I started teaching and tutoring as a retail employee in Cleveland, teaching people how to use the technology I sold. From there, I worked in the Writing Center at John Carroll, then taught composition. I taught composition while in graduate school at UW-Milwaukee, and I spent a considerable amount of time teaching technology - in a sense - through a customer service job at a big cell-phone company. I taught 5th grade in Chicago Public Schools, worked as a substitute teacher in CPS, and finally moved into a middle-school science and reading position in the northwest suburbs, where I recently began my 10th year as a classroom teacher. I love to teach, and I think that my teaching experience is diverse enough to make virtually any subject - and any audience - within reach. My favorite areas, though, are those that are fundamental to everything else (in my opinion) - reading and writing. I finished a Masters in Reading Education at Olivet Nazarene University, and I am also a certified Reading Specialist. I hope to eventually pursue a doctorate and advanced research into the complex and changing intersections between literacy and technology. To me, this is the most practical and relevant area that I can focus on, and it also happens to fit my passions and my strengths. I love to write, and I love to teach writing because of what it helps me learn about my students and about writing itself.
John Carroll University - BA, English/Philosophy
John Carroll University - MA, English
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee - ABD (Passed prelim exam), English
Olivet Nazarene University - MA, Reading Education
What is your teaching philosophy?
I think that teaching grows from relationships. I usually begin there, with asking questions (finding out what students know and can do, and what they need to know or be able to do) and listening. From there, I want to help students learn and grow as much as possible. That often means putting the student in control of the learning as much as possible. I prefer conversation, problem-solving, and lots of practice and feedback. I think that attitude matters a lot, too, especially with test preparation. I think that a lot of my success with tests comes from a relaxed and confident approach, and I encourage my students to adopt the same attitude. In short, my tutoring philosophy is really about mentoring and coaching, and less about indoctrination or mindless repetition.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Typically, I start my relationship with a student by asking a lot of questions and finding out the best way to help a student. I want my students to feel comfortable with me, so I might make a few bad jokes or share some experiences with learning and/or testing. I ask students to share what they hope to achieve and what concerns they have. I try to make specific plans with the student - what learning goals they have, what timetable they have to achieve them, what challenges they might face, and so on. I like to invite parents into the conversation, too, if possible, since parents can often provide valuable insight into what a student needs or how best to help. I also like to ask a student for a work sample or have the student take some kind of pretest, whether it's a writing sample or some kind of short read-and-respond task. I learn a lot about a student from asking them to read aloud and talk through their thinking about a text, so I sometimes ask students to do that (if reading or writing are the focus). Finally, I like to set up the next session, sketch out a tentative schedule for the next session, and help the student decide what to work on to prepare for that next session.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
The biggest factor in helping a student become independent is getting them to feel successful at it. They need a chance to make decisions for themselves, follow through with those decisions, and see positive results from it. A skilled teacher or coach can help guide a student toward appropriate decisions, help them follow through on those (good) choices, and help them see the results. Teachers like the terms "scaffolding" and "gradual release," but it's a lot like crutches - minus the injury. Students want to be able to move around freely. Teachers help them, and teachers take away the crutches when the student is ready. If the student falls, the teacher helps them up and encourages them to keep trying. Eventually, the teacher can't keep up anymore. And that's a good thing.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
I think it's important to stay focused on an appropriate goal and help the student see progress. If the student helped set the goal, and the teacher helps the student see that goal getting closer and closer, motivation is easy. It also helps when you're funny, but goals and progress work pretty well, too.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
Challenges are normal, and a good teacher should expect them to come up at some point. A lot depends on the cause of the difficulty. Sometimes it's just a matter of slowing down, going back, and talking through a mistake or whatever the confusion is. Sometimes it takes more than that - adjusting a too-difficult task, going back over a concept, re-imagining a problem or re-explaining something, or developing a different way of practicing or learning a skill. Sometimes students just need a break, or a different approach. There are a lot of different ways to help a struggling student, but most of them involve slowing down and listening better.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
There are many possible causes for struggles with comprehension, mostly because there are so many factors involved in understanding what you read. The most common reason, I've found, is that a student is being asked to read something above their reading level or being asked to do something with the text that they don't understand. Helping a student find text that is at an appropriate reading level is a solid first step (of course), and asking the student to do complex things with simple texts can help them understand what is expected as well. I am also a reading-for-fun evangelist, and I tend to encourage students to read for fun, since we know that it makes a big difference in all of a student's learning. So, I talk a lot about books that I've enjoyed, and I encourage students to do the same.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
I think that listening well, learning about my student, is especially important in the beginning and throughout the tutoring relationship. It's also important to set clear, reasonable goals, and return to those goals often to discuss progress and make sure that we're focused on that goal.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
A lot depends on how a student feels about the subject and what the subject is. Just listening carefully and asking a few thoughtful questions can help a student untangle his/her feelings about a subject. Typically, in a broad subject like English, it's just a matter of finding texts that a student is interested in. It helps that I love the subject, and I can help change a student's mind about a subject just by being excited about it. Apart from this, success is the best motivator, and finding a way for the student to feel successful at a subject is often the best way to engage or excite.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
A nice thing about working one-on-one with a student is that you can ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. This is the simple and obvious answer. There are many different kinds of questions to ask, though, and context and timing can make a big difference in the value of the question as an accurate measure of understanding or learning. Apart from this, the material itself partly dictates the best way to find out what a student knows or can do. If you want to know how well a student plays the flute, for example, a written test doesn't make a lot of sense. (Just like asking a student to play the flute is not a good way to measure his/her readiness for the ACT.) Having a student design a short test or quiz, and then take it, might be an interesting way to find out what a student can do. Sometimes, too, when I have a good relationship with a student who has a reasonable notion of his/her own learning, I can just ask, "Do you know this?" and trust the answer.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Confidence comes from overcoming challenges and feeling successful. So, a teacher can help a student feel confident by designing manageable challenges, helping the student overcome them, and making sure that the student has a chance to notice and celebrate that victory. (And, of course, continue the process of challenge/success.)
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
A lot depends on the subject, first. If it's a subject that I'm familiar with (like reading or writing), having sample work or pre-test is helpful. It's essential to talk to the student, of course, and perhaps ask them to explain the subject and what they feel they need. Some students are very articulate and accurate about their needs, and this can be very helpful. Parents can also offer a lot of valuable information about what a student needs, and I like to ask parents this question as well. Sometimes I'm able to reach out to teachers, too, who might have more information, especially when the student's goals focus on a specific class. It's important, too, that this process continues throughout the tutoring relationship, since a student's needs can change over time.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
It's important that I'm listening to my student and constantly adjusting and re-assessing what the student needs and what progress he/she has made. From there, it's easy to adjust. If a student is struggling with the vocabulary in a passage, for example, it might make sense to broaden the learning to include more vocabulary-related work. If a student is completing tasks quickly and correctly, it's time to move on to more challenging work. Generally, adapting the learning grows naturally from listening and monitoring the student's learning throughout.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
A lot depends on what we're learning, of course. If we're learning reading or writing, I like to use models. That means bringing quality texts to analyze - often from books or magazines. I also like to mix this up, though, as it presents a way to offer interest or novelty to the learning. So, I might play an audio clip, a short (appropriate) video, or some other text to engage a student and challenge his/her thinking. I often use a student's own homework or classwork, too, or sample tests, to keep the learning appropriately grounded. Generally, I want to make sure the learning is connected to what a student already knows and is able to do, and that skills or concepts learned are transferable, so I deliberately include diverse materials and tasks to make the learning more meaningful and lasting.