Well, if I write about it here, my "dirty secret" can't be much of a secret, can it?
All the same, my dirty secret is this: I teach for a tutoring center that does a lot of test and essay prep work for students of all ages, especially for high schoolers looking to do well on the SAT and to write kick-ass college application essays.
But I never used any such services when I was in high school.
I applied to three schools based on my ambition at the time (to become a French teacher): Georgetown, the University of Virginia, and Middlebury College, Vermont. UVA was my "fallback" school; GU and MC were my real targets.* I wrote my essays and may have passed them around to my parents to look over, but that was the extent of my efforts to seek outside help. On the strength of my academic record, my standardized test scores, and my essays, I was accepted to all three schools. To me, getting in was a breeze: it was hard to imagine not being accepted. Was I overprivileged? Have I been gifted with a 200 IQ? Nope. I consider myself to be of pretty average intelligence, and I came from a very middle-class background. Perhaps I would have felt more stress had I applied to some Ivy League schools, but as things were, I was confident that I would get into every school I had applied to.
My point-- the reason why I call all this a dirty secret-- is that I often feel that many of the students who come to me for advice don't really need my help. I've heard from my supervisor that times have changed, though: she contends that competition for schools has become more intense over the past two decades: students need all the help they can get. I squirm when I hear this; it seems like such an obvious play at justifying our center's existence.
As an inveterate teacher, I can't argue with the notion of being there to help students who need help. Helping is what a tutor does. The point of this post isn't that students should forgo all tutoring and fend for themselves: it's that part of a student's maturation process involves embracing independence, and teachers-- like parents-- ultimately have to be ready and able to let students go their own way and do their own thing. So, yeah: I think that most of my seniors are already able to function fantastically without me. They have bright futures ahead of them.
And that's my dirty secret: I think most of these kids don't really need my help. It might lose me some business to write about this, but it's also the truth.
*Georgetown comes with a reputation that dates back to its founding in 1789. Middlebury is well-known for its magnificent "language houses," in which students must speak in the target language on a 24/7 basis. Language training at Middlebury is some of the best training in the world. I sometimes regret not having gone there. UVA is, of course, a solid school all around, and many of its faculty members are both nationally and internationally reputed. In the end, though, I chose Georgetown and am glad I did. The Ignatian ideal of radical inquiry was a tonic to me; many of my own basic views about the world shifted significantly as a result of my time at GU.