Tutoring the Tutor


This is a true story.

I tutored at an inner city college. Many of my students were the first in their families to finish high school. Or not sell drugs. Some became my personal heroes.

My current tutee, a suburban pop culture drone, had just asked why she should “do punctuation.”

“Because it’s the only thing that separates us from the lower animals!” I replied, sarcasm phaser set on stun.

She shrugged and left.

My co-worker Trina, an African American grandma with a passion for cookies and Dostoyevsky, said, “Good point. My dog still can’t use a semi-colon.”

“If I get one more I’m-only-here-because-my-teacher-made-me knucklehead,” I curmudged, “I’m going to become a custodian.”

“This is community college, sweetie. You’re already in the recycling biz. Have a lemon cookie.”

My 11:30 arrived.

Roland was in his late 20s, with tattoos on his tattoos–not the artsy kind, the gang-y kind. But there was something in his eyes that said, These aren’t who I am.

“So I wrote this essay,” he announced, “and I need to know if I messed up, or if it’s OK.”

I skimmed the first page. “Redemption Essay?”

“Yeah, we supposed to talk about how everybody can redeem somebody else.”

“So you wrote about…?”

“My cousin Mikey. And I just wanna know if I did it right.”

“Depends. What did you want to say?”

“Well, Mikey, he’s—what you call it?—slow, real slow. So everybody in our family, they just kind of give up on him, didn’t even try and show him stuff no more cuz they say he’s ‘unteachable.’”

“But you…?”

“Well, he’s my cousin. So one day I start trying to teach him to catch a ball. He didn’t get it, and everybody say, ‘See, we told you.’ But the next day, Mikey, he’s waiting with the ball. So I teach him some more.”

“And he caught the ball?”

“Nah.” Roland smiled. “But he keeps tryin’. And after about a month and a half, he—”

“Finally caught it?”

Roland grinned again. “Well, he ain’t gonna play for the Yankees, but, yeah. So, anyways, from then on, Mikey he goes wherever I go and does whatever I do, you know? Or at least he tries to.”

“Which gets a little old, I imagine?”

“He’s my cousin,” Roland repeated, as though I were the slow one. “But, yeah, I was in high school and a lotta my friends, they didn’t…  Anyhow, by then I’m showing Mikey how to draw a circle cuz he never could draw nothing that looked like anything.” The sun rose in Roland’s eyes. “And he finally gets it! He gets how a circle can be like a face and other things!”

“You are a teacher!”

“Yeah, maybe,” Roland replied, storing it away like chocolate for later. “And then, cuz he always seeing me write my name, he wants to know how he can do that too. It took him two years, but he finally got it.”

“That’s amazing, Roland! So this is the story of how you redeemed Mikey!”

Ignoring me, Roland went on, “Before Mikey, well, me and my friends was starting to get into some bad shit, you know? Selling drugs and guns, and always having to prove we bad so everybody be ‘respecting’ us, and all that kinda protecting your turf shit that never ends. Anyway, half of ‘em is in lock-up now and the other half got ankle bracelets. Three of ‘em are dead, including my best friend.”

“But you…?”

“Well, see, that’s just it. I couldn’t be doing that no more cuz Mikey, well, he’s watching me all the time.”

“And he wanted to do—”

“Everything I did, yeah.”

Suddenly realizing I had been the slow one, I said, “So this isn’t the story of how you saved Mikey?”

Black-Father-Son-717x358“No, man…” Roland’s eyes began to leak…

“It’s the story of how Mikey saved me.”

My eyes began to leak, too. “You really are a teacher.”

“Yeah, that’s what I want to be, anyway. Hey, can I use the…” Roland left for the restroom as I scanned his essay.

Trina came over and sat down next to me.

“I think I actually learned something for a change,” I said.

Trina put a cookie in front of me. “Well, that’s why we teach. And what did you learn today, young man?”

“That sometimes teaching is a chore, but sometimes it’s an incredible privilege.”


“And that we all have the ability to redeem others. All of us.”

“So I guess that means you won’t be going into sanitation?”

“Not this week.”

 ⇔ ⇔ ⇔

Drama groups: For a performable version of this true story, click here.


About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir, Story Power, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Tutoring the Tutor

  1. Abe Austin says:

    What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing, Mitch!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Absolutely stunning!! We can only progress if we save each other. I loved it 💖

    Liked by 2 people

  3. delphini510 says:

    Wonderful story, I am tear eyed as the story develops.
    So little can be so very much.


    Liked by 2 people

  4. Lesley says:

    Yes, this is so lovely. ☺

    Liked by 2 people

  5. simplywendi says:

    this is awesome!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. badfinger20 says:

    Great post Mitch.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Perfect story. Teachers often learn more than their students.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What a fabulous story. I have an adult special needs son and I have learned a great deal from him over the years. Much more than I’ve taught him, I’m sure

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Lovely story and a good message.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Terese says:

    Oh, Mitch, thank you for sharing this! #love.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thanks, Mitch. Your student is an inspiration and I pray that he realizes his dream to become a teacher. He clearly has a lot to give.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Mitch I have reblogged this since it is such an amazing story!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Pingback: Tutoring the Tutor — Mitch Teemley – worry-less-journey

  14. A story that restores our faith in human nature is very much appreciated right about now.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. SO very glad I read this!! How powerful! Impacting! Thank you, Mitch.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. aviator3230 says:

    Great story, Mitch. I reposted on FB – made my day, and thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. What a beautiful and grace-filled story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. johnranjit says:

    Hii , Thank you for spending your precious time in my blog page, Looking forward for your comments and constructive feedbacks.
    Thanks & Regards

    Liked by 2 people

  19. For anybody that has worked with underprivileged young people, this story captures it all! Thank you again for reminding me of heartfelt memories! And for the bleary eyes afterwards…

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Mitch: I read all your posts, but had to comment on this one because it is just so powerful. As I read this, I felt like I was in the room while you were talking to Roland. Thank you for the well-written retelling of a beautiful story. And, as the dad of a disabled child (he just turned 30), I can definitely appreciate Roland’s heart for his cousin. Well done.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Ann Coleman says:

    What an amazing story! Roland was redeemed not only by his cousin, but by his love for, and service to, his cousin. This is a lesson for all of us, I think. Thanks you for sharing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Mark Ellison says:

    Wow, Mitch, I love this so much. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. What an incredibly beautiful story. I teach middle school and it has been a week where I too considered a job change. This story gives me hope for next week. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. In my 50 years as a teacher, a good 60% of the time, I’m learning from the students…getting better insight in how to teach, what to teach, and how to handle “special cases.”

    Liked by 2 people

  25. So beautiful, thanks for posting and thanks for being there for him, Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Thank you for sharing this story!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. smzang says:

    ok now this one is the best of the best

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I love these highlights on good people Actually this share reminds me of the late author Stud Terkel’s interview style if writing. Anyhow a great share and read. Thank you always Mitch for visiting AOC! Stay safe! 💕☕️☕️

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Andy D. says:

    Thank You, my wife is a Special Needs teacher, there are days she feels the same. I passed this on as sometimes a little perspective is what we need most.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. SMZ says:

    “Suddenly realizing I had been the slow one, I said, “So this isn’t the story of how you saved Mikey?”

    Black-Father-Son-717×358“No, man…” Roland’s eyes began to leak…

    “It’s the story of how Mikey saved me.” THere’s the spot where my eyes started to leak.. I have ‘liked’ this before but it opened up on my screen and i’m liking it even more!

    Liked by 1 person

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