My favorite teacher once taught an entire class standing on tables and running around the classroom speaking in Shakespearean English, in honor of Shakespeare Day. He was this 4’10" Chemistry professor teaching the hardest introductory class for Science majors and Pre-Meds – General Chemistry. I would coin him a genius, who was short, awkward, and at times uncomfortably passionate for a topic many people would find mildly intriguing at best.
Despite that, you would find students who were unlucky enough to have another teacher for that class standing in the back of the classroom and even spilling out into the hallway just to see him teach. You had to show up 30 minutes early just to get a seat in the 200 person auditorium. He was an electrifying teacher, who I strongly believe could teach about anything and make it interesting. He despised PowerPoint presentations and videos, and instead taught all of his classes on a chalkboard, walking through each concept and example problem as if he was doing it with us. To me, he was a phenomenal teacher.
However, a couple years later, over coffee, he told me that if you were to compare his students with the students of other professors of the same class, there was no significant difference between grades.
“Well, the reason is obvious. Everyone ended up attending your class,” I said.
While a good point, there were still a significant number of students who did not attend his class. The real reason why students performed about the same across classes is because of the number of office hours the Chemistry department provided. The students who did especially well were not the ones who attended his class, but the ones who diligently attended these hours. During this time, each student had the opportunity to have their questions answered in a way that made sense to them.
My professor conceded that he could not do this in a classroom setting of 200. When he presented a problem on the board, there was no way he could do it in a way that made sense for each individual. There were people who were behind and didn’t have the base knowledge to understand the problem at hand. There were people who struggled to focus in a classroom setting. Each step of the problem revealed a different set of students who were confused. During class, it was impossible to tailor to each persons’ needs. His goal, actually, during class, was to inspire people to attend these office hours. Because if they don’t, it is next to impossible for him to help.
What truly set him apart was not his ability to command a 200 person room, but rather his desire to meet every one of the 200 where they were.
This is why we believe tutoring starts with you. If you don’t go to office hours, if you don’t reach out for tutoring, or seek out someone who can teach you the way you learn, you might always be stuck learning in a way that just doesn’t work for you. This could lead to cramming, stress and anxiety, and, in the worst-case scenario, a complete hatred for learning as a whole.
It is during personalized teaching, where the value of teaching truly comes into play. It’s where the magic happens. You get clarity on what confuses YOU. You’re able to go straight to the source of YOUR frustration and get answers to YOUR questions, saving you time and headache. And, if you want it to, it can go much deeper than doing well in just that specific class. You start to learn in a way that makes sense to you, developing study habits which you can apply to other classes. You can start to balance life better, spend more time with friends or in clubs or sleeping. More ambitiously, perhaps it helps you realize what you like learning about the most and what life is calling you to do. Maybe, just maybe, you start to love learning and leaning into your curiosities just as much as we do. We get it. The education system doesn’t work for all of us. It’s unfair and at times downright cruel. Here’s a reminder, though. Just because you don’t learn the way the world expects you to doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or that you’re not good enough. It just means the world favors a particular set of people. We think that’s stupid. No one is better than another. We are all diverse individuals, with unique needs and skills. We deserve to be treated as such. We deserve to know what we love and love what we do.
But I’ll say it one more time: it starts with you.