My name is Kenneth Vlahos (I go by Jimmy). I spent the past two years teaching high school English in Jacksonville, FL. I LOVED IT! I taught in an
inner city school as a Teach for America Corps Member. I was the wrestling coach, football announcer, freshman class sponsor, and the English representative on the Common Decision Board.
I was a 9th grade English teacher and taught To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, Of Mice and Men, and various short stories and poems. I also spent my Saturdays prepping students for the Reading and Writing sections of the SAT and ACT. This past May, I took 15 top students on a study abroad trip to Costa Rica. The coffee was delicious and the people were great...but I did get stung by bees 6 times.
I am an Air Force kid and I've moved 9 times (everywhere from Georgia to Chicago to Japan) but I graduated from El Segundo High School and Loyola Marymount University right here in Los Angeles. I studied Political Science in college and graduated with honors.
Loyola Marymount University - BA, Political Science
AP US History
College Level American History
High School English
High School Geography
High School Level American History
What is your teaching philosophy?
ROUNDHOUSE KICK TO THE JAW IF YOU DARE INTERRUPT ME!!! Just kidding. When I was a teacher, I employed various techniques for various students, but overall, I prefer the I Do, We Do, You Do philosophy. Students are smart people, but we all need some help. I will always walk students through the problem once without taking notes; just watching and listening to me. The second time, the student walks through a similar problem with me, this time asking questions and taking notes. Then comes independent practice. This is where the real learning happens. I will be available if questions arise, but I encourage students to really struggle and find their own breakthroughs. I am only there for the initial help and the one to two questions they truly cannot figure out on their own.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
I'm all about relationships. I know when I was in high school, no one put baby into a corner! I had to know you first. My first session is really going to be about the student feeling comfortable with me and my strengths, and also getting to know me on a personal level. If students want to jump right into work, that's fine, too. But I believe the best teacher/student interactions happen on the foundation of solid relationships.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
High expectations. One of the core tenants of good teaching is you never subject someone to the soft tyranny of low expectations. I know how to push students to become better than they thought they were, and I understand the nature of the adolescent mind. Students become independent learners when you give them no other choice but to be, and then they learn to love it.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Personal relationships are key here. The saying in teaching is, "First, they work for you. Then they work for the grade. Then they work for themselves." It's all about building that intrinsic motivation that every student CAN develop. But it takes trust and consistency from both teacher and student.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
That's what a tutor is for! When it comes to prolonged difficulty, often it's a matter of mindset; if you say you can't, you WON'T. Getting students away from the weak self-talk into the empowering self-talk is of primary importance. Once the student has oriented themselves correctly, we go to the data. In this case, we find not just the specific problem the student may be facing, but the components within the problem that they are finding troublesome. BUT MR. VLAHOS, I DON'T KNOW WHERE TO START! MY TEACHER SUCKS! THIS MIGHT AS WELL BE WRITTEN IN ICELANDIC HIEROGLYPHICS! First of all, I don't think Icelandic hieroglyphics are a thing, and secondly, let's figure out what you DO know and work from there. Assets-based thinking. Gotta love it.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Oh now we're talkin'! This is EXACTLY what I specialize in. First of all, reading comprehension is essentially just translating, taking the words on the page and putting them into a recognizable pattern in your head. Think of yourself as the decoder, the locksmith, the UN Ambassador to Indonesia and you are the only one who can translate from Dutch to English; this is what it takes to improve your reading comprehension. I have loads of strategies to help with specific reading comp issues, but again, framing the mindset is always the first step.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
Students are people, and they need to know you care. So again, relationship building is CRUCIAL! But once we get down to nitty gritty, I like to establish norms and best practices right away. Timing, comprehension, and practice; these all have rules and procedures that need to be religiously followed if they are going to be mastered. Setting those rules and procedures at the onset is totes importante.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
THREATEN THEM WITH IMPENDING DOOM IF THEY DARE INTERJECT!!! Just kidding...kind of. I hate to beat a dead horse here...but you gotta know the kid. I loved my time in the classroom because a majority of my time was spent figuring out how to get material into the heads of specific kids. This takes a trust that is only established when you are able to know what the student will respond to. For example, if a teacher told me that I was going to learn about Romeo and Juliet by watching Nene on Real Housewives of Atlanta, I'd be like, ummm...naaaaaaw. But if he told me we'd be learning it by watching a video by Mila Kunis, I'd be all ears...and eyes. It takes getting to know a kid to know what gets them pumped up.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Checks for understanding! These are crucial. This goes back to the I Do, We Do, You Do methodology. As the student completes the practice problems, I am able to check to make sure they are comprehending what was modeled for them during the I Do portion. Likewise, students are able to get real time correction so they don't cement the wrong practice into their heads.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Students respond with confidence to confidence. In other words, I know what I'm doing. Therefore, when you walk away...you'll know YOU'RE doing. It's science...kind of. Proper preparation, taking the time to master the subject BEFORE you tutor or teach it; that's basic professionalism. I'll know what I'm doing, and that confidence bleeds into students.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
Listen. Often, the kids who will show up to tutoring know where their specific needs are. But, if they don't, I can still glean very useful information from a student's feedback. Then, I will be gathering data from preliminary assessments, conversation, etc. Once I can pinpoint exactly what needs to be fixed, we can hammer out the issue far more effectively.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
By being prepared. I have a wealth of experience on my side and can really bring the heat when it comes to effective tutoring. But I won't rest on my laurels. When the student comes to me and lays out their goals and issues, I will work twice as hard as they will INITIALLY. Then, my expectations for success will be placed and remain high. Once the student understand the rules and procedures, I can throw practice problems at them that are tailored to their specific interests, needs, etc.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
It depends on the subject being tutored, but I use a lot of online materials for ACT and SAT prep. I also like to use a speed reading tool that can be found free online to help build up students' reading endurance. For comprehension, there are various teaching tricks and lessons I have. This is really dependent on the material being tutored.