“It definitely crosses the line into cheating,” says author Anisha Lakhani of tutors who have been said to pocket close to $1,000 for polishing off a middle schooler’s assigned reading. “It’s gotten worse and worse.”
Presumably, the scribe knows from whence she speaks: Before writing “Schooled,” Lakhani spent her days teaching English at New York City’s tony Dalton School and her nights tutoring well-heeled adolescents for upward of $200 a pop. “Everything in ‘Schooled’ comes from a kernel of truth, something I witnessed — a story, a child, a bat mitzvah, a faux mitzvah,” says the 32-year-old. “It’s what I told my students: Write what you know.”
Certainly, that very philosophy has worked well for a gaggle of recent authors who have turned workplace horror stories into the stuff of bestsellers. Andrew Trees lost his job at Horace Mann after his roman à clef “Academy X” was published, but it still got reviewed by The New York Times.
“Schooled” tells the story of Anna Taggert, a plucky young Columbia grad who lands her dream job teaching at fictional Gotham prep school Langdon Hall. But when Anna finds her paycheck less than adequate and her seventh graders exceptionally bratty, she surrenders to the “dark side,” ghostwriting sixth-grade history papers after hours to fund a pricy shoe habit.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, says Lakhani. “I started to think of things in terms of hours,” she says of her former moonlighting gig. “I’d go into a store and say to myself, ‘That bag is only worth four hours.’” Eventually, though, Lakhani got fed up with her students’ attitudes. Her breaking point, she says, came when a particularly slothful charge claimed a copy of Cliff’s Notes was “too long to read.”
But Lakhani says she’s not out to exact revenge on former pupils by airing their dirty laundry. “I didn’t want to hurt any of the students I taught,” the writer insists. “When I wrote about one person, I was very cognizant to add other attributes. The point of the book isn’t to make fun of the children I taught at Dalton.”
Still, the author admits, “there are going to be people who say, ‘I think Lara Kensington is actually so-and-so.’ But when that happens, I will hide under the cloak [of fiction].”
And there’s a good chance she might come face-to-face with skeptics: The author lives on the Upper East Side with her husband, blocks from many of her former clients. It’s a world away from her native suburban New Jersey, where peers took a DIY approach to coursework. “We had Kaplan, that was about it,” Lakhani recalls with a laugh.