Every Tuesday evening I drive to Rancho Cucamonga to tutor a student, and after our sessions I spend another fifteen minutes driving back to Upland. On the drive over, I rehearse my lessons and try to come up with the right way to explain the quadratic equation or remember the order of operations. By the time I get to my student’s house, I am pumped to start because I am ready to help him tackle any tricky problems his Algebra homework can throw at us. Usually we are successful and can even pin those word problems down with the help of some equations and diagrams. On the drive home, I am always amazed at how much I learned from his way of approaching the problems.
I am so grateful to my students for showing me news ways to view the world. As a tutor, my job is to come in and assist students in doing things the right way. I help them read the right way, do their math homework the right way, remember the water cycle the right way and spell words the right way. I take this task seriously because there’s a lot to be said for the right way!
Still, with all due respect to the right way, my favorite part of tutoring is asking students why they did something their way. When it comes to algebra problems, their way often means a negative sign was ignored, the order of operations was confused or an arithmetic error was made, but sometimes they invent a new way of approaching a problem. Usually, their way shows you what they know. Frequently, I see students approach a problem by drawing on skills they’ve already mastered and combining them in new and interesting ways.