As an educator, I have always worked to teach my students principles and skills that can apply in many situations, both in the classroom and in their everyday lives. I live and work based on principles as well, and they are relatively simple. First and foremost: all students can learn. Some will struggle in some areas, but struggling does not indicate inability. I have personally worked with students who have been described as unable to function in a classroom, or incapable of meeting high expectations, and I have watched those students grow immensely when given the opportunity. The impact of a caring, positive environment of people who believe in a student cannot be overstated.
One of my seventh graders, who had not grown at all as a reader after a year in a classroom setting, attended a small group summer program that I facilitated. Her teachers had become concerned that she may simply be stuck at her 3rd grade reading level. However, in a focused, small group setting, with appropriate support, she made 5 months of progress in two weeks. I could give numerous examples, but they all come back to the same point: all students can learn.
My second principle relates to the first: high expectations and proper support are a pathway to success. High expectations are an educator's way of saying, "I believe in you" to their students. Throughout my career, when I have challenged my students, they have risen to meet it and walked away from the experience glowing with pride. I have directed middle school students performing Shakespeare and watched them go above and beyond to create a beautiful production. I have confronted a reading group with a book two years above their reading levels and seen them respond by growing rapidly as readers. When we expect greatness from our students, and support them on their path, we can see success that goes far beyond our initial impressions of their capabilities.
Undergraduate Degree: Fairfield University - Bachelors, Theatre
SAT Composite (1600 scale): 1550
SAT Math: 730
SAT Verbal: 800
SAT Writing: 750
What is your teaching philosophy?
I believe, first and foremost, that all students can learn. I approach my students as individuals who are developing their skills to realize their maximum potential. I believe that high expectations, with individualized support, are the path to achievement for any student.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
I begin with a quick introduction of myself, my background as an educator, why I do what I do, and my interests outside of academics. I then encourage the student to give a similar introduction: what is their educational background? What are their strengths and areas of growth in school? Why is school and learning important to them? What are their outside interests? The final question will allow me to cater some of my comparisons and analogies during tutoring to a topic to which they can relate. We then move on to establishing basic standards for our time together. A simple example of these standards would be "Listen, Respect, Work Hard." Finally, we move into defining the area of growth: where exactly does the student look to gain confidence and skills? To find this, I might use a quick assessment (practice problems, reading comprehension tests, etc.) in addition to a conversation with the student. To conclude, I would leave the student with a short (15 minute) assignment dedicated to one specific skill (for example, timed completion of a worksheet, or reading accompanied by journal responses).
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
I have found that by focusing on developing skills and a solid process, as opposed to focusing only on results, my students gain more independence. In my tutoring, I work to develop consistent, positive habits that will help them long after I am no longer their tutor. For example, skills and principles like always checking work, pausing at the end of a paragraph to paraphrase its meaning, and backing up claims with evidence, will always be helpful to a student as they move forward.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
I believe that when students can see their progress, they gain motivation, which results in more progress, and this tumbles into what I call a "motivation loop," where they create a cycle of motivation and progress for themselves. Pointing students' progress and growth out to them is a powerful tool. In cases where this is ineffective, finding ways to grab students' interests and incorporate them with the material are also very useful.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
First, I would identify which piece of the skill or concept the student is struggling with. Often, the reason a student has difficulty with a skill is a result of not understanding one of the steps or key points, not because they "just don't get it." Once we identify the exact point at which the student begins to struggle with the skill, we drill it. We practice that one step repeatedly, using an "I do, we do, you do" structure to allow the student to see an example, do an example with support, and practice independently.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
I have multi-step process for struggles with reading comprehension. The first? Find a book that interests the student, that is close to their reading level, preferable slightly above it (I use the Fountas and Pinnell assessment to determine reading level). When we start with a book that the student can be passionate about, myself and my student both walk into sessions with a positive attitude towards reading together, something that is invaluable to a struggling student. Next, we target specific skills. Reading comprehension is a broad set of skills. Do they struggle with summarizing the action of the text? Discerning characters' points of view? Discussing theme? Maybe they struggle with a number of these skills. It is important to approach them one at a time, and take a targeted approach each time. For example, if I am working with someone who struggles with summarizing, I use a lot of talk backs and quick writes throughout our reading, and then ask for a longer summary of the full passage. With some students, I even stop them at the end of every paragraph, ask them to summarize just the paragraph, and then write their summary with my corrections. In this manner, they can build gradual confidence and get constant practice. For other comprehension skills, I use other methods that are tailored specifically to the skill, which I would be happy to discuss at greater length!
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
I have found the well established practice of "Teach, Model, Test," or in simplified terms, "I do, we do, you do" to be highly effective with students. When you talk them through the process of a skill, gradually release them to practice an example question with your support, and finally have them practice independently, they have numerous opportunities to correct misconceptions, have success with a concept, and then ingrain that success through practice.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
In my experience, students get engaged when they understand how a concept relates to their everyday life, and when they can get their hands on the concept. I would start by finding something they are passionate about, and working to make the connection between the subject and their passion. I have also found that showing practical applications can excite students. For example, a student may struggle with geometry, but if you can show them how often we use it in our daily lives, and the things we have that stem from our knowledge of geometry, it can ignite a spark of curiosity.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
I use a lot of quick questions throughout the process of teaching a concept to get the student consistently engaged with the material. The questions gradually get less specific as I pull back my support to see if the student can practice the skill without help. Let's say I teach a student a process for approaching a question on the theme of a poem. After teaching them the process, we would try a problem together, and I would ask them, at every step, "what do you do next?" If they are unsure, we would review the steps they missed, and try another one in the same manner. Once they feel confident, I would have them do a problem completely on their own, talking aloud to me about their thought process. If they can talk me through the question to the correct answer, I know they understand.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Practice, practice, practice. I see a number of students who lack confidence because they will understand a concept one day, and then forget it the next. They lose confidence because they start to believe they cannot even retain their small victories. There is a solution! Once a student understands a concept, the first part of the battle is over. However, they must practice their understanding to solidify that knowledge. With enough practice, any student can retain a learned concept. To truly retain an idea, or a skill, give a student a rock solid building block. Knowing that they have solid skills to fall back on builds the confidence of a student. It also reinforces the idea that "I have mastered something before, and I will master something again."