My name is Joel Schafer and I an educator living in the beautiful Midwestern metropolis of Chicago, Illinois though I am originally from a small farming community in rural Missouri. I have studied English language and literature, linguistics, Russian language and literature, journalism, education, and pedagogy during my academic career. My passion is to teach Language Arts, though I also teach English as a Second Language. Providing education to others is what I devoted my entire life to, and I would not have it any other way.
I first started tutoring when I was a junior in college. My professor recommended that I tutor some of the lower level students in her Russian language course and I accepted not knowing what I was getting into. Though I was volunteering, I was obsessed with helping others evolve academically. Eventually, after completing college, I moved to Moscow, Russia to teach English there for a year. Since moving back, I have been teaching ESL in Chicago to a plethora of students from all over the world. I am currently working on my Master's degree in Secondary Education with an emphasis in English and plan to eventually teach in high schools here in Chicago.
Part of what I love about teaching is learning form my students. They might not know it, but I learn as much from them as they do from me. It really is the best job that anyone could ever have.
Undergraduate Degree: University of Missouri-Columbia - Bachelors, English, Russian
Graduate Degree: DePaul University - Masters, Secondary Education - English
When I'm not teaching, grading, studying, or writing, I'm usually playing my bass guitar. Music has always been a huge part of my life and I'm sure it always will be. I also love to cook, play video games, read fiction, explore Chicago, and write creatively when I have the time.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Learning is a complex process that requires one to interact with scholastic materials in a personal, meaningful way. An educators goal is not to disseminate information, but rather to act as a guide for the learner, illuminating the possible paths that they may take in order to achieve the skills and knowledge they wish to master.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Comfort is the number one goal of the first session. Usually I will start by getting to know the student, which helps me think of materials and techniques that may be suited to their unique style of learning. After, I like to take a closer look at the material and make sure the student and I have the same goals in mind. Finally, I aspire to have a fairly complete idea of the student’s strengths and weaknesses within the given subject area by the end of the session as to allow me to build an appropriate curriculum.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Tutors should not just fill their students with facts, information, and knowledge; rather they should teach their students how to learn. That is to say, my goal is to mold my students into autonomous learners by instructing them how they can practice their skills by themselves. I have been in academic institutions for nearly two decades now, and I have learned many different study skills and habits that have helped me achieve my goals. None of them are arcane or difficult to do, thus I always teach them to my students.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Progress is almost always being made when one is challenging oneself. Part of my job is to recognize this progress at any capacity and be able to show the student their progress. Part of teaching is being a fairly sociable person, and knowing when someone needs extra encouragement. I have many stories concerning academic motivation about myself or others that have come in handy when one of my students needs an extra burst of motivation.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
Difficulty with a certain skill or concept can mean many different things: it could simply be frustration, or it could be lack of knowledge within a specific content area. The first step is to slow down, take a step back and diagnose the situation without demotivating the student. After that, breaking down and compartmentalizing certain concepts to their essentials is a good way to show the student that the concept is not unconquerable. Ample opportunity to practice the concept or skill is also needed and can be done a multitude of ways. Finally, a good tutor must be able to formally assess their students to ensure their comprehension of the previously troublesome idea.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Literacy is one of the most important skills a scholar can develop. Comprehension is a large part of this skill, and it is something that can be improved. One simple way is to encourage students to annotate in the margins as they read. This creates a personal connection with the text, causing the material to be easier to recall. Another way is to create a summary graph, or some other visual representation of the material, giving the student another way of conceptualizing the text. There are litanies of strategies that can help students who struggle with reading comprehension.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
I am personally inclined to approach most educational situations from an inquiry based approach. This means that the students are approaching the material by asking questions and answering their own questions. My role is to ensure the quality of their questions and add some questions of my own. This allows the students to pave their own way, rather than follow a preset path.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
Many times students are not motivated because they do not see or understand the practical implications of a particular subject. That or the material is being presented to them in a way that is meaningful to them personally. This is a common flaw in many teachers. I usually like to show my students how I use the subject in my own life and how it has enriched my endeavors. Then I encourage them to think of ways that it could possibly enrich theirs. Another way is to simply re-contextualize the material in a new way. So for example, if a student does not enjoy reading Shakespeare's Sonnets, I will compare the Sonnets to a song by Kendrick Lamar or Kanye West and show how their not that different.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
First, every teacher should be able to have a discussion with the student to ensure whether they understand the material. This is called informal formative assessment, and it means that I ask material based questions that should allow the student to show me that they are developing the necessary skills. When I think that it is time for them to prove their skills to me, I will give them a summative assessment. Many people use tests for summative assessments, however I prefer projects, as they are more realistic in real life. The summative assessment is designed to allow the students to show me they have mastered the necessary skills and knowledge we have covered.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Scaffolding is a basic concept that most teachers should use to ensure that students are not lost or unconfident in their ability to engage with the material. What it means is to work from the student’s original skill set and build off of what is there, not moving too far away from their capability, but pushing them to reach new goals. This way, they do not feel overwhelmed, but challenged in an appropriate manner.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
Good educators use diagnostic assessments to evaluate students’ needs. A diagnostic assessment allows students to complete a task with many variables in place to show the educator what the student needs to improve. This can range from a worksheet, to a writing assignment, to a small project, to a conversation. In fact, often times more than one diagnostic assessment is required to get a decent picture of the student's current capabilities.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
My teaching style depends largely on the student's learning style and needs. There are many different variables that can be adjusted to the student's needs including but not limited to the type of materials presented, the way in which they are presented, the amount of time I spend explaining, the amount of questions that I ask, or the amount of writing I assign.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
I enjoy using what I call realia as material with my students. Realia are objects or texts from everyday life, rather than from a textbook. So for example, I would prefer to practice teaching reading by reading a magazine article about something that interests the student rather than a textbook. Often time I encourage the students to choose the material, and then I assess whether it is appropriate for their level of learning or not.