Tutoring the children of New York City’s 1%: what they need to learn is empathy

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Teaching the children of the citys elite requires understanding the special challenges they face and meeting them where they are

New York is unlike anywhere else. The kind of tutoring I do doesnt really exist in the wider world; youre very solidly in the 1% here. My rate is over $500 an hour, so obviously theres only a small number of people who can afford that.

Some would think its very, very hard to take as seriously the concerns of students who have issues that seem less consequential. But Im an educator. I approach each students needs as important. Regardless of where youre coming from, Im meeting you where you are.

If where youre coming from is Park Avenue and a big apartment and a family assistant and a driver and all those things, this is just the world that you were born into. You didnt choose your parents.

People dont often respect the concerns of the poor little rich kid. The driver wasnt available to take you downtown; you had to learn how to hail a cab. The reality is that you have students who try to charge a ride in a pedicab on American Express. They try to swipe a credit card in the MetroCard slot to get on the subway. These are things that theyre learning to do with no guidance.

Among my students are those who do face special challenges. Its very competitive. Its hard for them to embrace just learning, because theres such a focus on grades and scores. I look at my students and think, if I could change one thing it would be for them to get more sleep. They look exhausted. Theyre so tired. I watch their IQs drop from sleep deprivation. How do we solve that? You can buy a $5,000 bed but you cant buy more time to sleep.

I have had parents who have put their childs class list into a spreadsheet. Then theyve put those kids parents into a spreadsheet and googled them: where they went to college; where they went to graduate school; where theyre giving in donations; what their likely connections are. They estimate GPA and SAT scores based on that information. Then, they map our what colleges those kids are likely to apply to, and use that to determine their own kids chances of admission. Like: Looks like maybe Penns going to be underrepresented in this class, so maybe Ill apply my kid to Penn. Im not talking one parent. I have a parent like that every year.

This one time, I was working for a family and when I walked into the students room for the first time, it looked like an office. There were custom-made curved desks with flat screens and a huge white board and a schedule and everything multiple workstations. The room just happened to have a bed in one corner. On the whiteboard was the students schedule. One day, the student had six tutors in a row over a period of six hours, with no break.

Another one of my students talked about how he locks himself in the bathroom because its the only place where there are no housekeepers, parents, tutors, drivers. He said sometimes he just goes in there and locks himself in for 10 minutes and sits on the floor. Hes like: I want to be alone.

Many of my kids never have any time to themselves. Theres always someone at home. Theres always staff there, at least, if not family. There are many households on the Upper East Side where theres a family assistant who has some in-apartment office, and a live-in housekeeper whos there, plus another daytime housekeeper. So generally, youre going to have three people wandering around. Maybe moms around. Maybe dads around. There are people bringing up the dry cleaning, people hanging a piece of art, people putting in the Christmas tree or taking out the Christmas tree. There is all sorts of activity always happening. I sometimes wish my kids had that moment of feeling solitude, feeling like king of the castle, even for an hour.

There are moms who run these households in such tight, efficient fashions. If this were a company, they would be destroying their competition and gaining market share all over the place. In a way, that is enviable. In a way. But in another way, one is forced to reflect on what is it to be a parent. What is it to run a household? How much of that is strategic and logistic, and how much of it is listening and empathy?

I think in the best households theres more empathy, theres more reading, theres more listening, theres more debating, and theres less competition happening in terms of status and academic prestige. As a tutor, I meet a family where they are, and try to nudge their value system into genuine, legitimate engagement, into scholarship and intellectual growth.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/02/new-york-city-tutor-upper-east-side-rich-kids