I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Arizona where I completed my bachelor's degree with a double major in astronomy and physics. This was a hard road, where I first did poorly in math and then learned how to study the subject and where difficulties really come from, and turned that into success. It is these lessons I have used to create curricula for math classes, and I use them to tutor students. I also have a broad range of interests, studied linguistics for awhile, and did a summer program in scientific Russian in Novosibirsk in the USSR in 1989. I have certified to teach high school level math and the first year courses in earth science and biology. I have since had years of tutoring at the University of Arizona, the University of Texas.
My first secret for tutoring is that usually, especially with math, the thing a student is facing at the moment, be it a homework set or an exam, is not the real trouble, but some other difficulty from before, maybe even from a course long ago, is dragging a student down, blocking him or her from learning a new subject. I try to delve down with the student and try to work out what this is, so that the student develops a better foundation and becomes more independent. My second secret is to have fun, make connections, see what the students wants to do in their lives, and explain how what they are learning will help them. Making connections is important and helps learning and helps to make tutoring sessions more enjoyable.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: University of Arizona - Bachelor of Science, Astronomy and Physics (double major)
Observational astronomy, reading, stargazing, international politics, role-playing games
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
Connection. I talk to students not just about the subject at hand but also their background in it, hobbies, and goals, so I can understand both the origins of their current troubles and how to connect the subject with their goals in life. This also allows me to help them make connections between subjects.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Introduce myself and ask them about their current situation (current school, major interests, what they like to do, etc.), goals (where they want to go to college or work), and their favorite academic subjects (why they think they do well on or poorly on certain subjects, and so on). This is all to help me plan how to make a lesson more meaningful and motivate learning the subject at hand. This is in addition, of course, to working on whatever problems the student brings to the session.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
First, I try to work out what deeper background information they might be missing and try to get them to work on that; for example, if it is actually fraction skills that are messing up algebra work, I will try to get them to back up and work on that skill. Second, I try to teach strategies for figuring stuff out, for example, how to search the Internet for definitions and procedures.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Explain why the subject matters and why we are working the way we are, so they don't just feel like they are being put upon, listen to what their complaints are and answer them, and use lots of emotional encouragement.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
Listen to them explain what they know about it, so I can understand what their difficulties really are, figure out which prior skills are missing that might help, and teach them; and divide up the concept into easier, smaller pieces so we can do it a step at a time.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
The trick is to find out where it is coming from. If you ask people whether they know a word or a phrase, they will usually tell you. I tutored a kid who I found out didn't know what a pod was. She was stumbling on "peas in a pod" and the explanation wasn't working, so I went after the words. People live inside too much. It's often background dependent like that. You have to pay attention to what students are doing, when they seem to get off, and ask questions often in order to find out if they really get what they are reading.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
The most important thing is to ask open-ended questions about what is really going on. For example, don't ask, "do you know how to add fractions?" Ask "what don't you like about math?" What they go after will not always be the root cause, but it will be part of the trunk. Also, pay particular attention to what they are saying at the beginning. They might stumble on vocabulary, bring up a related problem, etc. All of these are clues. On top of all of that, be friendly and listen to what they have to say in general.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
Well, I'm tutoring it, so I must be relatively good at it. That means I must have studied it awhile, and to do that, I had to have liked it. Passing on why I like it is really important. "This is how you do this cool thing" or "I really liked this because. . ." is much more likely to help than "this will help you in your job" or "you need to pass the test." Also, be honest. Some parts of school really are just push-ups. But kids know why you sometimes need to do push-ups. You can explain how it is connected. The big secret is that society as a whole decided that they needed to take certain classes because (this is the trick) the kids would them have more freedom as adults. It's all about freedom. They might not want to take math now, but they might be willing to accept that the reason someone is making them do it is so that they have more freedom later, even if they don't believe that it will affect them personally.