I've had a fascinating and fulfilling life, mostly because I decided at a young age that I wanted to be a journalist. Another reason is probably because I'm something of an iconoclast, someone who easily questions settled beliefs or institutions. This led me to work for the Associated Press in San Francisco during the early days of the AIDS crisis and the high-tech boom in silicon valley.
It also led me to the Soviet Union in the early days of perestroika, when communism was starting to collapse and the economic rules in Russia were being rewritten almost daily. I've traveled extensively in Europe and also to places as far flung as the Galapagos Islands and Borneo--writing about all of them as I went.
Along the way I got my master's degree in speech and communications from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. And after many years as a journalist I started teaching and spent 12 years as a half-time faculty member in the department of journalism and communications at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I taught classes in Newswriting, Magazine Writing, Media Criticism and Journalism History. I love teaching.
During this time I had the honor of serving as a Fulbright Scholar in Bratislava, Slovakia, teaching in the only graduate program for journalism in Eastern Europe. I had 12 students from six countries, all learning western-style journalism for the first time.
Recently I've been working on a book about the Cold War. On a personal note, I have two grown sons and a new grandson. When my sons were younger I was a Boy Scout leader and a Little League coach for several years (I said I like to teach).
I have a great love of and respect for the written word. I remain an avid reader. I enjoy helping people learn to write well and to appreciate the language and the beauty of great writing. And I love the look on a student's face when they "get" something that they have been struggling with for a while.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Hampshire College - Bachelors, Journalism
Graduate Degree: Columbia University in the City of New York - Master of Arts, Communication, General
I follow politics closely and am a student of human behavior generally. I am just plain curious about almost everything. I enjoy sports to a degree, but am particularly fond of baseball and golf. I enjoy long walks and bicycling. I enjoy perpetuating the art of conversation in the digital age. And I love to travel, which Mark Twain called the "cure for narrow-mindedness." I'm particularly fond of Italy, which I've been to six times.
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy just exists somewhat naturally. I was always taught, and always believed, that simply feeding information to a student was not nearly the best way for that person to learn. The best way for a person to learn, in my opinion, is to teach them how to learn. In order to do that, one must teach them to understand the material being offered to them, not just to give the "correct" answers on an exam. I work collaboratively, and my goal is for the student to comprehend the subject matter so that they can give it back to me. In journalism we talk about a news story containing the five Ws and an H. That is to say, Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. In teaching, I am most interested in you learning the Why and How. When you can explain the Why and How to me in clear and plain English, then we have done our jobs.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
I want to get to know the student and how they learn. Everyone learns differently, and the more I can learn about how they learn, the more effective I can be in working with them. Plus, as a journalist, I have met and interviewed many different people over the years, from world leaders to homeless people. Each has their own personality, and each must be put at ease to be comfortable. I need to build a comfortable relationship with you in that first session.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
By helping you learn how to learn. It may sound obvious, but in a society where education is too often spoon fed, not enough students graduate from high school or even college knowing how to teach themselves. Learning how to learn not only involves developing confidence in your own intelligence and intuition, but also knowing where to go for reliable information about the subject you are investigating. As a tutor, that's my job. I went to a college that forced us to develop our own undergraduate curriculum. We had to be independent learners. And in graduate school, we had no grades. We were judged on our work subjectively. Everything is not black and white. It makes accepting independence a little easier.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
It helps to like what you are doing, and I would not want to have to force a student to work on something they were not enjoying. That's just torture, and even though the letters that spell tutor are contained in the word torture, there are no other similarities. I want to use material that interests or even excites the student. Only then can we hope to create real motivation for our work.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
At this point only in-person meetings will do. Most often the answer to a learning difficulty is to break the problem down to its barest component parts. Consider the saying, "keep it simple stupid." If a student is having a problem with writing structure it's often a matter of not using paragraphs as the foundation of writing form properly. What exactly is a paragraph anyway? And we go from there. Very often a learning obstacle is a product of over-thinking on the part of a student. For students, over-thinking can be a killer. Once again, keep it simple.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
This is tough, because it depends on the material. Everyone struggles with Shakespeare, and if they say they don't, they're lying. But what about the formal English of Henry James? Or the dialect of Mark Twain in "Huckleberry Finn?" Some people have little trouble with it, and some are baffled trying to make sense of it. Sometimes reading out loud helps, especially with dialect. Another is to have a classmate who is a reading buddy. Read a chapter and get as much as you can out of it, then discuss it with your classmate and sort of compare notes on what you understood the chapter to be about. In lieu of this, I would read a chapter and then read a summary for that section to get an overview of that same chapter. As you go along, your comprehension should improve with each chapter.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
Make sure they know you are on their side, and that you want to know what is the best way to help them learn in the most effective way.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
Find a good piece of writing on a subject that they feel strongly or passionately about.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Have them write a short essay about the material, and then have them explain it to me orally.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
By making them write about the subject, and also having them explain it back to me. They have to make themselves vulnerable in these ways, which builds confidence. After working with a student for a while, I might even encourage them to create their own blog on a subject if they feel strongly about and if they are willing. This can be a big confidence builder.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
First, I ask them about their needs since most students are pretty good at expressing their needs. Second, after having some time to evaluate their work, I can get a pretty good idea of where a student needs the most help; I was a teacher for a long time.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
By being flexible. I'm not going to be of much use if I use a cookie-cutter approach to teaching and expect the student to adapt to my teaching style. That's why it's so important for me to get to know that student and how they learn best, and then respond to that. A student who loves science fiction and fantasy is not being well-served when asked to read 18th-century British fiction. A lover of history might do well in being introduced to some really good biographies.