Tutoring My Own Horn

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I’ve got a lot of photos to share, as usual, and some thoughts on my tutoring endeavor, so I’m going to combine the two even though they don’t go together. But first, on the photography front – I have held several more sessions this month based in part on trips to the new Goodwill store that opened up recently in my area; this is a great place to get clothing for photoshoots as they get tons of great stuff.

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Including little kid tutus!

I also tried out using the live view technique I learned last month wherein I can attach my camera to my laptop and set up a shot – and take it – while looking at it on my computer screen. However, I actually found that this technique is often more trouble than it is worth, and while it’s useful, I think it’s only really needed for me when I’m shooting self portraits in more difficult situations (such as trying to pose lying down, for example) and for what I usually do, I’m better off just sticking to my old methods. I did discover that setting up a light stand with a bulb in the spot where I intend to pose helps me focus the camera AND helps me stay situated where I need to be to get in the frame of the shot: I often use a light bulb on a stand behind me when I shoot for some nice backlighting anyway, but I don’t always, and I never thought about how much it helps me focus to have it there. Now that I have thought about it, I just put the stand there even if I don’t intend to light it up, and voila – better focus in my photos.

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Tutus – they’re not just for covering your butt with tulle anymore

I also am playing around with more aggressive editing techniques on my self portraits just because. I tend to not like editing that imposes itself too much on the shot (unless the shot has flaws I’m trying to conceal) because I put so much effort into having the right makeup and costume and hair that I feel it rips all that effort off to then go and add so many overlays and filters to the photo that you can’t see those details. But often times, those effects can look very cool if done properly, and I certainly see other people’s edited photos and think how awesome it looks, so I’ve been trying to let go of some of my attachment to pseudo-realism.

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The shirt was a steal from Goodwill; both the shirt and the wig are actually orange

Also on the photography front: I agreed to take photos of my niece for her prom (which is not the sort of thing I usually agree to, but hey, every once in a while you gotta do the family a favor), and surprisingly, I found I really enjoyed editing the photos of her (and her date) that we took in the park near their house. Normally I am far from a “location” shooter; for self portraits the reasons are obvious (I like privacy when I’m doing my self portraits and would feel silly taking posed pics of myself anywhere in public) and some that are less obvious (I am just not accustomed to doing it and often mess up things like lighting, AND I have always leaned towards neutral backgrounds that don’t pull focus from my subject). But in this case, they wanted outdoor photos, so I acquiesced.

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He’s carrying her because her heels were sinking in the wet grass; I didn’t tell them to pose this way, but I love it. Thanks, wet grass!

And lo and behold, I found I really enjoyed editing these outdoor shots! They had me take some indoors too, and I made my usual mistakes there (I made some rookie moves like not positioning them properly in front of the fireplace and stuff like that), but I found that editing the outside stuff was quite fun, because I could work with light in interesting ways I can’t do with studio work – mostly sunlight and shadows.

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Composite shot here – in the original her skirt wasn’t flowing in the breeze like this; it was flowing in another photo so I stole the skirt from that pic and attached it to her dress in this shot. If you look down near her ankle, you can actually see a weird bit that almost looks like a pocket; I didn’t notice this until after I was totally done with the editing, but that’s an error from blending the two skirts together. 

This has me jonesing to find a model and get out and take more location shots, something I’ll need to do soon if I’m going to do it at all as it’s getting hotter here by the day and soon will be too hot and muggy for productive photos out-of-doors.

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Just another nice candid catch 

So that catches us up on photography. As I share the rest of my stuff, let me tell you what’s going on with tutoring. It’s been up and down – mostly up, but transitioning from full-time teaching to part-time tutoring (and I’ve got more business now, but not enough yet to call myself full-time, which is fine by me, honestly) has been an adjustment on so many more levels than I expected. For starters, re-scheduling can be a real bitch. Most of my students are involved in extracurricular activities, and as the spring rains start here in Texas, a LOT of canceled or re-scheduled games are cutting into my tutoring schedule. It’s not such a problem when people just cancel, but what most people want to do is RE-SCHEDULE, which is a pretty big pain in the ass. I get why it happens, and I get wanting to still get tutoring fit into the kids’ week, but on my end it kind of sucks. I actually like having a set schedule from week to week, and can get really thrown off by even one student requesting a last-minute change, much less 2 or 3 of them. I’m really committed to giving myself two guaranteed days off a week, with a third one on reserve as a backup, and more than once I’ve had to choose between sticking to that commitment and telling a student I just can’t meet with them that week, or scheduling kids on days I have set aside not to tutor to keep the money flowing and keep the kid caught up, but losing days off in the process. Boo.

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At first I was just telling everyone no if they could only meet with me on days I committed to taking off, but this has started to bump against another aspect of tutoring I hadn’t given much thought to until now: wanting to keep the money coming in. When I tell a kid I can’t re-schedule, I’m losing that week’s pay for that kid. That isn’t such a big deal when my schedule is full, but lately I’ve been awakened to the reality of tutoring’s revolving door; while I may have been able to get enough clients to keep me busy and pay me a nice amount of money, keeping them is a different story. Not that I’m losing kids left and right because I suck, but some kids only need intermittent help – one college student only calls me for a session when he has an essay due, another one only wanted academic coaching which wraps up after ten sessions, and still another one really just needed temporary help to get through one particularly difficult portion of his English class. So, I recently went from 8 clients back down to 6, with another one starting to taper off also, so then I’m down to 5. So, yeah. That whole I-really-hate-networking-and-I-hope-to-never-have-to-do-it-again-once-I-build-up-a-client-base dream didn’t totally come true. At least, not yet, and I’m looking at needing to put out some more advertising and peddling my wares a bit moving into the summer months (although I do also have three kids whose parents have already told me they want to work me in summer also).

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Which leads me to another big adjustment I am having to make: planning. This one is a bit trickier to sort out, but one thing I’ve hit upon lately is how big the whole concept of time is to my life. Not having the time to wake up peacefully in the morning or go to sleep when I wanted to when I was a teacher was always a huge reason why I felt dissatisfied doing it. Schools here start so damn early (7 or 7:30 AM) and since I didn’t live close to the schools where I taught, I always had to get to bed by 10 PM so I could wake up at 5 AM (and if you look at the time in which this posted you can see how much I love staying up late and, consequently, sleeping in). So tutoring providing me the time to structure my life the way I want has been truly miraculous and makes me really happy. But this time issue has manifested itself when working with students in less miraculous ways.

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I got word today that a student I’ve been tutoring since February did not pass her state exam; this is bad news because it is what I was hired to help her with. Not only that, but she failed by a wide margin; she wasn’t even close to passing, and in fact did worse this year than she did last year when she took the exam and also failed. After working through my guilt and panic about how I failed to help her, I realized many things (including the fact that while I clearly didn’tget her to where she needed to be before this test, it was not all my fault and I can find ways to remedy the parts of the situation which are my responsibility). I also had a conference with the parents of another student I tutor recently, and when they requested to meet with me I had this moment of realizing that I, in fact, wasn’t really sure what to tell them about the kid’s progress, because I hadn’t really been monitoring it all that much. I was basically showing up every week, doing some tutoring, and leaving, without putting nearly the proper amount of forethought and planning into the process. As such, I at first didn’t feel like I could tell the parents where the kid was progressing and where he was still behind. This was not at all a good sign.

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Wig and shirt in original color

Now, I ended up going back to my notes that I’d made on the kid when I first started tutoring with him, then I pulled out my calendar as well as the work we’d done and I’d kept in a folder (thank God) and, from all that information, managed to pull together and good summary of where we were, where we were headed, what weaknesses he still had, and how we might get there. Fortunately, the parents agreed with me, and there were no complaints (in fact, they ended up asking me to tutor their younger child next year, too). The meeting worked out fine, but it was the first wake-up call for me that as a tutor I need to be sure I am not just teaching, but also evaluating and assessing my students and making plans of action for progress – something that is naturally worked into the curricuum of a teacher, and is fact often dictated by administraton, but as a tutor there’s no authority around breathing down my neck to make sure I’m doing what I should be doing to address the needs of my students. And especially since my first few clients were kids who mainly just needed me to help them with homework, it makes sense it would take me a while to reach this realization, becuase my first few clients didn’t require me to plan and evaluate (and still don’t).

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In thinking through what happened with the girl who failed, I realized our sessions shared a similarity with my sessions with the other kiddo: I have a tendency to plan for my lessons in relation to time more than content. This is a holdover habit from teaching: when I taught 5 classes of 30 each a day, I became obsessed with time, because I believed the key to a well-behaved classroom was keeping everyone busy (this is actually true, at least in part). Therefore, my lesson plans had to teach concepts to kids, sure, but they also had to occupy an entire 55-minute segment of time, and they had to do that every single day or I was not comfortable. So every plan I made involved a time breakdown – how many minutes would the warm-up take? What about the reading? And the quiz? Then what does that all add up to? And if the things I planned did not equal 55 minutes, well then, I planned ways to pad the lesson and in some cases just kill time with busywork. I was a good teacher with some of the best-behaved classes you’ve ever seen (subs always loved to work in my classroom because the kids were so well-trained and I kept them occupied every second with activity) but it is not at all the way I should be approaching tutoring. And yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Consciously or not, I have kept my time-management attitude that makes KEEPING THEM BUSY a priority  over everything else, and well, it’s not a good look for any of us.

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I’ve been planning my tutoring lessons from this stance of: OK, what can I do that will fill an hour? And then, my second thought has been, OK, what do they need to learn and how will I teach it? And that hasn’t been the right approach. Much like with the boy whose parents asked for a conference, when I look back over my work with the girl who failed her exam I can see where at times, I worked on lessons with her that weren’t all that good at addressing her needs but were good at filling the time slot I was getting paid for. I never did this consciously, it’s just so ingrained in me to panic at even the thought of ‘not having enough to do’ that I was making this a priority without noticing it. And in the case of the girl who failed, I should have spent more time concerning myself with what she was going to learn from an activity than concerning myself with whether or not the activity would fill the time slot. It’s not that I wasn’t considering the content at all, it’s just that my perspective was warped towards filing time so the content wasn’t getting the focus it needed.

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I am certainly not proud of this, and I’ve spoken already with the mother and am going to do better moving forward. This is all still trial-and-error, live-and-learn stuff for me right now, and I am comforted by the thought that I didn’t do this intentionally and that my heart is and has always been in the right place. But I definitely need to do better. We have a meeting set up with her teacher right now, because I want to see what observations the girl’s teacher has and if they match up with mine.

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As I said, there are other reasons the girl failed that are not on my shoulders, but at least in part I need to learn from this and do better moving forward. It’s amazing to me how many unspoken assumptions I have made about this whole tutoring thing without questioning whether or not they are accurate at all; I want to go easy on myself because I am new at this and still learning, but the idea that I didn’t do more to help this girl pass her state exam is an awful feeling nonetheless (again, it isn’t all my fault and there are a lot of other circumstances in play, but I don’t want to come off like I’m making a bunch of excuses so I’m not mentioning them).

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And in general, I need to watch my obsession with time and check to make sure I am not making decisions from that perspective – in all aspects of my life and career, and not just the ways I’ve mentioned here, because there are a lot of other ways in which this obsession sets me back. It’s something I do in other areas, also, and those other areas also need work, but that’s probably a post for another time. Especially since I’m finally out of photos to share.

12 thoughts on “Tutoring My Own Horn

    • Whoops, AND: the insights on the tutoring process (and its challenges) are deeply appreciated. My sister is going to stop full-time teaching next year, and is thinking about keeping this option open. It’s unfamiliar ground, and one size doesn’t fit all. I appreciate what you share.

      • It is very different in ways, then in some ways it’s much like teaching which is also what is freaking me out. I realize I had this idea that tutoring would be NOTHING like teaching, and so every time I feel I need to do something teacher-y, like plan or really spend time worrying about how to solve a problem, I panic and think oh no! It’s going to be just like teaching and I’m going to end up hating it! Then I calm down and realize the things I hated about teaching were the big class sizes, classroom management issues, and the ridiculous administrative requirements. So none of those things are coming back for sure, and it’s probably gonna be fine. LOL 🙂

    • Thanks! It’s coming together, but it’s starting to feel like a real job after almost a year of feeling like I didn’t have one…which has it’s up and down sides. 😉

  1. Can you get her mother to get her State exam paper back? There may be a small cost. Then you can see exactly where she went astray. Perhaps it’s exam stress and she didn’t answer the questions even though she can outside of exams, dyslexia structural problems, or not reading the questions properly.

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