Category Archives: Education

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic…and Tai Chi, Cribbage, and the Revolution

Two weeks ago, I decided to become a tutor. So I posted the following on Facebook:

“I want to be a tutor. If you have or know a K-12 student who would benefit from a free tutoring session, please message me. I’ll send you some information about my philosophy, methods, experience, and references. Sound good?”

I’ve been writing professionally since 1999, and more-or-less consistently since 2005, and it’s time for a change. I’m not giving up writing, not by a long shot, but I am adding tutoring to my bag of tricks. Ultimately I want to take on a handful of students in my immediate geographical area and help them in whatever way they need.

Why I Became a Tutor

So what brought about this sudden change? Actually it wasn’t that sudden, not from where I’m standing. I’ve done some tutoring here and there for young people. I started with my nephew, who needed a little help with his homework in 4th and 5th grade. I found I enjoyed that process immensely. He did too, he tells me.

I’ve also run a few workshops for young people as well as adults. Subjects ranged from spoken word poetry to percussion to running a social media strategy for small businesses. All of these were a lot of fun for me, and a worthy challenge.

But I never pursued teaching of any kind as a serious profession until now. I’ve long been interested in the topic of education, and how we come to learn things. We learn things from the official government-sanctioned education system, but it doesn’t stop there. We learn everywhere. Our parents teach us. Books teach us. More often than most sources, TV teaches us, as do radio, the Internet, and all other forms of media. We learn from nature, from conversations with other humans, and from trial and error in our own experiences.

We are always learning. All of these inputs are the “nature” component of the “nature vs. nurture” question in the development of a human individual. What we learn becomes who we are, which becomes what we do, which becomes the fate of the whole world. We humans have great power over the fate of not just our own destinies but that of the planet as a whole. What we learn will determine the future in a very real sense.

And so I teach — or rather, tutor. I take a one-on-one approach to educating an individual to meet the challenges the world throws at us — but then to turn around and offer the world a few challenges of our own. Two can play at this game, world. We will not stand and simply react to the game you have created for us. We are here to change the game. We are here to create a new game — one which you, world, will eventually have to contend with.

Through educating a young mind, I can change the world. This is the peaceful revolution.

How I Tutor

I now have two students. One is a first grader, the other a second grader, both boys. I’ve had two sessions with the first grader and one with the second grader. We worked on math, reading, spelling, and some extra-curriculars like tai chi, cribbage, and drawing five-pointed stars.

I take a holistic, improvisational approach to tutoring, balancing the needs of the curriculum with the needs of the student. One student has trouble focusing and is full of unquenchable physical energy, so I introduced tai chi into the lesson plan. I had him mirror my movements. We worked on breathing, standing, listening, remaining silent, moving in a slow, flowing manner, and always bringing the moving foot back to center before placing it somewhere else. Tai chi is yogic meditation in motion, which I believe is the perfect combination for an energy-rich seven-year-old boy who has trouble focusing and finding tranquility. I believe this will help him harmonize with a world that demands we sit in boxes — while at the same time prepare him to think freely and command a righteous destiny of his own design.

The same boy and I also played a truncated game of cribbage. That was actually his idea. He had learned the basic idea of the game from a relative and wanted to play it with me, so he brought the board over to the dining room table along with a deck of cards. We played, and I took the opportunity to throw some math at him. Fifteen-two, fifteen-four, and a pair is six — that sort of thing.

The other student, the second grader, wanted help on his spelling take-home pre-test, so we went through it together. I would read each word aloud from the list. He would then spell it aloud, use the word in a sentence, and write the word down in the correct column on the worksheet. The three columns were organized by common letter combinations that appear in the words. I noticed he was great at identifying which column to place the words in. He was also pretty good at spelling words aloud. But by the time the words had to be written down, he would make more mistakes. This showed me that there is a loose connection between his auditory learning centers in his brain and his visual learning centers. So for some words, I had him stare at the word on the list while I covered up the surrounding words with my hands and repeat the word aloud a few times. “Stare at the word as you say the word,” I instructed him a few times. He followed my directions. I hope that will help in the long run to combine the visual with the auditory. The more synaesthetic (cross-sensory) connections are established in the brain, the stronger and more resilient the brain becomes. I also had him do the “extra credit” words — he got one of the five correct, and I made a point of making a big deal out of it. He feared the extra credit words because they were called “challenge” words. I told him to never, ever be afraid of the challenge words, and to never be afraid of being wrong. Be adventurous.

I try to balance staying on task with embracing spontaneity. During the spelling pre-test, the boy wanted to draw a five-pointed star. He didn’t know how to do it, so I showed him. We took turns with the pencil until he could do it. He seemed satisfied in the end. I feel it gave him a feeling of accomplishment — something I think should happen in every lesson, even if it means momentarily deviating from the task at hand. There should always be some form of instant gratification — something the student can point at and be proud of.

More to Come

There is much more to say regarding the act of tutoring, and I will expound on its many aspects in future posts on this blog. Please subscribe. I’ll also post writings and videos explaining why I became a tutor, how I believe education works, what my qualifications for tutoring are, which subjects I can teach, and other questions.

So far, the tutoring life is an absolute pleasure, and I intend to do it for a long time to come.

If you have any questions, let ’em fly. I’ll try to get to all of them.

Brief Review of “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” by Rafe Esquith

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56
Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars This was instructional but mostly it was beautiful. I cried. This teacher will blow your mind over and over and over. Read it if you are a teacher, but also read “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” if you want to know how to live a better life. I learned – and re-learned – a few priceless lessons. View all my reviews >>