Traditional K-12 classrooms provide valuable instruction. However, catering to the needs and unique learning styles of every student is challenging for most educators. They lack the time and resources necessary to provide true differentiation in the group learning environment.
Hiring a local tutor to fill the gaps is a game-changer for struggling students. These dedicated professionals provide individualized education and a wealth of benefits that extend beyond the academic setting. They offer the kind of transformative educational enrichment that empowers students to unlock their full potential.
Local tutor Amber Griffith taught in a public classroom setting for 19 years before becoming a full-time tutor. She spent a year in the Seneca Valley School District teaching first graders at Evans City Elementary School. Later, she worked in the Hampton Township School District, first as a K-5 math coach, then later as a classroom teacher for kindergarten, first, and second grades. She also taught an advanced-level math course for fifth graders taking sixth-grade-level math.
“I loved teaching in the classroom,” said Griffith.
During the pandemic, Griffith was on maternity leave. When she returned to her classroom, she found some instructional videos the long-term substitute teacher had left on her classroom computer. “I was completely fascinated with her approach,” she said. “So, I reached out to the substitute, and she told me where to find additional resources.”
Griffith followed up by getting trained in a teaching method called Structured Literacy. The approach has decades of research, called The Science of Reading, supporting the practice. It is typically used for students with Dyslexia, but it is indeed beneficial for all students. The methodology focuses on direct and systematic instruction. There is a heavy emphasis on developing the ability to hear sounds in the spoken language (phonology and phonemic awareness) and a very structured approach to the teaching of phonics.
“Most schools teach using a Balanced Literacy approach, which doesn’t give a child enough support or time to learn the basic yet essential components of reading written language. There’s a hurried and heavier emphasis on comprehension, which doesn’t make sense if you can’t read the words on the page,” said Griffith. “The public school system hasn’t really caught up to using Structured Literacy as their primary method of teaching children how to read yet. I always knew these foundational building blocks were critical. Seeing how well it works for all children frustrated me that it wasn’t being adopted in public schools.”
Now, she uses it in her tutoring sessions with her preschool and elementary-aged students. It works especially well for those struggling with reading and readers with Dyslexia. Griffith said she saw immediate feedback and growth among her tutoring clients and loved the difference she was making.
She quit her full-time teaching job in June and has focused on tutoring.
“I’m so happy with my career choice,” Griffith said. “I will probably forever miss the classroom, but I get to create my own educational experiences for students, and that’s the best thing ever.”
Kathy Giegel is another local tutor working with students in grades K-5. Sometimes she gets requests from high school students preparing for an AP writing course or who need college essay assistance. Giegel retired from her full-time teaching job in the Pine-Richland School District, where she worked with second, third, and fourth graders for 17 years.
“When I retired three years ago, I couldn’t imagine leaving teaching altogether,” she said. “I told all my colleagues I would tutor if they had any students struggling or parents asking for additional help, to send them my way.”
Because of her connection to Pine-Richland, Giegel said most of her students come from referrals by the teachers in the district. However, she’s open to working with students outside the district.
Like Griffith, Giegel said she finds tutoring more rewarding than teaching in a classroom.
“It’s so much more immediately gratifying to tutor because you can meet that one child’s absolute needs,” she said. “In the regular classroom, I was always planning on three levels: enrichment, mediation, and the kids who fell somewhere in the middle. That takes a lot of planning and effort.”
Giegel said she feels like she can better meet her students’ needs in a one-on-one tutoring session than in a classroom filled with their peers.
Every student has individual needs, said Griffith and Giegel. Tutors also have their unique teaching styles. Finding a match between what your child needs and what a tutor offers is the key to a successful learning environment.
Griffith said she can tutor online when requested but prefers in-person sessions.
“I gamify my lessons with matching games and other challenges, which work best in person,” she said. “Sometimes I just make games up on the fly.”
One of the benefits of working with Griffith is she can build an individualized lesson plan after conducting an informal assessment. She holds a curriculum design certificate, which she uses to create the best learning experience for her students.
Giegel prefers tutoring on-site as well. She travels to her students’ homes to conduct her lessons and encourages a quiet environment for the session.
Both advised students and parents to be open and honest about their strengths and weaknesses to get the most out of their tutoring sessions.
Olivia Neel, a tutor working with nursing students at Butler County Community College (BC3), said flexibility and open-mindedness are what help her students succeed during tutoring sessions.
“I might say something different than your instructor,” she said. “Everybody’s brains work differently. Your tutor is here to help you in your career and schooling.”
Neel works full-time as a community health nurse for the state Department of Health in Butler County. She started tutoring at BC3 in 2020 while she was still a nursing student at the college. Neel continues to share her knowledge and expertise with nursing students part-time.
Her time is limited now because of her full-time nursing career, so she tutors five to six students per semester for about 10 hours each week. While most of her students prefer online sessions, some nursing skills can’t be taught well virtually.
“Lab portions and skills portions of nursing are best done in person,” Neel said. “If I can, I try to meet in-person for those. But nursing basics can be done online or through a hybrid version of online and in-person.”
Neel said tutors get just as much out of sessions as their students.
“Seeing the students’ reactions and faces when I explain something in a different way, and they finally understand it, makes me so happy,” she said. “Their reactions make everything worth it. I don’t think I could go a semester without seeing those reactions from students.”