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Alaina

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I am and always have been an English person I love to read, I love to write, I love words, and I love understanding the infinite ways language can work in our world. I majored in English in college (Virginia Tech), with a specialty in Creative Writing, completing my degree in three years and graduating summa cum laude. During my time there, I won several writing contests and awards for my poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. I'm currently preparing myself to go to grad school for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and so I continue to spend much of my spare time reading, writing, and studying.
I've taught in various contexts, although my first teaching experience was working as a swim instructor a job I had all through high school and part of college. I also worked for a summer league swim team during college, coaching a team of about 200, with swimmers aged three to eighteen. That same summer, I worked as a private tutor for two elementary school students, tutoring them in Math and Spanish. After graduating, I obtained a TEFL certification and moved to South Korea, where I worked as an ESL teacher. I worked with students aged six to fourteen, some of whom were complete beginners to English, and some of whom were almost fluent and preparing to take the TOEFL exam. In the ESL field, I have experience teaching reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Given my academic and work background, I feel comfortable teaching to standardized tests as well as for general academic purposes (such as reading comprehension or essay writing).
From a teaching perspective, I believe strongly that no two people learn the same way, and that it's my job as the teacher to tailor my teaching approach to fit the student's needs. In keeping with that, I believe it's important to get know my students so that I'm able to teach them to the best of my ability. I've found that people learn best when the topic is of interest, and I think it's always possible to individualize a lesson if you truly know your student. From my experiences working with young children as well as with older students, the most effective approach is striking the balance between structure/hard work and fun, as the second is often a motivator for the first. I like to laugh hard and often, and I like for my students to laugh as well!
On a personal level, I love to have adventures. Anything I haven't done before is game I especially enjoy trying new restaurants and coffee shops with my friends. Besides eating my way through Richmond, I also go to a lot of concerts; I'll listen to anything, but I would say my musical roots are definitely of the rock variety! I'm a fan of sunshine, trampolines, and all things art. Finally, I love to travel, having recently returned from a gap year during which I traveled solo through the U.S. and parts of Latin America.

Alaina’s Qualifications

Education & Certification

Undergraduate Degree: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University - Bachelors, English

Test Scores

GRE Verbal: 167

GRE Analytical Writing: 5

Hobbies

Reading, writing, traveling, trying new restaurants, summer, cry-laughing.


Q & A

What is your teaching philosophy?

Because no two people learn the same way, I believe there's no one-size-fits-all prescription for teaching. As a teacher, it's important to me that I get to know my student so I can teach him/her in a way that will best benefit him/her. In this way, I can tailor lessons to make the topic more interesting and the approach more personalized.

What might you do in a typical first session with a student?

In the first session, I typically start by getting to know my student a little. Although icebreakers can seem cliché, I think they can also be helpful! For one-on-one lessons, I find it's best to ease into it with a bit of conversation- about interests, hobbies, families, where we're from, what T.V. shows we watch, bands we like, etc. Ideally, this will help the student feel more comfortable with me, and will also help me to gauge what teaching approaches will be most helpful to the student. The rest of the first session would be used diagnostically, to start to get a sense of the student's strengths and weaknesses.

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

All of the teachers who influenced me the most were the ones who taught me how to think, not what to think. Largely, this comes simply from practice. For example, when tutoring a student in writing, it's easy to fix the grammar and make line edits, but ultimately what the student needs is to understand why those things ought to be fixed. If a student has an essay that is disorganized, instead of re-arranging it for them. I would point out portions that might make more sense in other spots, have them try to find those spots, and ask them to explain why those spots make more sense. With time, these skills become easier and eventually becomes instinctive. As a student, it can be tempting to simply listen and agree, but to be able to produce creative answers and thoughts independently shows a more thorough understanding. I make it a point to ensure that my student is able to do so. This can be as simple as asking him/her to explain why or how something is right or wrong. Then see if he or she can explain it to me. This way I know something is being learned, not merely memorized or regurgitated.

How would you help a student stay motivated?

As a student, the classes I always loved best were the ones that catered to individual students. They combined structure and freedom in a way that forced productivity but also allowed for creativity. I believe having a degree of choice helps keep the student motivated. For example, if working on a practice essay for the SAT or GRE, it can be helpful to make the essay topic something that is interesting to the student (while still enforcing time limits, attention to detail, and structure). This will make the practice more manageable, especially at the beginning. With things like multiple choice questions (for analysis, vocab, or reading comprehension), I've found that a little bit of humor goes a long way.

If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?

If possible, I would have the student explain what is confusing them (if it is a concept or idea). I would break it down to smaller, more digestible parts in order to determine what it is exactly that's confusing the student. This was something I dealt with often as a teacher. I learned how to explain grammar, word definitions, and ideas in the most basic way possible, and am always conscious of the fact that a complicated or very "academic" explanation may not be the best way for someone else to understand something. If the student is having trouble with a skill, I first try to pinpoint what it is exactly that's difficult for them and work from there. If students were struggling with how to match a thesis statement with the following content of their essay, I would give them practice with less academic topics. The idea being that if they can grasp it first at a more basic level, they'll be able to then do it on a more advanced level. For example, I might ask them to develop a thesis for an argumentative essay, with the topic being "If you're at a create-your-own ice cream shop, which flavor ice cream makes the best base and why?" From there, we can work through how to form a cogent thesis with a topic that isn't confusing.

How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?

My approach to this would depend on what exactly the student is struggling with. If it seems like vocabulary is a problem, then we would make that a focus. If it seems like they are reading without absorbing, I think it can be helpful to skim through on a first read to get a general picture, and then do a second, closer reading. If this is not helpful to them, I would go through the reading with them in small pieces. We would read a few sentences, and then I would have them try to paraphrase what was conveyed in those sentences. I personally have found that dense, difficult readings are much more digestible when taken in sections. Afterward, I would ask certain questions to gauge their overall understanding of the reading. For Example: What was the overall tone of the reading? What was the main idea of the reading? Who might the audience be?

What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?

I have found it best to simply be personable when first meeting a student. This allows the them to feel more at ease and in general brings a positive atmosphere. It's also been helpful to establish structure from the beginning, to have a clear path of how we will proceed. I believe that having an idea of what to expect is helpful to the student so that they can focus on progressing instead of spending energy feeling disorganized at a lack of structure.

How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?

The best way to engage a student in a subject they're struggling with is to make it relevant to them. In the past, I taught many ESL writing classes that were highly structured and geared toward preparing for a standardized test. This repetition becomes monotonous very quickly, so to keep the students engaged, I would in some way involve a topic that was of interest to them. For an essay class, I would tweak the writing prompt by bringing in pop culture, which noticeably engaged them. Other times I would give two or three choices for their writing prompt so that they had a degree of freedom. For another class, which was a textbook-driven course, I made PowerPoints that were saturated with related pictures, videos, and music. This technology was stimulating to them and held their attention much better. When I made adjustments like this, I noticed that students who would otherwise have mentally checked out were staying focused.