After graduating from Carleton College with a degree in chemistry, I wasn’t sure what professional path to take. At first, I followed a lot of my peers, working in a corporate lab setting. Soon, I realized that the environment and priorities of corporate research left me isolated, uninspired and unfulfilled.
I decided this path wasn’t for me, but I didn’t see other alternatives until a friend recommended joining Minnesota’s Reading Corps and Math Corps, two programs that place tutors in local schools.
While tutoring, I felt a spark of joy and purpose I hadn’t felt before. That was nearly ten years ago, and that spark ignited my career as a science teacher. Tutoring turned me toward a professional path I wouldn’t have explored otherwise.
While I’ve always enjoyed helping others learn informally, I’d never given a serious thought to a career in education before tutoring. Full- or part-time tutoring experiences could have a similar impact on others.
In fact, tutoring might be one solution to help address the teacher shortage following the pandemic, while providing meaningful work for new college graduates looking to make a positive difference in the world — and helping students learn.
What exactly does that meaningful work look like? Reading Corps and Math Corps AmeriCorps members are full- and part-time tutors trained to help students build literacy and math skills. These programs target “borderline proficient” students and use research-proven interventions to help them cross into the “proficient” range academically. After tutors’ initial training, they are routinely observed, receiving coaching support throughout their service term.
Tutors work one-on-one or in small groups with students in either pre-K-3 for reading or 4-8 for math to help identify their needs and get them on track.
I grew up and served in Saint Paul, but there are tutoring opportunities and programs all across the country. ProvenTutoring is a new coalition of effective tutoring programs seeking to work with districts to train college graduates as tutors to address unfinished learning resulting from the pandemic.
These programs help young college graduates give back to the communities where they were raised. The grads can also seek out new communities, learning about cultures they might not be familiar with. No matter where they serve, the benefit is the same: making a difference for students who need some extra support to succeed.
In my own experience, I found it incredibly rewarding to watch my students’ grades improve and skills and confidence grow. There’s nothing better than seeing children get that burst of excitement and energy when they master a new concept or skill.
The inequities in our education system have only grown more apparent during the pandemic. With researchers reporting increased academic disparities between Black, Hispanic and Indigenous students and their white peers, well-trained tutors can help undo the year of inconsistent learning experienced during the pandemic. With long-term investments in proven tutoring programs, schools can also begin to close the achievement gap.
And after this difficult pandemic year of remote learning, loss and uncertainty, students need a confidence boost. They need caring adults in their lives who can encourage and support them as they readjust to in-person learning and work extra hard to catch up to grade level.
Schools also need teachers. While not everyone who tutors will want to become a teacher, tutoring is a low-stakes way to get meaningful and extensive experience and participate in a school community without making a long-term commitment.
Through my tutoring experience, I discovered a talent for working with middle school students, the age where they begin to explore and develop worldviews. Additionally, I uncovered a sense of purpose and found joy in a rewarding career.
Tutoring provided a solid foundation when I decided to become a teacher. Going into student-teaching, I already had a lot of ideas, not only from my own tutoring experiences but from observations and conversations with many teachers during my two years of service.
I knew the age group I wanted to work with. I had lesson-planning experience. And I knew how the approaches to teaching had evolved since I was a student. All of that gave me a leg-up as a student teacher and eventually in my first year as a teacher, helping me gradually build up to leading a classroom on my own.
I don’t want to oversell tutoring; it has its challenges. In AmeriCorps and other programs, you receive a modest living stipend that can make life financially challenging for people with children or other obligations.
Many tutoring programs require a set number of service hours to be completed by the end of the term, which can include times outside of official school hours. To compensate, programs like AmeriCorps provide an education award at the end of service, which can be used for further education or to repay student loans. I was able to use this award to fund my accelerated licensure program, allowing me to begin my career after one year.
I likely wouldn’t have found my professional calling if it wasn’t for my friend’s introduction to Reading Corps and Math Corps.
That’s why I’m asking recent college graduates to think of me as a friend who suggests tutoring as a next career move. If you’re thinking about teaching, looking for a way to make a difference or just seeking fulfilling work, check out the programs in ProvenTutoring and look for opportunities in your district.
It worked out pretty well for me. Even through the challenges of the last year, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Keven Tell is a graduate of Carleton College working toward his Master of Arts in teaching at Hamline University. He has taught secondary science in Minneapolis Public Schools since 2014.