Monday, June 8, 2009

Sardines and Math

Once we are on the topic of sardines....
Also in my first year of zal, I had another sardines encounter.

So there I was, eating my lunch, minding my own business, speaking with another bochur about something or other. For some reason, I mentioned triangles, maybe? Or fractions? I don't remember, but this older guy (we'll discuss him soon) rushed forward from where he was sitting, and asked, "Did you just mention fractions? Are you good at math?"
When somebody asks you something like that, it's pretty clear they want some sort of favor. They need help with something. It's usually not that he just loves math, and wants to stir up a good ol' fractions conversation.
So I answered with some caution, "Um, yeah, I'm okay with math."
Then the guy, Shmuel (who I called Shmuel Sardines (to myself)) asked to speak with me later, when he told me he wanted me to tutor him in math.
Now, this guy hung around yeshiva, and was always eating sardines. Not that I judge people based on whether or not they get pleasure from eating the most disgusting foods imaginable. I'm just letting you in on the reasons going through my head about deciding whether I'd tutor him. His breath always stank of sardines. So I had to consider that.
He told me his story. He got divorced, and needs to get a degree for his job in order to make enough money to be able to start looking to get married again. (He was pretty much a nebach case. I felt sorry for him.) He has passed all the subjects he needs, but to graduate, he must pass this math test, and he hates math.
Oh, yeah. The most math he knew was fractions, and barely. He needed to know stats and pre-calculus to pass this test. I almost laughed when he told me. Most students learn fractions in third grade, and pre cal. in maybe tenth or eleventh grade. It takes eight years for a reason.
So why would I seriously consider the challenge?
Firstly, for just that. It would be quite a challenge to see if I could get someone up to college level math from nothing, in eight months.
Secondly, he offered to pay me twenty dollars an hour, and he wanted to learn with me for as many hours as possible. In New York, for example, twenty is the going rate for tutoring, but for Los Angeles, most parents pay fifteen.
Dollar signs were rolling past my eyes as I considered the small fortune I would make. I could have gotten two hundred dollars a week, if he was serious about using every opportunity I was willing to give him, to tutor.
Before I made my decision, I asked to see his test he needed to pass. After perusing that, I saw how big of a challenge it would actually be.

Then he asked me about graphing calculators that he heard might be able to help him get answers. I asked him if he was allowed that on the test, and he told me no, but don't worry about it. So I looked at the practice test, and said about three of the questions (out of twenty something) could be put right into a graphing calculator to get the answer.
A few days later, again before we had decided if we were going to go through with the tutoring, he showed up and gave me the calculator he had bought. He told me it was a gift, and that he wouldn't need me to teach him. He had come up with a plan.
The practice book came with three practice tests. He'll just study those, and memorize the answers, so he'll know the answers for the test, since it said that the test had similar questions taken from the practice tests.
I was taken aback, and thanked him for the calculator, and told him goodbye.
His plan was so...improbable. He had no idea what the math even meant, so he had no idea what any question was even asking. There was just no way it would work.
I called him the next day, my conscience biting at me that I shouldn't have let him go off with the stupidest idea in his head ever. I told him I really didn't think it would work. He thanked me for caring, but told me he also had other ideas, and not to worry.

I never saw him again.
I hope that wherever you are, Shmuel Sardines, that you got that degree, you got the money from your job, you married the girl of your dreams, that you finally have a love for math and numbers, and that you are not reading this blog.