My phone rings, and I am scheduling with one of my new tutees. I am meeting with this particular person less for the more common “content” tutoring (explaining concepts in Biology, or editing strategies in Composition) than I am for “process” tutoring: figuring out what kinds or organsational methods will work best for her, and helping her figure out how she can solve future problems on her own.

I turn on my calendar program, as yet mostly comprised of blank squares for this month. “We can meet once a week for 90 minutes, or break that up and meet twice a week.”

“Well, what do other people do?” she asks, a tone of uncertainty in her voice. I wonder if the uncertainty stems from the scheduling logistics, from the process of getting tutoring, or some other element in her life. Maybe it’s just being tired from what she’d described as getting in late last night from a trip.

“It doesn’t matter what most other people do; what’s important is what you need,” I assert.

There is a pause while she digests this thought. Perhaps it’s a new and dangerous idea, where one’s needs outweigh having to do what everyone else does.

I explain the options a bit, “Once a week might work better because of time constraints, or twice a week might work better so you can review stuff and go to class and then review stuff again. We can also try it one way, and then as things change over the semester, try it the other way and see if that works better. I’m flexible. It’s not carved in stone.”

Perhaps the uncertainty comes from not knowing what her needs will be. That kind of prescience comes from experience, of which freshmen and sophomores have less.

This is, I have found, one of the paralyzing concepts facing people who don’t have as much experience in making decisions about their own lives. There is this myth that you should know what you’ll need in the future, and have to make The Best, Correct Decision – Right Now, and that once made, you’re stuck with it forever. That somehow there’s not enough grace in the world to change things and adapt them to your own changing needs, or your changing understanding of your needs. Worse, that if you make the Wrong Decision, or even a Less Useful Decision, then you have screwed up and this reflects poorly upon your character and your intelligence, rather than the fact that wisdom is a pathway trod throughout life.

We all want to do the right thing. We all need to learn how to make decisions about our lives and to advocate for ourselves. Doing that takes practice. Practice means that teens, young adults, and even older adults will need to have the opportunity to make mistakes along the way, learn from them, and then try again.

Practice means that one has a certain level of support system so we don’t fail to the point of endangerment. The baby learning to toddle is given a safe environment, a certain level of freedom, and encouragement. They are also the opportunity to fall down BUMF! on their diaper-padded butt time and again, to get up and cruise along the furniture until comfortable enough to strike out independently across the floor, and then eventually out the door into the big world.

What we don’t need is some people trying to keep us down by using the occasional failure as “proof” that a person is unable to be self-sufficient, and therefore must be bounded and trapped in “care” situations. As Carol Hanisch said decades ago (regarding the feminist movement), “We’re messed-over, not messed-up.”

My tutees are not the only ones practicing. I’m a practitioner because I’m also practicing. After a tutoring session I reflect upon what transpired to plan for next time. Sometimes I find that I must take different approaches than those traditionally recommended. This isn’t surprising, because the very reason I’m with these students in the first place is because the “usual methods” are often not adequate to their needs.

What this does is require me to come up with novel ways of applying what I know about the person and their situation. This means that for the student, the method I’m proposing has to in some way be partially based upon something they are already familiar with, so it will make sense to them, and so they can begin from a point of comfort derived from familiarity. Then we can take the method and do something different with it.

Much of doing this is an interactive process where I am providing the medium for the student to explore what they need, and how they can achieve that for their self. The end point is to help them learn how to problem-solve new kinds of situations, and thus eventually make myself “unemployed”.