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This teacher didn't depend on tutors

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As a friend and I were chatting the other day, he mentioned tutors. Lots of students have them. They help with Spanish or algebra, say. They promise to smooth the way if you're struggling or, conversely, want to get ahead. They often show up in force as SATs and other standardized tests draw near.

They also tend to be expensive. Which got us to wondering why some teachers, in public and private schools alike, feel so free to suggest getting one, especially when they themselves can be hard to pin down for extra help.

The conversation brought to mind my ninth-grade Algebra II teacher. He was tough. In addition to loads of work, we had to keep perfect notebooks, writing problems in blue ink and answering them in pencil. Using anything but a red pen for corrections during class would cause Mr. Hardon's shiny pate to slide backward in reproach.

A few of us did wonder if he was troubled by how many students sweated out his fast-paced class. No; he was simply correcting egregious teaching errors in our past and we were lucky. This was a "my way or the highway" kind of guy.

But if he was going to force us to work at a new level, he kept up his end of the deal by being available each day for extra help. I showed up often, at first out of desperation and then because I began even to like the sessions a bit.

In the end, I did fine. Like others, I didn't always appreciate his methods, but I grew to respect this teacher. He demanded a lot, but made it his responsibility to help us succeed if we were willing to work. No tutors for kids who just needed some extra guidance and time. If we were there, he was there, relentlessly setting an example that what he was asking could be done.

E-mail ewcomba@csmonitor.com


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