What your zip code says about you and the breadth of your experiences with education

Thank you to M. W. and D. P. , both somewhere in Illinois. I appreciate you weighing in on the subject of relationships between business and education. Your comments helped me to better appreciate how our zip codes affect our thinking AND help me understand why much of what is going on in today’s political miasma truly reflects the haves and have nots.  When you decided you did not like an ‘uncomfortable’ conversation, you immediately decided it was about you, out of guilt, since too many things seemed to describe you and your behavior. You gave yourself away.

I am a tutor with Wyzant and after having done substantial research, kept noticing inconsistencies regarding how tutors have been differentially handled. My questions have arisen from the fact of having read every nook, cranny and bit I could find on the website and there is NO small print, often there is nothing in print.  There are no explanations for many things which happen and often it is days before I actually notice a ‘change’ manifest itself and the effects it will take on students and myself as a tutor.  Since I have a background in education and have a keen interest in knowing why the change in A affects B in manner X, I look, watch, collect data and ask more than an average amount of questions.

The most obvious question to date is how I became a ‘Top 100’ out of 75,000 tutors. By any reasoning ability this is a strange, almost random occurrence. I asked Wyzant how this was achieved  as I would like to know what I did which caused this synchronicity. No answer from Wyzant. There were some folks who did not even know there was a top 100 or top 250…..I am going to go with marketing ploy. Pick some tutors, give them a high rating and see if this brings in more business as you have created ‘selective’ groups of tutors.  I don’t need to be in the Top 100 to know I am good.  My self esteem is not so diminutive where a ‘note’ from Wyzant changes me into a different type of tutor.   http://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/races-sports/how-participation-trophies-are-making-our-kids-soft-20150725

It would help  if my % of dollars paid was increased since it is clear Wyzant needs to spend very little money on marketing me.   Giving a tutor this ranking is the equivalent of giving out stock options, which only work if X happens. Giving someone the money they are worth actually demonstrates their value.

What I found out was there are other tutors who share my concerns and these are tutors who typically make $50/hr or less and live where the average middle and upper middle class folks live.  These tutors are curious as to the inner workings of things as they wish to improve their rankings and probably raise their rates. Of course there is no specific answer to achieving the top since I don’t even know what I did in 2014 which was remarkable and have nothing what-so-ever to share in regards to improving one’s ranking. In this instance people want information which is actionable.

The tutors who charge more per hour and live in wealthy enclaves  share a similar interest although there is a particular characteristic to it.   The tutors at the higher end of the socio- economic range want the ranking, much as one gets for their position in their graduating class and money is not so much of an issue.  They charge enough per hour where the ranking itself will push them onward to more students who can afford them.  The trophy is what is being sought, so the how and the why is not as relevant as the fact it was achieved. There is limited interest into how the ranking was achieved.

These two groups do not  share my concerns equally as they do not have many of the same experiences with  public education. The following is an article which demonstrates  one of many differences between different zip codes. I won’t even fully get into the differences in funding by zip codes.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racial-disparities-american-schools_55b67572e4b0074ba5a576c1

The issues surrounding these two groups of tutors is so diverse, one can not even have the discussions necessary to start a bridge. The group who ‘does not know’ really does not wish to know and so the discussion is upsetting and unsettling. In a world where there is little equity in the education system, the people who we wish would pay attention to the situation usually can not stomach the discussion so they block it out at every turn. This is what I found with M and D above. They could not stomach the discussion so instead they turned it inward as a criticism about themselves instead of a thinking point.  Instead of being able to argue their points, they decided they did not like the discussion and had it closed in a tutor forum.  This supported Wyzant in not having to divulge any information about their practices and saved the profit margin for yet another day.

The problems faced by these two different sets of tutors are similar in some instances and in others, amazingly different.  To start with, test prep tutors who are great at what they do usually charge accordingly and this denies access to many students who have capacity and not the pocket to benefit from these tutors.  This puts students with a smaller budget into the possibility of not getting into the college of their choice due to test scores not demonstrating their ability in comparison to peers from a more wealthy area where test prep is de rigor.  Yes, I know, test scores are only one aspect of college acceptance and apparently an important one as wealthy families make it happen. The issue I am addressing is called equity.

In an issue I addressed in a previous blog, students who are in a lower income bracket are often in a situation where their parents and/or they them self do not know how to do a better search for a best fit tutor as the possibilities are ‘limited’ to $/hr posted, ratings, and experience in hours.  When these fields are manipulated to improve profit margin ( presenting new tutors at a substantially lower percentage split instead of experienced tutors with a track record willing to make a rate adjustment), it repeats what we already know about experienced teachers fleeing certain classrooms in certain schools. This again is not equity; It is profit margin.

Bringing these discussions into the light of day causes tension and frustration. Most notably to those in zip codes where these discussions are often political and not based on actual experiences with the education system as the education system caters to them as great servants.  While the various and sundry discussions can be shut down by people unwilling to address the issues, the problems remain.

Wyzant benefits from the discussions remaining at the kum-by-ya level and not having to address the details. The tutors in particular zip codes are protected from having discussions which are too unsettling and the students, well, the students continue to be the ones to lose since money and education do not seem to mix well, if at all.

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When Parents Choose NOT to Conform and Help Their Children

When I was a classroom teacher there were always parents who could not or would not conform to the basic rudiments of organization and being a back up support to their child. Part of it was the parent lacked education and was disorganized in their own life, part of it was living a complicated life with multiple jobs and then there were the parent(s) who for whatever reason had the resources, where with all and time and refused to conform as if my asking them to play a role in their child’s education was one step too far (they brought them into this world – apparently this was their entire job in their world view).

Not amazingly, the most impoverished children had  parents who tried the hardest as they realized the difference an education would make for their child. These particular parents would have sold a kidney if it would help their child. The kids of these particular parents had the message loud and clear – you must achieve something more than your parents.

It was the middle class, upper middle class and upper class (oh yes, I taught at a private school in Santa Monica, CA) who could not be bothered with the drudgery of following through on assignments, making sure the child sought out help from the teacher, hired a tutor, etc. It was these self-same parents who became nag monsters when their child was doing poorly and they wanted me to fix the problem as apparently it would seem teachers are given magic wands with their diplomas.  These parents could not be bothered to attend Back to School night or contact some one for help navigating the on-line school website portal where student agendas and grades were located.

Now, many years later as a tutor, I continue to confront these same issues with the same cast of characters. When I attempt to impose order on chaos, I am right alongside with this year’s flu vaccine……you want the shot except you might be run down for a day, your arm might hurt, you have to schedule it and so forth so you don’t obtain the shot and get virulently (literally and figuratively) angry when you get the flu.  In today’s world, most teachers post assignments on-line and computers can be checked during the course of the day. Teachers are able to respond to e-mails instead of attempting phone tag. So many things are more efficient and yet the same small group of parents can not get it together.

Whether it is fear and/or arrogance, it does not benefit your child to make the choice of not conforming. It teaches your child (without any words) what one type of lazy behavior may be and allows them to follow suit. Trust me, kids know everything – even when you tell a fib.

As a teacher, I often had anywhere from 30-180 students depending on grade level and subjects taught. Following up on one student took all my time. Uncooperative parents meant I did not ever get to sleep as I had to respond to them.  As a tutor, I typically have 20 students at various ages and abilities over different subject areas. In my case, up to 50% of those students have an identified special need which can be ‘on the spectrum Autism’ to full-blown ADHD with missing executive function skills and lack of impulse control, severe dyslexia, visual or aural processing issues, etc.  If I have 10 of those students a week, this means I must rely on the parents of these children to do what I can not do when I am only there once or twice a week.

When the parents of these and my ‘regular’ children choose not to conform and be helpful, I am limited in what I can do. The school is limited in what it can do. Change is NOT what some one else does to your child, rather it is what you create/instill/demonstrate/work on with your child. You have it all backwards if you believe a tutor or teacher has that much control over outcomes for your singular child. You are the person who needs to support the teacher and tutor in making change occur.

Sometimes parenting is difficult. Life is not fair – ever. You may have to give up your favorite TV show or social activity so you can check your child’s homework and review on-line the assignment. You may need to actively engage in studying, which is not homework; Studying is what good students do above and beyond homework. You may need to go to bed late. You may not be able to over schedule your kid and need to think about what can be cut out for the time being to get things back on track. You might need to review Algebra on Khan Academy so you CAN have a conversation with your child about math.

Whatever it is which needs to be done – please do it! This is YOUR child. Help me help your child to learn, succeed and be a productive member of society. Help me achieve the goal of self efficacy for your child by pulling your part. I want to work WITH you…..not alone.

This disease of COALG and the unfolding on college campuses everywhere.

 Idylls of the King

I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is:
Perchance, because we see not to the close;—
For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death;
Nay—God my Christ—I pass but shall not die.

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

During my childhood and into my adult years,  I was fortunate enough to know a woman named Yvonne Oshiro. She was no ordinary woman. Not by a long shot. She was the mother everyone should have, most especially if you were a child with special needs. Yvonne had a love larger than the sun and hopefulness beyond the rays of said sun. If belief could make something into being, Yvonne would have been the most important and significant alchemist.

What I learned from Yvonne is too large to put into a blog, journal or book. It was the experience of a lifetime in small bites over a long period of time. I learned there are no Children of a Lesser God, there are only children who become adults. Don’t get me wrong, Yvonne did not think every born child was functional. She knew better. Yvonne grew up in Italy bordering on France in a time when surviving winter was an endeavor. Yvonne knew some children were not able to live. She loved them anyways. For the children who did live, Yvonne waged a campaign on ‘the system’ to make sure those children had access, education and human rights/dignity. Each child had a purpose and was going to live a life worthy of dignity.

Throughout my life I have worked with students at various levels. At times I am hopeful a child has  some possibility at living a meaningful life and I know when I wish we had better euthanasia laws in this country. I do not say this with cruelty or any sense of mean spirit. I say it from the point of view of the oath doctors take – do no harm. We can and often do things which are beyond reason in the name of keeping some one alive and we rob them of their dignity while providing them with something we call being alive. I also say this about cancer patients as many people seem to think being alive is the same as living a life.

In the case of children with special needs, they have a purpose beyond the medical establishment and studies surrounding what and how something happened. These children can often learn productive skills and have a life beyond a vegetative state. Many of these children would pass for Children of a Regular God if we understood what we, as a society, needed to do.

Unfortunately, even teachers in Grade K-12 have limited exposure to students with differentiated needs. There is generally a requirement of one or two courses to obtain your credential and the rest of your ‘learning’ is on the fly, in the classroom.  Since my background is speech pathology, I took years of classes in development both pre and post-partum. My learning continued on the fly, in the classroom – it was a different experience. I also had years of Yvonne ‘experience’ and wisdom under my belt.

I now work as a tutor and my students span K-12 and college. Until last year, I only had collegiate students which were ‘normal’ and needed to learn how to study. Supposedly they had the ‘capacity’.

Over the course of Fall of 2013 and Spring 2014, I was contacted by a family to tutor a student at a local private college. The conversation went in fits and bursts. A parent letting me know what the student’s needs were and being frustrated and angry, a phone call regarding navigating the behemoth of the registration department at the private college,  etc. and so forth. In the Spring of 2014, I was asked to tutor the student as things had headed south and the family was hoping there was some way to turn things around. This was a turning point for me. I so wish Yvonne had been alive to give me guidance for what I faced and ways to think about navigating the ‘system’.

All the rules and ways in which ADA works are  upended on college campuses. Colleges and universities have limits on the amount of support/assistance/help they can provide to students who are not ‘normal’. Since college professors outside the education department are not required to know about how students learn and differentiated instruction, I was left trying to explain to various PhD professors what should be done differently for this particular student so they could succeed. None of what I suggested was challenging or difficult and all of it would benefit any other student. It was definitely not ‘routine’ lecturing and assigning essays. Furthermore, who the hell was I (I do not have a PhD) to tell a professor how to do their job. In the process of advocating for a student, I saw the unabashed ugliness of professors  and heads of departments who may be top in their field yet lacking in expertise of sharing the power of their knowledge. It was horrifying to be condescended to by professors as a tutor when both of us should have the goal of helping students learn. The hands of the director in student services (students with special needs) were also tied and the registrars office made things much more complicated and less streamlined than necessary. By time all was said and done, the student was severely penalized on a number of fronts. I was penalized by not being able to help the student. I was brought on to late to unravel a mess  even the best knitter would call something worse than frogging.

Whether the student did or did not succeed, whether the student could have succeeded without a tutor and support is a discussion for a different day. What is at hand is the very elemental idea of providing a student with the pieces in place to succeed.  A college education at a private university should not be cobbled together from duct tape and baling wire not even provided by the registrar or dean of the school.

When a college or university looks to accept a student, one of the elements under consideration is whether this student has the capacity to persist and finish their studies so they may obtain a degree. At this particular university, the student was not allowed to enroll in the fall as they had to prove they could handle 3 + classes at a time (full-time status) instead of the one or two the student had been taking at community college previously to meet undergraduate requirements. Since this had not been explained until ‘after the fact’ to the student or parents or me, it was an unfortunate delay. The student was then ‘registered’ into classes by the registrar and put in classes with professors least likely to be willing to work with the student to help them succeed. In point of fact, some of the professors pointed out the student ‘seemed’ normal and did not understand why they might need an extension on a due date or why sentences may not be perfectly written but actually made sense or why doing oral/aural Socratic method would have told the professor everything they needed to know as the student had a challenge writing. I do not actually think there were more things this university could have done to make the student uncomfortable and to feel hopeless.

Instead of doing the task at hand of educating a student, this university did everything as obstructive and not conducive to learning as was possible. This was not the end.

I was subsequently referred to another parent and student new at the university for Fall 2014. The student was not given the help and support on day one to meet their needs. They actually changed classes the second week of school which created a large obstacle which has not been entirely overcome at this time. The professor(s) from the same department as last year’s grief, did not learn a thing so they have made things entirely difficult.  One of the issues is the professors need to go off on tangents during lecture which is incredibly challenging for this student who has processing issues. I have seen the notes from the note taker SELECTED by the professor……they are an outline. This particular student needs more than an outline.

It is unclear what the professor (HOD) is trying to prove – they can make  a student so miserable they will leave the campus, they will make the student rue the day they ever thought this subject was important (it is, trust me), they can prove they have a PhD yet lack the substance of actually being an educator……I could go on and on. I have no clue what motivates this person to think they way they do about education.

What I do know and what I think is important would be classes on college campuses for students who need more TIME.

Some students would actually benefit from one class stretching two terms. It may be a student who is a parent, going back to college and they work full-time. They can not commit 20 hours a week and do well and have the information matter in their education. If they had two terms, they could succeed, do well and actually learn something.  It might be a student with needs for differentiated instruction. We have different high schools around the country which have block scheduling and students can have two hours a day of Algebra for one term or they can have one hour a day for two terms. Both situations fit different students. Selecting one over the other is a fancy way of selecting which students succeed…..I don’t think I need to elaborate.

No, college is not high school. Yes, we should figure out how to educate more students. What is wrong with helping students succeed if they need more time, better notes, oral/aural discourse instead of writing a paper, books on tape, etc.? What is it I am missing which makes educating the ‘not normal’ students so wrong? Would we deny a returning service member the assistance to succeed? Yes – we do that all around the country. College campuses should be beyond needing to ‘see the disability’ to serve it and yet we do it to those who would benefit so much from an education and in turn benefit our community and country.  What is it we fear so much we can not actually do what is right/correct?

Somehow something seems fishy if students are accepted to a private university and actually set up to fail. It reeks of…….making money. Children of a lesser God  seems to be the way I would describe people who see money as more important than education.