While I’ve been casually *teaching* my whole life and directly instructing my own children for the past 5 years, it’s now just about a year since I started teaching math privately for pay.
I wouldn’t say that I went into it with any preconceived notions but have nonetheless learned a whole lot and quite frankly, been very surprised by my findings thus far. So after 11 months and about 80 students, here’s some of what I’ve learned about tutoring, parenting, school teachers, math, etc.
- School kids only do about 5% of the homework I assign. Children educated outside of the system (homeschoolers) do roughly 50% of the homework I assign.
- Lots of kids struggle with handwriting. This is bad because it dissuades them from properly using scrap paper and being thorough.
- Most parents don’t understand what it takes to get good at math. They believe simply choosing the right school, teacher, or curricula is sufficient. But I am merely a coach. The kids still have to put the reps in, themselves.
- Most parents do not ensure their children do their homework. They may ask their children if it’s done, but the kids are masterful at lying, playing dumb, losing problem sets, and making excuses (“The material is too hard.”, “I don’t understand the teacher.”, “I didn’t know we had to do THAT.”, etc.). In short, kids today manipulate their parents to no end.
- At the root of every high school and college student who struggles with higher level math is a fundamental weakness in arithmetic. Essentially they can’t add, subtract, multiply, and divide proficiently. I can pretty much assess any student with a single verbal question, “What is 7 times 13?”
- The vast majority of schooled children flat out hate learning and have scant intellectual curiosity. Homeschooled children are MUCH better, much more engaged. But even within the homeschoolers there is a subpopulation of kids resistent and indifferent to learning. Most often, in my assessment, these are kids who were not homeschooled entirely, i.e. they spent a few years, if not more, in conventional schools.
- Young homeschooled kids do not do enough math. When they are actually doing math, they tend to do a *lite* version of school math. And by the way….school math stinks! I believe this is because most of early homeschooling is directed by math-phobic Moms. Admittedly I am biased. I don’t think ANYONE does enough math!
- Attention spans among school kids are appallingly low – at least in group learning environments. Even in classes as small as 4 kids, after 15 minutes or so most of the students under the age of 14 are bouncing off the walls, goofing around, asking to go sharpen their pencils or go to the bathroom, etc. I blame the standard, ridiculously short 40 minute class, television, video games, and aliteracy for this. Consequently I spend too much time and energy figuring out behavior management strategies (and I do have some) when I’d rather be imparting mathematical wisdom.
- Almost nobody seeks out math help….until it’s far too late. Typically I get calls from parents only AFTER flunked tests and only 5 WEEKS before an SAT or ACT testing date.
- Most SAT tutoring is a scam, an overpriced scam at that! Tutors and test prep companies tout massive score increases and advanced/proprietary teaching methods. But the truth is, they don’t have anything special to offer. Most tutors simply print out practice exams and have the kids do them – practice exams that can be bought along with solutions for a mere pittance. And their “massive score increases”? Well, these kids are in school doing math every day, they are getting older and more mature, and plus they now have more testing experience when they post the alleged higher scores. In other words, most of the increase would occur NATURALLY anyway. The tutors just co-opt the credit for themselves!
Alright, that was the “bad” and the “ugly”. The obvious “good” is the money I made. But I will also share more of the positive discoveries and results in a future post.