A Valuable Lesson

I am sorry to inform the public that as of yesterday, A Plus Inc. is no longer in business. I wish I could attribute the demise of this start-up tutoring service to the recession that is crippling the economy. However, it would be much more accurate to attribute it to the many children who have crippled my self-esteem. Unfortunately, the tutoring company I founded met a fate that could have only been avoided through common sense. To be sure, common sense would have told me that I had no idea how to tutor children. Instead, I had to hear it from my mother, who I tend to ignore out of common sense. To think that she was right! I imagine that she would be turning over in her grave right now if it weren’t for the fact that she’s alive and finding great bargains on the Home Shopping Club.

But who could blame me for trying? You see, six months ago I had an idea to exploit bad parenting for my own financial gain. At $50 an hour, I promised to turn any child into the Ivy-League bound pride and joy that every parent hopes for. At least my parents had always hoped for it, and I could only imagine how happy they might have been if it had come true.

So I printed up fliers with a company logo that I designed myself: a capital "A" with the plus symbol next to it. Yeah, that one just popped off the top of my head. Not that I’m boasting, but I don’t even have any advertising experience.

In the following two weeks, I was getting phone calls from hundreds of people. Granted, most of these calls were from telemarketers. But sure enough, parents who wanted their children to do well in school while retaining their own quality TV time dialed my number and inquired about my services. This is where I probably should have used some discretion. However, my mind was concentrating on the prospects of buying a new stereo system with Dolby Pro Logic surround sound speakers, and I indiscriminately promised to teach any kid anything.

It was not like I was a complete fraud. I had taught children once before as a college student, when I took a part-time job as an assistant teacher in a nearby pre-school. It was tough to give the children the attention they deserved though, as my duties as president of the Tequila Club often kept me up late hours. School began at 8 a.m., and my head usually stopped spinning at noon. As a result, I implemented a regimental curriculum that consisted of naptime, recess, and naptime. The next week I was fired.

But this business venture was based on a teaching principle that I originally thought would give Montessori a run for their money. Somehow I got the idea in my head that children just needed a non-parental older friend to encourage them that their homework was the best thing for them to do. I seriously felt that I could make children smarter by getting them to like me, and then begging them to study.

Thinking this theory was absolutely brilliant, I informed many of my friends about my plans to build a multi-million dollar tutoring company and asked them if they wanted in on the action. Many of my friends tried to explain to me that the things I uttered were not the basis of an educational system, but the ingredients for a bad comedy starring Adam Sandler. For the next three hours I vehemently disagreed with everything they said. Realizing that they were not interested in my business venture no matter what I said, I spent most of those three hours defending Adam Sandler ("Dude, he’s so funny! Remember ‘Opera Man’!?!").

A man and a vision. That’s all A Plus Inc. was when I got a call from Mr. and Mrs. Hamlisch requesting that I prepare their daughter for every student’s nightmare: the SATs. I didn’t think that there would be a problem until I met their daughter Madison. She was nine. Thankfully, she already had some of the skills necessary for taking this college entrance exam, like distinguishing the difference between a number one pencil and a number two. But after two months of tutoring the girl, her parents realized that her scores had not improved. I tried to defend my program, remarking on Madison’s uncanny ability to fill in the circles on the answer sheet without going outside the lines. They were not impressed.

My subsequent clients, none of them referred to me by the Hamlisches, were generally children who failed to grasp the "like me" part of my program. I used juggling, balloon animals, and an array of crazy pratfalls to win their trust with no success. Some children hated me more than others, forcing me to include protective sportswear in my list of office supplies. In fact, children hated me so much that I was responsible for uniting many of them with their emotionally-detached parents.

So I abandoned part one of my program, and replaced it with a new financially sound approach. Jason, an 11-year-old punk, gave me the idea, actually.

"You want me to do my homework?" he said with a facial expression that implied I was a moron who couldn’t beat him in Mortal Kombat. "Then give me $25." A flash suddenly went off in my head, probably a mixture of Jason’s great idea and the fact that he had just hit me with a Wiffle bat. Jason’s grades improved and my paycheck was cut in half. Unfortunately, Jason was smarter than most people who have repeated the fifth grade, and he realized that he could get $50 if he went straight to his parents. His parents agreed, and my services were no longer needed.

But I learned a valuable lesson about children, education, and what this country can do to make them work together. It’s not about giving more money to the teachers. It’s about giving some money to the students. -Prescott Tolk


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