My tutoring career started while I was still attending Western Illinois University in pursuit of my bachelor's degree in physics. I would tutor in the physics tutoring center in the main sciences building. Students would come in without appointments, and we would accept any and all students who needed help. I was there for two years, my junior and senior year before I left after receiving my degree. During my school years, I would also assist in the physics and chemistry demonstration shows that we put on every year. Students from the local middle school and high school would attend, and fellow students and I would perform a variety of educational demonstrations. As you might guess, the subjects I feel most confident in tutoring would be physics and math. However, I don't believe that to be the limit of my scope. I've always had an interest in the other sciences, things like biology and chemistry, and I've had ten years of piano lessons so basic music theory and education are within my range as well. When I'm not tutoring, I like to play video games online with my friends, a few songs on the piano, and even meet up to play the occasional table top game like Dungeons and Dragons. I study chess rigorously, and hope to one day be a chess tutor as well. Picking the right tutor is important, but can be a tad tricky. A tutor is best served as both an educational guide and a friend. Because of the one on one nature, it's important that the tutor is someone you can look up to and trust as well as feel connected with. To me, a tutor's job is not to make the student jump through more and more hoops in the interest of perfection. Rather, they are there to foster curiosity, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and improve a student's level of confidence in a subject matter. A true master is an eternal student.
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
The key is to inspire an interest in gaining knowledge. Libraries already have a large wealth of knowledge available, but you must want to take the book off the shelf in the first place.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Talk about interests. Find common ground. You must be relatable in some way if you are to be looked up to. No one seeks wisdom from the old hermit anymore; people would rather look to friends.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
You must teach a person to fish. Helping them through their homework doesn't improve their situation. You must give them the tools to do the homework themselves. You have to give them the confidence to work independently, as well as to fail. A student who is afraid to learn from mistakes is not independent.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
They have to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A person doesn't work for their entire life. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Sometimes rewards can make small incentives, and keep students goal-oriented.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
"Difficultly learning" can come in many different shapes and sizes. Sometimes the student has been working for too long and they're fried. Sometimes I've glossed over some prior material too fast and didn't give the opportunity to use it as a building block into the current topic. Other times it just takes practice; they don't grasp it until they've done it 4 or 5 times. The point is it varies widely and from student to student. You have to look at the specific student, topic, and situation to figure out what the difficultly is in the first place, and how to approach it. There's no one size fits all here.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Practice makes perfect. Reading is a skill, and skills only improve with practice. It's best to start slow, with books that are easy and enjoyable for the student to read. That's a good time to expand their vocabulary with a few games on the side. Reading is a skill that combines your actual ability to see the words on the paper in a timely manner, and then match them to the vocabulary bank you have stored in your brain. You're only going to improve when you practice both sets of skills.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
You have to tackle their individual situation. A student struggling with math isn't going to benefit from a Spanish tutor. The key is to identify what they're struggling with and how to approach it meaningfully, and the specific nature of their struggle varies from student to student.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
It's all about interest. You have to find a way to make it interesting to them. Maybe they need more context for the skills they're developing. Or maybe they need some background on why the topic is important, or far reaching. You can only promote interest in the topic if you know what the student is personally interested in, and you can only know that if you're on friendly terms with them.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Demonstration. It's not enough to say, "Yeah, I think I get it now!" You must prove yourself. The student must show me the skill they've acquired; they must demonstrate their abilities.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Confidence comes from success and interest. If they're interested in learning and improving, then you can start small. Little victories here and there, like a good quiz score, can help build them up over time. Then when the time comes, they'll succeed on a bigger milestone like a full-fledged test that will increase their confidence further. Small victories lead to bigger ones, and bring confidence along the way.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
Talk to them. No one knows what the student needs better than they do. I can't put them under a microscope, scratch my chin, and say, "Ah yes, looks like you have a problem in chemistry." They will tell me what they need, either verbally or by demonstration of their skills.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
This is the wrong approach entirely, I feel. There isn't a one size fits all when it comes to teaching. You can't make a "standard" and expect to tweak it here and there so that everyone fits in. No fishing net holds both whales and shrimp. You must have an individualistic approach, because every student and their needs are different. I don't adapt my tutoring, my skills, to the situation. Instead, I help the student adapt to their subject needs.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
Pencils, paper, calculators, and text books from class.