By: Christine Ascher (Student/Writer/Tutor)
Interview with Jordan Wellington
Jordan is currently a rising senior at Scripps College. She’s dual-majoring in Math and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and has been with Claremont Tutors since her freshman year in 2017.
What initially made you interested in tutoring?
I think it was something that happened naturally for me because I enjoyed studying math and working with other students. Before I tutored, I babysat and was a camp counselor, so I had some experience working with younger kids. Once I started tutoring, I refused to go back. I found it so gratifying helping others with subjects that I enjoy. In general I’ve had really good experiences with math, and I’ve had some good teachers, but I realize that so many people haven’t had that.
In the fifth grade, I had a teacher who would let us go off and do things on our own. I remember my table group and I grabbed the workbook and started a competition of who could work ahead the farthest. That was my first experience doing math on my own and finding it fun. It was also the first time I did math as a challenge in itself, rather than for a grade. I think that was when I started to see math as a little bit fun. Tutoring felt like a way of making that possible for other students. I try to be a very positive tutor, because I think most of the students I work with are good at math—they just want to feel more comfortable.
Did your experience when you started tutoring differ at all from what you had expected?
Especially as a first-semester college student I was naturally concerned about it being too much, but it ended up being super manageable. I really enjoyed working with sophomores and juniors in high school, because when I was in high school I had tutored younger students. I remember being a little nervous that I wouldn’t be able to immediately answer my students’ questions, but ultimately I found it so much easier than when I had worked with students in high school because they were closer to my age. We could have real conversations and get to know each other. Students don’t really expect you to just tell them the answer, and I think it’s a better learning process for them when they see my thinking process. Then we can solve problems together, and we can check our work against each other. It’s also a confidence-building exercise for them because they see that math doesn’t come naturally to anyone—everyone still has to think their way through problems.
How have you seen Claremont Tutors change since you first started out?
I was abroad this past spring so I took a break from tutoring and I’m just getting back to it now. The website seems entirely revamped and more user-friendly, which is really cool. I was a little nervous about coming back with online tutoring because I’ve never done that consistently, but I’ve seen that they have a lot of different tools set up to accommodate online tutoring. I’m excited to explore them. I’ve also heard a bit about Claremont Tutors’ collaboration with the City of Claremont for summer classes and how they’re trying to help kids and parents who are stuck at home right now, which is awesome.
Do you remember any difficult situations that you encountered with a student? How were you able to handle them?
One thing that I’ve noticed is that sometimes school systems push students through who shouldn’t be in certain classes. They’re not really understanding the material. A lot of the time that becomes especially apparent in trigonometry or pre-calculus; when students can’t follow a formula anymore they just stop progressing. I’ve had a couple situations where parents really wanted theirs kid to keep pushing through the higher level classes because they had been able to in the past. I felt really mixed about whether I should just teach those students a system they could follow to help them do as well as possible on their tests. Given time restraints, that usually means giving up a portion of understanding. It’s a trade-off that I don’t like. I think that you should keep at something until you understand it well enough—otherwise it’s just going to hold you back in the next class.
Has your attitude towards tutoring or techniques that you use changed at all since you’ve gained experience working with different students?
At this point I’ve been tutoring for six years, and I’ve become more confident in voicing realities to parents or students—not in a negative way, but making sure that they’re aware of how much work we need to put in if they want to achieve a certain grade. That would’ve made me more nervous when I started. I also think that the longer I’ve tutored for certain classes, the more I’ve been able to recognize patterns in what teachers expect from their students. I think that has made it easier for me to convey to students exactly what’s expected of them. For some students, rather than teaching weird exceptions that they’re probably never going to be asked about, you can simplify the curriculum to what’s realistic. I think that’s helpful for students who feel overwhelmed. For students who want to learn more and more, or who are planning to move on to Calculus, then we can start to dive into more unusual questions.
Are there any experiences you’ve had with students that stand out as particularly meaningful or rewarding?
They’ve all been great, honestly. I had one student who I started tutoring during my freshman year of college. She’s three years younger than me, the same age as my younger sister. She was really good at math, but was bored out of her mind in her math class. She would zone out, and then wouldn’t know what to do when it came to the homework. We would go over everything her class had covered that week, and she could then pick it up within an hour of tutoring. Tutoring her was lovely because she would have “aha” moments constantly, and she was so fun to talk to. Last year I bumped into her and her mom in Claremont, and she ran up, gave me a hug, and told me where she was going to college. It was very sweet. I still think she should be a math major! I’ve also had a couple students, girls in her year, who felt really comfortable talking to me about other things, like what was going on at school. It was nice to feel helpful beyond schoolwork, because high school can be an unpleasant time for students.
What are some of the things that you’ve learned from tutoring, and how have you been able to apply them to your life?
You learn a lot of problem-solving as a tutor, which is helpful for me in my own studies. Developing new ways to explain concepts has also been big for me. Especially as a dual-major that’s been a learning process in my own studies as well as in tutoring, since math and gender studies approach problems in opposite ways. Like I said earlier, the power of being positive is really important. In my own studies I’ve learned about concepts like Imposter Syndrome, which as a woman in STEM I definitely understand. Recognizing that in myself and learning about it in college has made me a better tutor. I’m sure a lot of high schoolers experience it in their own classrooms, just by assuming that everyone else understands what they’re learning better than they do. As I boost up my students, I can see how that helps them learn so much. It’s not just a feeling; it totally impacts your abilities.
How has tutoring added to your overall college experience?
Having a job where you get to practice the skills that you’re using in class is great. Weird topics from Pre-Calculus show up in all types of math, and I’ll remember methods to solve problems in my own classes because I just reviewed them with a student. It’s also been nice having a steady job on the side that’s outside of school. When I’m stressed about school or finals, tutoring gives me an hour where it’s not my job to think about my own problems and I just need to focus on getting someone else through their test. That’s helped me see things in perspective and remember the world doesn’t revolve around me and my final grades. It’s also nice having a little step outside the Claremont Colleges bubble, and not interacting only with other twenty-year-olds. I joke with my friends that our campuses are pretty, but they’re missing dogs and babies. Seeing students who are my sister’s age and interacting with their parents puts me back into the real world, outside of a setting where all accomplishments are measured by letter grades.
Do you feel like it’s helped you feel more connected to the Claremont community?
Absolutely. Being connected to the high school definitely does that because you know what kids are learning. I really like that, because there’s not many other ways that I feel really connected to Claremont. I like that it feels like I’m fostering a relationship between the colleges and the community, because there are students at Claremont High and the other surrounding schools who are struggling and there are seven colleges with students who would be able to help.