My Private Student
so much depends upon a teacher
My Former Private Student
In 1995, I used to teach private lessens to anyone who called in response to my small Yellow-Pages advertisement.
Once I had a student whose name I no longer remember. She was a 19-year old woman of one quarter Asian and 3-quarters European ancestry. She had green (or grey) eyes, shoulder-length black hair, straight white teeth, and skin without blemishes. The only flaw that I could discern was an enlarged pupil in one of her eyes—it was permanently larger than the other one as a result of a surfing accident—after a surfboard hit her on the head, the pupil waxed to a double the diameter of the other pupil. She was a very beautiful young woman.
She was taking English-100 at Leeward Community College where I had taught both literature and writing from 1986 until 1993; I was a popular teacher as I always gave my students the knowledge without applying too much pressure by way of punitive grades (punitive grading is against my teaching philosophy). Some of my students whom I gave a chance went on to become PhD’s in Psychology and Education.
The young woman called me and asked me to help her write an essay upon which (as I learned later) the direction of her life depended. Having taught about twenty English-100 classes at Leeward Community College, I believed I was qualified to help her and told her as much.
My young private student complained to me that her teacher at the college was a mean, middle-aged spinster who hated almost all her students.
Having been a college teacher myself, I naturally defended the honor of the profession and said to my private pupil that her teacher at the college did not have a personal vendetta against her or against other students.
We went to work. I helped her organize her essay, explained to her the concepts of the subject-verb agreement, parallel structure, use of the apostrophe, use of commas and semicolons. Then, after I showed her compound and complex sentence structures, I encouraged her to write simple sentences in her own words using active voice.
We polished the essay, and I saw that my young pupil was happy to have understood how to write, and that it was not such a difficult art. I was sure that the essay deserved at least a B+.
A week later, my student called me in tears and told me that her teacher at Leeward College gave her a D for the essay and a failing grade for the course.
I asked the young woman what she was going to do, and she told me that she took a job at a strip-club, and the money was good.
What a strange feeling it is to try to pull someone back from the precipice when it’s clear that the attempt will prove futile; but I tried. I asked her, “Why did you do that?”
And she said to me—using vernacular uncharacteristic of her previous conversation but probably characteristic of her new bosses’ speech—“I’m gonna buy me a big dog and a car; the money is good,” she repeated. I tried to dissuade her but in vain; she was committed to her new direction. She was going to buy a big dog to protect herself against a world where an essay prepared with the help of a college professor was not a guarantee of a passing grade and a passage toward academic success and a subsequent benefit of a simple, decent life. She felt that she had to make her way in the world by offering the only commodity she had—her beautiful face and body.
I remember feeling extremely guilty for having charged her $15.00 for my service—money that she probably earned baby-sitting. To this day, I regret not having had the quick wit about me to offer her a refund, but more importantly not having been able to turn her away from the path she chose. I took her to a yoga class as my guest, but that was not enough; I talked to her once more on the phone, but she was already absorbed by her new life, her work.
That was my last contact with that young woman, and as I hung up the phone, I thought to myself that so much depends upon a teacher.