A Letter to My 5th Grade Math Tutor

May 22, 2017– Dear Miss Kasmir:

On behalf of my parents and me, I wanted to apologize for the horrors you endured when trying to help me with my math skills.

You left my home frustrated and in tears on many occasions, especially when I didn’t make any progress, didn’t pay attention to what you were trying to show me, or dropped my pencil under the table for the umpteenth time to escape your instruction for a few seconds. You probably told yourself I was hopeless, and it turns out you were right.

According to a new study, “the size of one’s brain structure and the connections between it and other regions can help identify the children who will hardly benefit from one-on-one math instruction.” In other words, the article states we shouldn’t bother to hire math tutors for our kids because in many cases, it is useless.

That sounds harsh, yet the study indicates that scientists can predict how much a child learns from math tutoring based on the measures of brain structure and connectivity.

Clearly, had this data been available in 1970, I would have been labeled as one of those children, and it would have saved both of us a lot of grief. Or, at least I could have served as an interesting outlier. Apparently, my gray matter in the right hippocampus of my brain is not as large, nor does it connect as easily to the area that relates to math problem-solving skills. Who knew?

I think about you now and then, and wonder what you did with your life. I know you were studying to be a teacher when you tutored me, but I heard that you decided it wasn’t the right path for you. If that is the case, I’m glad the time spent with me set you on a more appropriate journey to your life’s goal.

Your first and perhaps last student,

Jane M. McMaster

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