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So, What Makes Theresa's Tutoring So Different?

When discussing the differences between classroom teaching and the way I tutor my students, there are some obvious differences that happen any time a student is tutored, such as the class size, the specialized curriculum and the locale. These are some of the reasons people choose to be tutored in the first place. They also get to proceed at their own speed, and to tell the teacher what to do, instead of the teacher telling them.

My tutoring sessions have something a little more than that, however, and that's why I am a very effective tutor. When I speak to a new student (or the parent of a new student) for the first time, I ask questions to determine things like best learning modalities, possible educational "anchors," and energy levels. I try to find out what the student's past experiences have been educationally, and how those experiences may have impacted the student's learning accessibility. I especially listen to find out what sort of experiences they speak of themselves, how they speak, and what their phrasing is like. This helps me determine my best teaching approach.

Tutoring is a bit like jujitsu, the art of using one's opponent's own energy. The difference is, instead of using the energy of my student (who is definitely NOT my opponent!) against them, I use their energy to hit their educational goals. Very often, a student is so close to the problem in their own academic career, it's hard to see the clear path to the goal, even though the desire, energy and intelligence is clearly present. It's just a question of focusing their diffused light into a laser-like beam of brilliance. I am not the light; just the window. Once the focus is there, the problem is solved - for now.

My greatest asset, and one of the greatest joys of my job, is my ability to put myself out of a job! Yes, you read that right. My goal with all of my students is to teach them to develop their own skills and tools to focus their energies and abilities on the best ways to solve the problems they face. I teach them using their own educational glitches, but the lesson is a universal one that can be applied to many areas of their lives. With the abilities they already posses, most students can learn to identify their best learning methods, and to modify whatever they are receiving from their teachers, books, and other reference materials to their own best advantage. This is my job, and my delight.

At times, it requires breaking skills down to an earlier level, and rebuilding using a different method. I have a student presently who is trying to improve his handwriting. He is 8 years old, and his teachers have been complaining about his penmanship. His mother has been beside herself, worrying that his skills would get him labeled as not as bright as he very obviously is. Many times, children with this problem are drilled repeatedly to copy, copy, copy ad nauseum, until the problem is solved or the child is graduated. More often, I fear it is the latter, rather than the former. When I met him, I talked to him about his various interests (He is an outstanding baseball player and trophy-winner, likes video games, and has a quick and ready wit.). Then, I watched him write his letters. His right hand held the pencil with a death-grip in a pincer grasp. He pressed into the paper hard enough that I found myself fearing for the fate of the glass table which was his surface. His fingers and wrist moved, but all else remained still.

My first reaction was, "Why are you holding your pencil like that?" He told me that's how his second grade teacher had insisted he hold it. This highly athletic child, with well-developed arm muscles was being made to use the tiny muscles in his hand to do all the work of being a fluent and comfortable writer. Which, of course, he was neither. I took away the pencil and paper, made a "baseball" from a couple of washcloths and a rubber band, and soon had him writing - in beautiful cursive! - with soap on a mirror. As soon as each letter was mastered in large form, with a relaxed hand and using his highly-developed arm muscles, his penmanship began to show a huge improvement. Of course, he still has a long way to go, but now instead of complaining about having to write, he's asking if I can teach him Calligraphy!

So, the edge I feel my tutoring has over traditional teaching is that I am busy looking at my students' strengths and finding ways to enlist them in the service of the students' goals, not ferreting out their weaknesses and insisting the student change their learning style to accommodate the teaching. In short, I'm not looking to find fault; I'm looking for solutions. And that's a much happier place to learn.