher. What I wanted was Michelle to get some extra help from another teacher in the school, in addition to getting a tutor.

This week I called a neighbor of my in-laws, John, who has been a math teacher for over 30 years, pretty much begging him to help Michelle. He agreed to one hour a week, starting the next day at $25 an hour, which is half his regular rate. The kicker is Michelle does babysitting for his sister across the street, which takes care of her grandson.

Ah, the best part is now coming. John calls the next day and leaves a message on the machine saying that he really is too busy to tutor Michelle. Now, we’re back to square one.

School policy, according to the math department chairperson, says that a student could NOT get extra help from a different teacher, only the one teaching the class. I said, clearly, how ridiculous that policy is or was; why should a student who is failing with their teacher be subjected to more of that?

What I’m going to have to do is call the math department chairperson, assistant principal or even the principal and see about getting that changed. Doesn’t a student’s poor performance reflect on the teacher and school as well? At this point, I’m in such a daze as to what to do

Mrs. D, the guidance counselor, called me back after some back and forth phone conversations, and gave me a name of a teacher in another school that does tutoring on her own time. I called Mrs. Kelly and explained the situation, and finally got around to asking how much she charges per hour. She said $60 an hour and I almost fell over. Of course, I asked if she could do it for less, but she said she couldn’t. I told Michelle when she came home from school that she was going to pay half, since she is making money baby-sitting, and has to take responsibility for her poor grades.

I remember my father taking me to the store to reward my sister and me when we had good grades and taking things away when we didn’t try and had poor grades. When you make an effort, it’s easier to accept a poor grade. No effort requires stern action.

When school started in September, Melissa said she wanted a TV in her room. I said okay, as long as she 90 or above in all her classes. That hasn’t happened yet, though she claims to have tried.

As Yoda says, "There is no try. There is only do." Dad agrees.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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