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The Art of Home Tutor Maintenance

The Indian Express - September 09, 2012

Tuition teachers are here to stay, as long as the cut-offs for college admissions escalate. And if it isn't bad enough acceding to the non-negotiable rate per hour of the teachers, it's worse to carry the guilt of not allowing children to have any free time at all, as you shunt, drag, coerce, cajole, and bribe them to go for tuition after tuition. I carried the guilt for a long time, well after the school years were over. Recently, after reading reactions to Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother about how such children had no social life and hence have underdeveloped personalities, I asked my daughter with trepidation whether tuitions damaged her social life in her adolescent years. "Are you kidding," she laughed, "tuitions were social life". And when I look back on group tuitions - different groups for different subjects - and the coke-sandwich comfort food consumed during them, I have no trouble believing it. The teachers come in all shades of quirks and capabilities.

 

 The skill it takes to find, evaluate, manage and monitor them, qualifies all mothers for leadership slots in executive search and HR consulting firms. We had a maths tutor who taught with the flair of a matador. He would do a sum with a flourish, and leave open-mouthed children gaping in incomprehension - except that he thought that expression was about the joy of discovery. And like after a magic show, I would find the kids asking each other, "how did he do that?" I got rid of him when he told me that I had to be reasonable and plan on my daughter failing the next exam, but passing the one after that. I then found one who was a solid south Indian maami who said that the child had to come "lee-surely" and had to "do wobediently". The "do" consisted of 50 sums every day, and rework all the wrong ones.

 

 The student could go to her house any time between six in the morning and seven in the evening, sit in silence at her dining table, and stay for as long as it took to complete the task. I was ecstatic, my daughter miserable, but practice maketh perfect and the grades were great. She cured what we despairingly used to call the "Abhimanyu syndrome" - diving deep into a sum, getting trapped in convoluted calculations, not knowing how to emerge with the right answer. On the other extreme was a man with an enviable "arm's length" business model - a real stroke of genius that was a money spinner. He operated out of a small room, and specialised in what he termed "practice test" series.

 The child chose the time, wrote the mock exam, and an alarm clock did the time keeping. The papers were corrected and returned with the marks. The student was then supposed to compare his answers with a model answer sheet and figure out why and where he lost marks. Only after that, if needed, could he contact the tutor for further discussion. Not having the parents' disease of living in hope, he knew that most kids would never get to the last stage. And of course, fees were paid in advance. My vote for the most innovative and effective paisa vasool tuition system goes to a mother I knew, who engaged the tuition teacher for herself (Class X maths and physics), so that she could teach her son and control the learning process more directly. My daughter guffaws with satisfaction as our Labrador puppy, after one year of customised, daily tuition, continues to climb into visitor's laps ignoring our thundered commands.

The previous dog learnt nothing either, after five years of tutoring, "I bet you spent more money on their tuition than you did on mine," she sniggers, "at least I learnt something." I protest that my dogs were both exemplary students, as long as they were outside the house, and the commands came from the tuition teacher. Our housekeeper blames it on the teachers — "if doggy has to behave inside the house, why does the teacher train him outside the house? And why teach useless things like 'shake hands', when he needs to learn the politeness of 'no jumping'? But tuition teachers are all the same whether they teach humans or dogs.

They always tell you it's your fault. Our dog trainer has informed me that my dog had learnt "no jumping" very well. But the new dog walker we have hired walks him along with several other dogs, some of whom are badly trained, so ours is regressing. My daughter guffaws with satisfaction as our Labrador puppy, after one year of customised, daily tuition, continues to climb into visitor's laps ignoring our thundered commands. The previous dog learnt nothing either, after five years of tutoring, "I bet you spent more money on their tuition than you did on mine," she sniggers, "at least I learnt something." I protest that my dogs were both exemplary students, as long as they were outside the house, and the commands came from the tuition teacher. 

Our housekeeper blames it on the teachers - "if doggy has to behave inside the house, why does the teacher train him outside the house? And why teach useless things like 'shake hands', when he needs to learn the politeness of 'no jumping'? But tuition teachers are all the same whether they teach humans or dogs. They always tell you it's your fault. Our dog trainer has informed me that my dog had learnt "no jumping" very well. But the new dog walker we have hired walks him along with several other dogs, some of whom are badly trained, so ours is regressing.