I remember when I first had a teacher explain the concept about assumptions to me. She said to remember how to spell assume and you’ll remember her version of the definition. Assumptions make an ASS out of U and ME = ASSUME. Although I remember how to spell assume and remember the saying very well; sometimes, I don’t always remember to implement it.
I taught my class this morning, and as usual, it put me in a very good mood. I decided to stay on campus after my class so that I could get my tutoring observation out of the way. I was recently hired as a tutor through the community college where I teach and they require that I spend an hour observing a fellow tutor to better understand how to actually tutor someone and not serve as an editing service (harder than you might think).
I was a little haughty and thought, “More than likely, I won’t be learning much today.” I’ve tutored before at a University-level writing center where the rules and guidelines were stricter, and the training much more rigorous than what the community college had required of me as a tutor thus far.
I walked into the tutoring center, eyes already searching for a clock, and I introduced myself to the tutor I had chosen to observe. I had never met her before; her name was Tammy and she was elderly and had a very frail, polite manner about her. Her clothes were clean and pressed and she wore rimless, square glasses. Her hair had gray streaks running through it and was neatly cut in to a pixie style. I sat down with Tammy and another tutor who was in Tammy’s age group who told me, “We don’t get down-time very often, so when we do, we like to catch up!” This woman also had graying hair and folded skin on her face. She too, was polite. They spoke in quiet, slow voices, the way that elders tend to speak. I glanced down at my phone and wondered where the tutee was. The tutoring center worked on an appointment-basis, so someone should have shown up already.
I listened to the two women slowly chat for a few minutes about the differences between wild-caught fish and those that are raised on fish farms. It made me remember how my grandfather used to look at me when I ate fruit and mumble about how my generation was being fed weak, flavorless food. This is a side-note, but it really does bother me how processed and mass-produced our food and products have become. Regardless, although the conversation was interesting enough, I was eager to get the appointment started and kept my eyes peeled for anyone approaching our table.
The two women were chattering at a steady pace when a tanned man approached our table and asked, “Are you ready?” I looked at his face and his nose was unnaturally bent and from the way that he had spoken, I knew he was special-needs and possibly had down syndrome. His lips were so thick, they looked like they were swollen and I guessed him to be of Hispanic or maybe even Pinoy decent.
Tammy responded, “Yes Gus, I’m ready, come have a seat.” She spoke the same way that she had spoken to me and the other tutor, but with more patience and I almost sighed because I had been hoping for a quick session. I already knew how to tutor; I am an instructor after all. I could tell from my tutor’s tone that this was going to be a slow session. I was made more impatient by the fact that it was 1pm and I had not had breakfast or lunch. Regardless, I was glad that our tutee had finally arrived.
I had not noticed it before, but Gus had been leaning on a walker. He slowly wheeled himself over and sat down. He unzipped his backpack and gingerly took out a crumpled manila folder from which he pulled several pieces of paper. My tutor grabbed the small stack and flipped through a few, with raised eyebrows she said, “My! You’ve been busy, haven’t you Gus?” He smiled and I noticed that although his eyes were slanted, they weren’t slanted in the way of those who have down-syndrome. I was slightly confused, but I assumed that not everyone has the same facial structure even if they have the same condition.
My tutor introduced me to Gus. Gus greeted me and said with a strong voice, “Just so you know, I am not retarded nor do I have a mental disability. I was in a car accident last year and it has impaired my vocal cords and the part of my brain that processes language.” I felt a blush climb up my cheeks and smother my face.
Turns out, Gus wasn’t even enrolled in any classes. He used to be a programmer and his accident seemed to have ruined his life. My assumptions never stop, do they?
I was impressed by the fact that he wasn’t enrolled in any classes, but still had the passion to write and to come get a second opinion on his creative pieces. I intended on sitting through only one of Gus’s papers (my stomach would not stop its rumbling); but, I sat through two. His first was about how he came to be a jazz musician. He had been well-known at another community college and had led a musical group there. His jazz history was long and winding and I tried to keep up as I took notes about the observation.
His second paper had me fall in love with the title, “Lotus Notes”. This one talked about his accident and what his life had been like before. He had tried to explain it by saying, “. . . the unthinkable happened. . .” then had gone on to talk about how he was dealing with the after effects. As a tutor, I caught on to the fact that he needed to unpack what “the unthinkable” was and explain it to his audience. Tammy also noticed this and pointed it out, Gus avoided eye contact when he said, “I don’t want to go in to detail about it. I did that on purpose.” Tammy pointed out that he did not need to add more details; he simply needed to clarify that it was an accident. He understood and we plowed on. I felt even more ashamed of myself at this point for assuming that he was special-needs.
He finished his paper “Lotus Notes” by saying that although many people have suffered accidents similar to his, they allow it to slowly erode their spirit. He would not be one of those people, he would persevere.
I had walked in, haughty and in a hurry, thinking that I wouldn’t learn much in my observation. Gus taught me many things today. I suggested that he enroll in a creative writing course; his writing was well-done and he should share it with others. Not only that, but it was inspiring. I stayed for a few minutes after the second paper and he told Tammy and I how he wanted to start running and get rid of his walker. Tammy told him with kind patience, “Gus, I know you want to get rid of that thing, but you need to learn to walk before you can run. If anyone can start running after an accident like yours, it’s you. Be patient.”
Before I left the tutoring center, I looked around and realized that I was in a sea of tutors that were much older than I. They were graying and wrinkling and hunching; and they all had knowledge in their wrinkles and years of experience to back up the tones that they spoke in when explaining something. I felt like I was in a library; except instead of being surrounded by ancient texts, I was surrounded by people. Books can teach you a lot, but a personal experience is what keeps us human and slows us down.
I thanked Tammy and Gus for allowing me to observe their consultation and for teaching me something today. Sometimes, we all just need to slowwwww down.