The Academics of Life

     Someone recently reminded me that my job title is academic tutor. In that capacity, I’d like to say that I’m at least marginally qualified to impart some sort of knowledge onto my students. On the other hand, I’d also be the first to admit that I may be completely ill qualified in most other areas in which I offer counsel to them.


whiteboard  When we set out in the semester, my fellow learning consultants and I are supposed to outline the student support program, explain the requirements of participation and tell the students what they can expect from us. Each year, I’m quickly able to click through the points and offer my assistance on a host of academic, organizational and campus navigational tasks without hesitation. 

 

     Until the last one.


Be a mentor.


My first year, I balked at what I thought was a pretty presumptuous offering. Of course, I understand that anyone can be a mentor, that it requires no degree or specialized training. I get that even I am vaguely qualified.


Still.


I didn’t even know these kids, yet. And, more importantly, they certainly didn’t know me. Why would they sign on to take counsel from a stranger more closely aligned with their parents and professors than their peers. How could they say yes to a pretty big trust connection with such a blank slate?

 

Luckily, my students aren’t nearly as jaded as I.

    Lucky also, that my boss is a bit of a sorceress. Not only does she perform a pretty neat trick with regard to the space-time continuum –accomplishing way more hours of work than should reasonably fit in a day- but she also seems to possess some intuitive knack for fitting tutee to tutor. At first glance, she’s merely linking business students with business tutors; communications kids with the likes of me. But there’s something more to the doweled fit she seems to construct.


Kelley would likely not allow me to attribute the pairings to the mere technical savvy of my supervisor. Rather, she’d be more apt to point to a grand scheme for the universe in which I am supposed to be doing just this job at this point in my life and with these particular kids. What I try to lay off on coincidence, she sets before a higher power. A concept over which, I have learned not to roll my eyes. Not only because I truly respect from where she comes, but also because she seems to have some sort of belief in me –that perhaps I still can be taught. And in weaker moments, she does have the ability to suck me in. 


And I understand now, that this is a good thing.

     For me.

    But also for my students.

    And for my own children. Because of all the jobs I have held, the one for which I often feel most inadequately prepared is parent. And sometimes also this position as mentor.

    But with voices other than my own in my head, I take a breath and try to listen to the universe. And rather than assume myself ill-fitted to any role, I think to all of the people who would have been considered such a mismatch to my own life. And thank that they were there.

The woman for whom I babysat should have remained only a neighbor and a reliable source of funds. Instead, in the fuzzy friendship we forged as I stepped into adulthood, she helped me become the person I was supposed to be. An unlikely pairing, believe me. Had we been the same age, our paths would not have crossed and we would never have become friends. But we did.

So when my daughter’s high school years were in turmoil and I was one of her closest friends, rather than fret over the time she spent with a woman I barely knew, I stopped and tried to believe. In the goodness of people. In my parents’ creed that what goes around, comes around, and in the idea that a good kid deserved someone good in her life. And it worked.

    I owe an immeasurable thank-you to that woman of long ago and to the woman who helped pull my daughter back to the surface.

    And I owe something to these kids I supposedly tutor. Because I often think that they’ve given me more than I have given them. 


Or maybe not. They thank me often and text me with good grades and give me credit that I don’t deserve. They share their work and their accomplishments and pieces of their lives. And they trust me.


I am an academic tutor, and I’ve tried to set some pretty clear boundaries –the most ironic of which might be exampled in a recent interaction with one of my students. I told her that if she ever felt compelled to text me in the middle of the night because she was under-the-gun with regard to an assignment, that I would indeed be angry. However, I added that I would be angrier still if she neglected to make the call when it had nothing to do with academics at all.

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