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Q&A Interview With A Claremont Tutor - Katie is A Special Gift For Special Needs Students

By: Christine Ascher (Student/Writer/Tutor)

Katie graduated from Claremont McKenna in May of 2020, with a major in psychology.

When did you first start working for Claremont Tutors? What made you interested in tutoring?

I started during my sophomore year, in the fall of 2017. I got involved because I wanted a part-time after-school job that would allow me to work with kids and families. I also wanted something that would help further my skills in problem-solving, because, in my career, I work with kids who have autism. It’s really important to know how to teach and explain things in three different ways, to anticipate problems, adapt, and be patient, so tutoring was the perfect job that would be both fun and further my skills in those areas.

Did your experience once you started tutoring differ at all from your initial expectations?

I expected it to be enjoyable and to make connections with the families that I worked with, but I didn’t expect to make such deep connections. It’s really become more than just academic tutoring; with most of my clients we’ve fostered a relationship where the kids can talk to me about things that happen at school, like crushes or friend drama. That’s been really rewarding. It almost feels more like a mentorship.

Are there any ages or subjects that you particularly enjoy working with?

I’ve been able to work with basically every age—I have clients from ages five to sixteen right now. I enjoy tutoring a variety of ages and subjects, partially because it makes me nostalgic for when I was in school. It also shows me how education has changed over the years—or how it has stayed the same. I felt a lot of pressure in school growing up, and it’s interesting that that pressure is still there for many kids.

I know you’re interested in helping expand Claremont Tutors to work more with students with special needs. Have you been able to make progress with that so far?

We’ve definitely been working on it. The pandemic has made it difficult because students with special needs require even more assistance now, and it’s challenging to provide them with it over Zoom. I think that once the pandemic is over and things start getting back to normal, that will be the next step for Claremont Tutors. I already work with students with learning and reading disabilities, but that’s not necessarily the same as specifically tutoring kids on social skills. That’s definitely an area that Claremont Tutors has shown a lot of interest in, and other tutors have also shown interest, so now it’s just about getting through the pandemic.

Since you started tutoring, has your approach changed at all?

At the beginning I was definitely more cautious about how much I assigned to students, because I really wanted to make tutoring fun. I didn’t want them to look at it like a chore. I’ve noticed that when I set the standard right away that tutoring is going to be fun, it makes the whole process easier. It helps the subject lose its ability to intimidate, and everything becomes more doable. Now I don’t even have to consciously set that intention—it’s automatically the energy I have. My clients now bring that energy as well.

Have you experienced any difficult situations with students? What you were able to learn from them?

I had one student who I worked with weekly. We were focusing mainly on homework assistance, but I found out from their parent that they weren’t performing well on their tests. Once I found out, I had to figure out how to bring up that we needed to work on test-taking skills rather than just homework—especially because I had a feeling this was already a bit of a touchy subject. Even though I believe that learning should be the primary goal in education, it’s still important to perform well on tests. Fortunately, that situation ended up going really well. They actually went from a B- to an A, so it worked out.

Are there any experiences that stand out to you as especially memorable or rewarding?

I have two students who are brothers, and I noticed that each time I would come over to work with them they were so excited to see me. That felt great because, after all, we were doing schoolwork. They always had things to tell me about their week and questions to ask me. I once mentioned to them that I was going through a breakup, and they were so interested in hearing about it and supporting me. They always met me with high motivation and it just made my job dramatically easier and more fun.

Are there any skills that you’ve developed from tutoring that you’ve been able to apply to other areas of your life?

I’ve definitely enhanced my skills in problem-solving and creativity. I’ve had to learn how to approach or explain a problem from multiple different ways. Through working with a diverse group of kids, whether that’s in terms of socioeconomic level, age, or subject matter, I’ve learned that everyone thinks differently. Because I want to help people with disabilities, it’s critical that I’m aware of that and respectful of it.

The kids have also really helped me practice patience—I think that’s something that you always improve on when working with kids for a long period of time. I also think tutoring has helped me develop a greater love of learning. Now that I’ve realized how important learning was to my childhood, and how important it still is now, I appreciate it so much more.

How did your tutoring experience add to your overall college experience? Was there anything you learned that you were able to apply specifically to your college life?

Definitely! I would say tutoring especially helped me with my own study skills. As I worked with students on assignments and time management, I realized that if I was giving them the best advice that I could think of, I should be modeling it. As soon as I was preaching it, I began to follow my own advice. I noticed that during my junior and senior year, because I had to focus on time management in order to balance school and tutoring with my own extracurriculars, my grades actually went up. And my kids were always very interested in hearing about my grades, so I wanted to show them that the strategies I told them about actually work.

Since you’ve switched to online tutoring, how has it changed your experience? Are there any unexpected pros and cons that you’ve noticed?

One pro is that I can tutor from my own home now, so if a student needs help in addition to our regular session, they can just call me in the evening and I’ll be available. I’m no longer driving distances to houses, so I have more time open to tutor. That being said, I do miss being able to make the personal connections that come with visiting students in their homes. A lot of parents would make me snacks, or talk to me about their kids, so I got to know them really well. I do miss that, and being able to see my students on a personal level.

Have you been able to make connections, not just with your students, but with their families as well?

Absolutely! I think I have almost as strong of a connection with the parents of my students. I hold a lot of conversations with the parents independently to check in, so we’ll either have phone calls or we’ll text to make sure they’re up to date. All of the parents are super involved and just want the best for their kids, so I try to be as transparent as possible. The parents are so sweet; sometimes things happen in college, and when I’m stressed they’re so nice about checking in.

Overall, tutoring been a great experience. You really get what you put into it. I came into it knowing that I wanted to make connections and learn new ways to think, and I’ve definitely been able to do that. That’s why I’ve continued tutoring after graduating, and want to continue being involved even once I have a full-time job.

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