Stifling Synonyms

| USA | Learning | July 24, 2017

(I’m helping a ninth grader with an essay she received a poor grade on. It’s easy to see why; the paper is filled with awkward phrasing like, “the battle instigates when Napoleon convinces the other animals to fight,” “propaganda contains a lot of drawbacks,” and “Napoleon’s war plans accord with Stalin’s brilliant military strategy in real life.”)

Me: “So… there are some good ideas in here, but your syntax is a little hard to understand. See how your teacher marked ‘awk’ in certain places?”

Student: “Yeah, but I don’t really get what she means when she says it’s awkward.”

Me: “You know, when I was in school, I had this friend who didn’t think she had a strong enough vocabulary, so she relied on a thesaurus to try and make her essays sound more impressive. But a lot of the time, she didn’t fully understand the words she was using — whether they took an object, or had a certain connotation — and it actually hurt the clarity of her writing.”

Student: “Oh…” *blinks, tilts her head thoughtfully* “Yeah, I do that.”

Me: “I kind of figured.”

Student: “So I should stop using a thesaurus?”

Me: “Well, you need to use words you know. If that means using a simpler word to be safe, sometimes that’s what you’ll have to do. If you do use a synonym, look it up in a sentence to make sure it’s actually what you want. And…”

Student: “Yes?”

Me: “Maybe don’t talk about Joseph Stalin being ‘brilliant’? Just a thought.”

Are You Sure Is A Sure Fire Way

, , , | Hopeless | June 28, 2017

While I am in college, I do some occasional tutoring. One thing I do, as did people who taught me when I was younger, is ask “are you sure?” when I am shown an answer that I know is incorrect. On occasion, I do the same with a right answer and the student will go back and check the work.

I have one girl as a student who is failing algebra and her parents agree to hire me. She makes some steady progress in school, but still struggles. I play that little are-you-sure game with her from time to time. One day, I give her a problem, she works it, and gives me the result. I ask her “are you sure?” Without the slightest hesitation or move to check her work she said “yes!” Something in her clicked and she had the confidence to know she had it right. Bam! From that point forward, she is getting straight A’s on homework and tests. Seeing someone excel like that is a thrill I never forgot. As I concluded writing this, I searched for her name on Google and found her on LinkedIn. She completed her bachelor’s degree and is a successful businesswoman.

Needs To Be Tutored In The Art Of Giving A D*mn

, , , , , | Learning | June 12, 2017

(I work as a freelance math tutor. One day, I meet my client for an appointment and have the following exchange:)

Me: “I see you’re going to [Local Community College]. Which class are you taking?”

Student: “I don’t know.”

Me: *assuming maybe he forgot the name of the class* “Ok, do you have the book?”

Student: “No.”

Me: “Well then, do you happen to have the syllabus?”

Student: “No.”

Me: “Then why did you set up this appointment?”

Student: “No, that was my uncle.”

(I just left at that point.)

They’ve Been Around For Hundreds Of Years

| Vancouver, BC, Canada | Learning | May 18, 2017

(I’m tutoring a high school student who is reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

Student: “What does “spotted and inconstant” mean?”

Me: “What would you call a guy who flirts with a girl until she falls in love with him, then dumps her and chases after her best friend?”

Student: “A f***-boy.”

Me: “Well, yes, but if you write about him in your essay maybe you should say he’s fickle instead.”

This Administration Doesn’t Quite Add Up

, , | Phoenix, AZ, USA | Learning | April 13, 2017

(The office I work in accepts calls from out of state students in order to help them with their school work. Between scheduled appointments, I am doing some filing at my desk, when my coworker’s conversation with his student catches my attention. We work in the math, business, and statistics department.)

Coworker #1: *into his headset* “I… well, maybe our new president will do something for this country, ma’am. Yes. Perhaps. No, I don’t think the Bible means you have to love tyrants; I think it probably just means you should respect authority. Well, yes, it is true that the revolution had plenty of Christians in it, ma’am. That was a common religion then. Right. Um… no, I don’t think a revolt should be lead against the government. No, ma’am, I’m not at liberty to say which political party I belong to. No, thank you… Right. Now, did you have any other questions about your math homework? Okay. Right.”

Coworker #2: *nudges him* “[Coworker #1], it doesn’t seem like much math is going on; having fun?”

(Coworker #1 makes a face like he wants to die, and finishes his appointment.)

Coworker #1: “Next time the caller tries to start a political debate, can I transfer them to someone who specializes in poli-sci?”

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