After graduating cum laude and with English department honors from Columbia University, I began to teach because I wanted to share my enthusiasm for language and literature with a wide variety of students, from various backgrounds and with innumerable points of view. This was perhaps a selfish motivation, in that I wanted to continue to learn, too. What I have found, in twenty years, in a variety of situations, is that the best discoveries and the greatest sense of growth and understanding often happen in very small groups or even in one-to-one learning situations. When working with a single student, growth and development is so clear, and the communication so precise, that both student and teacher can know precisely how knowledge, confidence and capabilities are developing. And the exchange of ideas is almost always unique.
The students goals are always the first thing I try to understand, whether it is a desired level of growth on an standardized exam or a deeper understanding of reading and writing as pleasurable and developed skills. Once the goals are clear, I like to discover, along with the student, areas of strengths and areas of practice and approach that need to be strengthened. If success on a particular test is the goal, we approach the skills needed with clarity, but also through a variety of exercises and experiments. My goal is to permit the student to experience the challenge anew, in an organized yet creative way, and in the process experience new confidence. If the goal is to grow in reading or writing skill, work the student is already engaged in is the focus, but to approach it through clear and new identification of what skills are needed, and how to find the student’s hold on the material in a way that can create understanding. One of the best aspects of dealing in language and literature, even on a high stakes test, is that it can open authentic and engaged understandings on a remarkably individual level, even while exploring universal themes and exercising and strengthening universally needed skills.
I have taught a wide variety of students in Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, several college courses in teaching English and classroom theory. With a colleague, I developed a very successful humanities program that helped students overcome struggles with the global history regents, and prepared many students for SATs and other standardized tests. But I have continued to find one-on-one work with someone eagerly engaged in wanting to face a challenge or grow in a certain skill the most rewarding project. One thing experience seems to teach over and over is that learning is a very individual undertaking that is best when shared between individuals. And I like the facing of that challenge to be fun.
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