I’m still tutoring math these days, but with smaller students.
Today’s pupil was grinning as he declared, “Today after school, I lost a tooth.” He lifted his lip with a graphite-stained finger to show me the gap. “An incisor. I know because that’s what my dentist told me it was when I saw him. It was loose for a long time.”
“An incisor!” I exclaimed. “That’s a pretty big deal.”
He nodded. “I never lost an incisor before. I lost three bottom teeth and two top teeth. This is the sixth tooth I lost. My top ones grew in already, see?” He curled his top lip inward to show me a pair of mismatched front teeth. “I lost them last year.” He then lowered his gaze and scrunched his face thoughtfully. “Does the Tooth Fairy give more for incisors? I know she gives more for top teeth than for bottom teeth.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think the rates have changed since I was your age.”
He nodded. “Things are more expensive now. My mom says you used to be able to buy a chocolate bar for fifty cents. Even my brother said that he used to get just fifty cents for his teeth, and I get a dollar.”
“Yeah, that’s called ‘inflation’.”
“My brother told my mom he thinks the Tooth Fairy likes me more than she likes him.”
“How old is your brother?” I asked.
I bit my lip, thinking that the older brother’s going to get whatever he wants for his fourteenth birthday. “Naw,” I said finally, “the Tooth Fairy likes all children equally. It’s just that she’s making more money now and can afford to spend more on kids’ teeth.”
The boy nodded. “Well, I hope I get more than a dollar because there’s a comic that I want and my mom says I have to save up my own money for comics.”
“Well,” I reassured him, “you’ve got another fourteen teeth to lose.”
“Yeah.” He thought for a minute, and then, satisfied, lifted his backpack onto his table and withdrew his homework. “I have a question about this,” he said, pointing. “Do I simplify the fractions before I solve for x or after?”