Hi, my name is Rick and I would like to assist as a personal tutor.
After a couple of decades working as a publicist, yearbook advisor, newspaper publisher and communications specialist for the student government corporation at my alma mater, Cal State Northridge, I reset my career goals and pursued teaching beginning in 1996. Before I earned my teaching credential at a satellite campus of Chapman University, I worked as a substitute teacher in the Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys. Then I spent several years teaching for the Los Angeles Unified and Antelope Valley Unified School Districts. Most of my teaching career was spent working with high school students in English language arts. I taught regular English classes plus Strategic Literacy for ninth graders and a specialized course known as Senior Project. As a substitute teacher I worked in almost every core curriculum subject for secondary education and grades 1-6 in elementary schools. In 2011 I retired from teaching.
Aside from my ease with English literature and writing coursework, in college I discovered about three years in that I had additional skill sets that drew me to theatre arts. While I applied myself to all areas of theatre and enjoyed acting and dancing the few times I found myself onstage performing, I became more intrigued with technical theatre specialties, particularly stage lighting and management. Due to my proficiency with lighting and stage work, I ended up working on several rock concerts as a roadie and follow spot operator in the 1980s for bands like Stephen Stills, Dave Mason, Missing Persons and The Babys. While I ended up earning a bachelor's degree in theatre arts from CSUN, it was my core experiences in English and communications that paved the way for my eventual career in public relations and education.
Except for two semesters spent in the Northern California town of Chico during my college freshman year, I have spent my entire life in Southern California.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: California State University-Northridge - Bachelors, Theatre Arts
ACT Composite: 24
SAT Composite: 830
Writing, photography, videography, desktop publishing, humor, hiking, music, concerts, travel, weather, reading, movies, cats, home based businesses
College Level American Literature
Elementary School Math
Elementary School Reading
Elementary School Writing
High School English
High School Geography
High School Level American Literature
High School Writing
Mac Basic Computer Skills
Middle School Reading
Middle School Reading Comprehension
Middle School Writing
Technology and Computer Science
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
What motivates me to continue my teaching career as a tutor is the belief that I can continue to exert a positive intellectual and cultural influence on the students that I assist. My mission as an educator involves being a good role model and purveyor of useful information, which will help individuals become more confident in their ability to master subjects that are challenging them, particularly in English language arts. I consider myself a lifelong learner. While someone who finishes high school might not appreciate that education is an evolving process and not just a passing phase in one's young life, just about everyone keeps learning as they age, whether they realize and embrace it or not. One of the most profound, yet amusing, phrases I live by is the corporate motto of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, better known as the founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream: "If it's not fun, why do it?" I saw them present a highly entertaining lecture about this during a conference that featured environmentally responsible businesses in 1993, and they built their company up while adhering to that deceptively simple philosophy. Among some of the trade secrets I learned from them was that their original business mission statement was copied from the back of a pizza box. They simply used the pizza restaurant's text and substituted the words "ice cream" wherever "pizza" appeared. We motivate ourselves to work hard when we enjoy the fruits of our efforts, and it doesn't hurt to be clever and resourceful in the process. My mother helped me cope with my initial struggles with language arts. She knew that I liked to read the comic pages in the Los Angeles Times beginning when I was around five years old, especially Charles Schulz' cartoon Peanuts. At that age kids receive a lot of shots from their pediatrician. I came down with the chicken pox and measles at almost the same time during my first semester of kindergarten. My mother knew that I needed several vaccinations to break my fever and recuperate. So, for each doctor's office visit, which typically resulted in at least one vaccination or blood test, she bought me a little paperback collection of Peanuts cartoons from a bookstore near the doctor's office. I stayed home from school for three weeks, but I spent a lot of time in my tent fort reading my expanding collection of Peanuts books. My interest and enjoyment in reading took off from there, and I spent a lot of time pursuing it in school and at home. What started out as a perk for getting poked with a seemingly endless number of syringes during my childhood became one of the foundations for my lifelong interest in learning. As far as my teaching philosophy goes, I tend to align myself with behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. He believed that people are essentially good to begin with, as opposed to psychologists like Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, who presumed that people were flawed and needed guidance to become useful members of society. While I believe that everyone needs help to some extent, I prefer to be considered a nurturing educator rather than a strict taskmaster. Nevertheless, I will modify my teaching style, if necessary, should I encounter a student that needs an extra amount of motivation to overcome their mental block with a particular lesson. My expertise as a teacher is drawn from a natural tendency to connect subject matter to life experiences, be they mine or someone else's. I also think that English teachers need to be good storytellers, and I definitely fall into that category since I do a lot of writing.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
First, I would want to establish some rapport with the student after introducing myself and providing a brief background on my teaching experience. Then I would ask the student some questions so that I could get to know him/her and try to determine their preferred learning style(s). Once the student has given me some understanding of their background and what's been affecting their success in a given subject area, I will ask them some questions about their classroom environment. Where do they sit? Do they like to participate in class? Do they have a distraction in class like a cellphone or an annoying classmate? Are they able to collaborate or review materials with other students? Have they discussed their academic issues with their teacher? Do they have their textbook(s) available for home use, or are they using packets prepared by their teacher? Beyond that, I would then assess what their specific problems with the classwork assignments are and go from there.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
When I work with students, I tell them that every subject has a series of problems that need solving. We think of math in that regard, but why not English, history, physical education, computer science, and every other subject we encounter in school? If I am teaching someone who has problems in language arts, such as writing an essay, I will suggest a checklist of items to help him/her work their way through the assignment. Many students will stumble on writing mechanics. Grammar is something that students need to review and practice at least one day a week from around third grade up through ninth or tenth grade. If they have a sample of their writing, I can give them a list of suggestions to brush up on style, grammar, syntax, spelling and capitalization errors. Writing deficiencies tend to follow patterns. Breaking bad writing habits, more often than not, tend to give students more self-confidence. It worked for me, and working on improving one's writing ability is always a work in progress. Reading comprehension improves when a student can find ways to analyze the material and relate to it in some way. This is particularly challenging when a student hasn't made reading a habit involving something other than computer games or phone apps. Everyone needs to find some kind of literature, be it books, eBooks, graphic novels, magazines or even newspapers that interests them. Reading and answering the follow-up questions for an English class should be considered a primary objective, but there should be some form of literature that is fun to read as a reward. When reading is pleasurable and not a chore, it becomes habit-forming. I would recommend that students keep a journal and summarize what they read each day and how much time they spend doing it.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Every student grapples with self-confidence issues, especially if they are not getting positive reinforcement at home, in their classroom(s), or from their friends. I would want to know who this student considers as their mentor or mentors. Who do they look up to? Are these real people or role models they hear in their music or see on video, social media or in movies? My mission is to become a steward who can be depended upon to resolve academic shortcomings. While I will emphasize that I am not a child psychologist, I have worked in enough classrooms to feel empowered to inspire students who need someone to instill them with self-confidence. When I was growing up, I received a lot of help from my parents whenever my self-confidence flagged. I will gladly pay it forward, just as my parents did for me. As an educator and occasional motivational speaker, I will take every opportunity to install confidence in the students I assist. If I have multiple tutoring sessions with a student, whenever there is an opportunity I will look for some kind of accomplishment that they can work towards so that they can share it with me at a later date. It could be a higher test or quiz score, a better paper grade, or a note from their teacher expressing praise or improvement. Aside from high grades, nothing meant more to me in school than a good note from my teachers on my work assignments, especially in English.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
Usually, the skill or concept issue could be alleviated with some type of independent practice. If it's a concept, I will want to discuss it at length with some anecdotal information. We could read through the story or section where the concept is being introduced. I like to establish some sort of connection with the student and that concept. Once we can agree on some aspect of the concept that triggers some understanding about it, like a memory, mnemonic, synonym or perhaps a short definition that uses an example drawn from their studies, then it might become less of a problem and more of a discovery. I'm a big enthusiast of vocabulary, and students should always try and add to theirs. Unfortunately, teachers using big vocabulary words when they lecture a class can be a handicap for some students. I picked up on this early in my career, and I encouraged students to ask me to explain something in simpler terms if I went over their heads. As far as skills deficiencies go, it's just a matter of finding some appropriate independent practice to brush up on their skills. Once I get to know a student's challenges, be it with reading comprehension, writing mechanics, oral reports, or test taking problems, I can usually develop some independent practice work to suit their needs.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
I will ask the student first how they would define their reading comprehension issue(s). What is their grade level? What textbook or workbook are they using, and if they are in a secondary grade level, are they working with additional reading materials like novels? What kinds of stories or materials do they like to read independently? Are there any vocabulary words that they aren't comprehending in their current assignment(s)? Could they list three of their favorite authors? Next I would ask him or her to read me a paragraph from their current textbook assignment. Afterwards, I would want the student to give me a brief summary of what they read and provide details like plot, characters, setting, time period and, if possible, the tone of the material. At this point I would give them another paragraph to read, but it would be either from my library or something I found online. If we were doing this in person, I would share a selection from a book or magazine. An online tutoring session would involve me pasting the paragraph on screen using the whiteboard feature. I'll probably choose some light reading material from my personal library, or possibly something I Googled on the spot. Then we could discuss that passage in the same way we did with their textbook reading. Something else I might spend time on is having the student discuss the main idea in the paragraph. We might also talk about whether this paragraph is foreshadowing anything that might be happening later in the story. If we were to have multiple tutoring sessions, I might assign some independent practice or just have them work with their textbook or novel and we could go over what questions were assigned by their teacher. Unless the family has some objections, I like using parts of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels for reading examples. I have worked in classrooms between second and sixth grade in various school districts where teachers were reading them to their students. Her books have been extremely useful because the vast majority of students I have worked with are familiar with her work and like hearing or reading her prose, even though her writings have some high school level vocabulary and sentence construction in parts.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
Musician Laurie Anderson once said that language is a virus, one of my favorite metaphors. One strategy I might employ with a new student for an ice breaker is asking a student what that statement means to them. No two answers are alike. I can expand on that concept by asking if the student could describe what kind of virus would they picture when they think about language. Is it a good bug, like something in your stomach that helps you digest your food, or does it make you ill? That sort of thing works well if I am tutoring online. I am naturally inclined to ask questions. Half the battle of tutoring is diagnosing the student's core learning challenges. For a student who is shy and doesn't want to reveal what's affecting their inability to reveal and discuss their problems with their assignments, I can just turn the spotlight on myself and ask him or her what were my biggest problems with subjects in their particular grade? As a longtime storyteller, a necessary qualification to teach language arts, I can tell them what my biggest failings were and what my teachers were like in any grade from kindergarten through my senior year in high school. After about five minutes of this, I could turn the spotlight over to the student and have him or her tell me a story about their toughest class assignment to date where they did better than expected and describe how that experience affected them. I could ask the student what's the most difficult word they know how to spell. I'm also intrigued with games and tournaments. I can role play with students, depending on the class assignment they are having. Could they write a lyric for their favorite musician? Could they envision a scene that would make a great video game or app? What is the most amusing story they have ever told in a classroom or their friends? Could they ad lib a story on the spot if they were asked? Obviously, if I were tutoring math or anything else besides English, most of this probably wouldn't apply. I worked a lot on my anticipatory sets when I was teaching English between seventh and eleventh grade. In a tutoring session, an ice breaker might be one or two intriguing or facetious questions just to get the conversation started. These are just a few of the strategies I might try to gain a student's interest or trust. None of my tutors (yes, I had a couple) were anywhere near as amusing as I can be.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
I would ask the student to describe their dream job or career that will enable them to live comfortably. How would the subject(s), particularly English, help him/her achieve their place in society? What communication skills would help most to advance that career? Why?
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
My methodology for reviewing material might vary, depending on the student's academic challenges and grade level. What is your teacher emphasizing in class? One of the first questions I might ask is what is the teacher stressing in the lessons? What's been a typical reading assignment, writing assignment or quiz/test in this class? Learning modes: if they don't know why they are having trouble reading or writing in the class, I would want to know what their favorite learning style is. Visual, auditory or kinesthetic? Is it easier to learn something by watching a video or looking at it on a website or phone app, seeing information written on a whiteboard, listening to the teacher's instructions, or doing an exercise where they are moving around or building something? My tutoring would lean more on visual or auditory learning, depending on how the student describes their preferred learning mode. Cards: index cards are great for vocabulary words and concepts. While spelling gets too little emphasis nowadays in English classes, it's an all-too-common stumbling block. Spelling: running through a vocabulary list and hearing a student spell the words aloud never gets old, and most students will get some level of satisfaction from overcoming spelling mistakes, even high school students. I can help the student practice spelling aloud, especially if the teacher stresses it in class (but few rarely do this past sixth grade). Texting and social media have reinforced poor spelling habits among most students nowadays due to the popularity of abbreviations, acronyms, and deleting punctuation marks after sentences. Read aloud: for elementary school age students, I want to hear them read parts of a story they are studying. Then I might ask them to retell it in their own words. We could go over their week's vocabulary words, check if they are familiar with spelling it from memory, which part of speech the word falls into, and use each of them in a sentence. Workbook: Does the student use any workbooks for reading comprehension or grammar? If they do, and we were doing this in person, we could work and discuss our way through a different assignment, or even skip ahead so that they have been exposed already to an upcoming assignment. Homework: I'm an avid fan of independent practice. This works if I am having multiple visits with a student. I might suggest that they list what they need to do to improve the outcome of their week's assignments and tell me what they did to accomplish those goals during the next session. Review: I might instruct the student to write five things they know about a story they are reading and describe the climax if it has one. I'd also want them to review their material. If it's a story, I'd want them to explain who's point of view it's told from. Independent practice: use the aforementioned cards or review the material on the student's own time and be prepared to discuss it during a future tutoring session. Time management: most students who are struggling with their classwork probably need to manage their time better. I would want the student to start a journal and briefly describe what they did during their homework session and record the time they spent doing it. If the session was in person, I might offer them a basic lined notepad to use for their journal.