(This is part 2 of an actual conversation with a tutoring student. See part 1 here.)
“Have you thought about our conversation last lesson, about why tutoring is important?” I asked my young tutoring student, as we worked on writing a story.
“Yes, I get that if I want to go to high school someday, I need to fill in my learning gaps,” he answered reluctantly. “But I would still rather play. I don’t want to go to college, anyway, or be a teacher or something like that. I want to do something fun for the rest of my life. I bet there are lots of things I can do that don’t need writing!”
“You like to tell me stories about all kinds of fun things you do, right?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied enthusiastically. “That’s what I like. Doing fun things. I like talking about fun things, too. But when I have to write them down, it is hard and boring.”
“Today, when you told me about the fun things you did on your holidays with your grandpa, I wrote them down. Then I read your story back to you. Did you like listening to it?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “But I didn’t like it when you asked me to write it down myself, when you dictated it to me.”
“Well, now that you have written it down, can you think of anything you can do with it?”
“I guess I could send a copy to my grandpa. He would like to read it, because we had a lot of fun together.”
“So does that mean that it might be useful to learn to write things for other people to enjoy?”
“I guess so,” he responded. “And it did help me write a better story when you helped me that way. Usually I don’t even know how to start writing a story.”
“So it sounds like tutoring did help you a bit today, then. And next time you have to write a story at school, it will be easier, because now you know you can write it just like you would tell it out loud to a friend.”
“I didn’t know that before,” he said. “Yes, I can do that!”
“Good! Now, remember what you were saying about when you grow up? What kind of job would you like to have, that doesn’t require reading and writing?”
“I would like to be a coach!” he responded enthusiastically. “They get to play sports all the time, and they don’t need to read or write or do arithmetic, either!”
“Are you so sure about that? Does your coach ever look things up in the rule book? Does he diagram strategies for your team to use? Does he sometimes drive your team in the bus to tournaments? Does he keep track of all the scores of your team and the other teams? Does he send the team members e-mails to let them know if there is change in the game schedule, or when and where to meet for an extra practice?”
“Yes,” my student answered questioningly.
“Well, when he does those things, he is reading and writing and doing math, right?”
“Oh,” he said, and paused. Then he suggested, “Well, I could be a cook, then! I love good food! I could become a famous chef!”
“So you could,” I answered. “Of course chefs have to be able to read complicated recipes, and write up menus, and list ingredient orders, and use math to change recipes to feed larger or smaller numbers of people…”
“Not all of them! I’ve watched the cooks at fast food restaurants. They just stand there and flip the hamburgers and wrap them up and give them to the customers!” he announced triumphantly.
“Really? And how do they know what the customers have ordered?”
“Oh… I guess they do read the orders…”
“Yes, they do. And anyway, do you really want to spend thirty or more years of your life flipping hamburgers at a fast food restaurant? And earn minimum wage?”
His face clouded over a bit, as he thought about that. “No, I guess not. Isn’t there anything I can do without reading and writing and math?”
“Oh, I’m sure there is. But when you can read and write and do math well, you can do those things a lot better, and easier, too. Learning isn’t something we only do at school for a few years. Real learning is something we do every day, in every part of our lives.
“When you play sports, or do artwork, or make cookies, or even play out in your yard with your friends, you are learning new things. And when you have good learning tools, you can do all those fun things better and better. Can you imagine trying to build a tree fort without a hammer to nail it together? Or make good cookies without measuring cups? Or paint a picture without a brush? Or dig a garden without a shovel? You can do those things without tools, but it is a lot harder, and it doesn’t usually turn out as well.
“Reading and writing and math are really important learning tools. You can learn other things without them, but it is a lot harder, and you probably won’t make things as well without them.”
Just then there was a knock on the door, and mom came in to pick up her son.
“Hey, mom! Guess what? Maybe tutoring isn’t so bad! I’m learning tools that mean I can do all kinds of fun things some day. Maybe I’ll even get to be a real coach! Or a famous chef! … And school will be easier, too!”