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Tutor Spotlight: Stephanie Lemons

June 26, 2020

Stephanie Lemons has tutored at Hidden Valley Elementary for the past two years. She took some time to talk with us and share her experience as a Heart tutor!

Q: How did you get involved with Heart Math Tutoring?

Stephanie: I’m getting my Master’s in accounting and had an internship with one of the big accounting firms in Charlotte, and one of my work “buddies” and another team member always had “Heart Math Tutoring” on their calendar. I asked what this was, and when I learned about it, I asked my supervisor if I could be involved. I was super excited that I was allowed to volunteer, especially since I was just an intern. I went to a tutoring session and observed my buddy, then went onto the website to find a school that was right for me. I was driving past Hidden Valley on my way to work anyway, so it was a perfect fit. I got to meet Erin and my first two students, and I was so excited! My 5th grade student didn’t have a second tutor, so I came in twice a week so she could have tutoring two times each week.

Q: Have you had the same students or different students each year?

S: This was my 2nd year working with one of my students. I really enjoyed getting to further my relationship with her; I think that was really cool.

Q: What are the benefits of having a partner tutor and how do you utilize that relationship?

S: It’s nice knowing that your student is able to make some progress before you get to see them again. They definitely need to practice more than once a week to make good progress, so it’s really great that they are seen twice each week. Filling out the progress log is also a good communication practice, saying a lot to your partner tutor in a little bit of space. It’s good when you can see the same patterns or your tutor might recognize something you don’t and you’ll say, “Yeah that’s right, that is the piece that they are struggling with!”

One nice thing is that math has always been one dimensional for me and Heart is having students think about math in a way that I never learned. Just having another brain in the room to help figure out why they aren’t getting something you can do is really helpful.

Q: Outside of math, what do you talk about with your students?

S: One of my students is super introspective and asks a lot of questions about me. My husband tutors as well, and my student noticed that I was always smiling at the guy next to us. She realized who he was one day and said, “Is he your husband?! You’ve got a wedding ring on!” We’ve talked about college and finding funding for that. We talk about music, cooking, learning a new language. She is cool. She always wants to push herself to try all the different methods to solve a problem and be competent in the skills we’re working on.

Q: Outside of math, how have you seen your students grow/change/learn/develop?

S: I think one student has gotten more confident, especially when she got to Strategies to 20, she figured out all the questions, how to break down the process of solving them, and would spout all the answers.

With my other student, one thing we worked on a lot was division story problems. I love that in Heart we have students create the story problems because instead of focusing on finding the answer, they have to fully understand the concept. She was struggling with division story problems and said, “Haven’t we been working on this for, like, forever?” I said, “You’re not wrong; I just want to make sure you can do it really, really, well!”

I asked the reflection questions after one of our sessions and she admitted that division story problems were the hardest thing for her. I think as tutors we recognize if a student is struggling but they might not realize it and it’s more fun and less insulting when they admit themselves that they need more practice instead of us telling them.

Q: What is your favorite or the most rewarding part of being a tutor?

S: It’s definitely when the students feel really proud of the work they’re doing, and when they recognize this is something they want to do. One of my students just walks into tutoring on her own, I don’t even have to pick her up. They walk past the tutoring room on the way to Specials, and she would really rather have that extra 3 minutes working instead of waiting for me to come get her.

One time I went to pick her up and they had these string musicians visiting and playing songs for the class. I asked if she wanted to go listen to them instead of coming to tutoring, and she said, “Oh no, I want to stay in tutoring today!” Just seeing how committed the students are is really rewarding.

Q: Is there anything that you didn’t expect or surprised you about being a tutor?

S: I have two nieces in the Heart age range who were behind in math, and the summer before I did Heart (2018), I found a bunch of math worksheets and told my nieces we were going to work on them. It would sometimes take them 2-3 hours to finish one worksheet with 15 problems, and it wasn’t fun for them at all. Then I became a Heart tutor and realized that when I tried to help my nieces the previous summer, I did it completely wrong! The way I did it just makes students resentful toward math, only focusing on whether they get the right or wrong answer, and it’s cutting into play time which is not fun.

After working with Heart I found large beads to use for the hiding game, and I purchased some materials like ten frames and dot arrangement cards and some Easter baskets that were on sale to make my nieces their own “Heart Tutoring” kits. I sat them down and said, “I’m really sorry about last summer. I thought I was doing something good for you, I was trying to teach you math the way I learned math, and obviously that’s not working.” I told them a little about Heart and that I know a new way to learn math, and asked if they would let me show them. They said yes! I set a timer and said “we’ll only work on it for 30 minutes, if you don’t want to do it just tell me. If you aren’t having fun, we aren’t doing it right.” Then they were playing the hiding game, using connecting cubes, almost fighting over having a “tutoring session” with Aunt Stephanie! I knew people learn differently but that doesn’t mean I knew how to teach differently, so being a Heart tutor was an eye-opening experience for me.

It is so sad to me that there are people who sit there and talk themselves out of pursuing really good careers because of their perception of the career and their own skills. You’re just shutting yourself out of a lot of really good careers by thinking that way, and I want to make sure my students don’t miss out on good opportunities because they think they aren’t good at math.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had known when you first started tutoring?

S: I am constantly learning and I’m really glad Heart has been able to teach me different ways to think. It’s really great to find an organization like Heart Tutoring that is focused on what I think is important.

Q: How does your tutor experience impact other parts of your life?

S: My whole life has kind of been fueled with volunteerism, and I’m really busy so it’s great to feel like I’m doing what I can to give back without it being a burden on my life.

Q: How has the support from Heart and the Program Coordinators impacted your experience?

S: My Program Coordinator, Erin, has been such a great person to work with and we’ve had such great conversations about our students. Some of the lessons we were going through didn’t seem to keep my student super interested, so we would discuss why she wasn’t excited and ways to make it more exciting for her. She has also suggested doing a “question of the week” to encourage students to reflect on their work and progress. There is often time to reflect but we don’t think to do it, so finding ways to bring that back in is a great idea.

Q: What would you say to someone who says…

I am no good at math…

I tell everyone you definitely don’t need to be good at math. Most of us are competent with adding, and that’s where most kids are stuck. You aren’t teaching calculus; you’re teaching 3rd graders. I know you can add and to be perfectly honest, if you struggle with it, these methods are so good and will help you feel more confident yourself!

I am no good with kids…

If someone is worried about their interactions with kids, I say it’s a really good environment to get started working with kids. If you don’t know what to talk about, just talk about the math and the rest will come up on its own!

I don’t have a partner tutor to sign up with…

I didn’t even know I was going to get a partner tutor! It doesn’t need to be someone you know, and you definitely don’t need to bring someone along with you in order to start.

I don’t have time in my schedule…

I would stress how an hour a week really isn’t a lot of time. I’ve told people in similar fields to me that my employer has been accommodating. One day each week I was getting in at 9:30 instead of 8:00, and everyone was totally fine with it because I was tutoring children. I tell people to really take a look at your schedule – there’s time in it if you just make time. An hour a week really isn’t a big time commitment; you can easily spend that much time watching a TV show or scrolling on social media.

Q: Anything else you want the world to know about Heart?

S: I miss my students a lot! You get really excited for their growth, and when schools closed due to COVID-19 it was hard not seeing them. Heart is a really, really, incredible program. It’s filling a need in the Charlotte community and doing it really well.

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