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Tutor Spotlight: Emanuel Rojas


Each month, the Tutor Spotlight will feature a Sunshine Method Tutor who has gone above and beyond to engage with and inspire students to reach their fullest potential. Read on to meet our change-makers!

Meet Emanuel!

Emanuel started tutoring at the Sunshine Method in August 2021. He is a recent graduate from Florida International University with a degree in Psychology and Mathematics. While he was in college, Emanuel tutored other students for three years. Emanuel believes that it is essential to be a role model for children and to build strong relationships with them. One fun fact about Emanuel is that he is ambidextrous-- he can use both hands to write!

We had the opportunity to chat with Emanuel about why education is so important in a child's life and his passion for tutoring. 

Join the conversation below:  

What role do you believe education plays in a child's life? 

A bit about my background is I'm currently applying to Ph.D. programs in engineering psychology and one of my interests is Educational Technology, where you implement multimedia interactions with students. Basically, utilizing technology to help them increase their acquisition of learning. I think education can really help you be a well-rounded person—not only in having this knowledge of math or reading, but I think it helps you with the standard of trusting information or your [own] observation skills, and being creative. 

In order for someone to be creative, you need to have some kind of mastery or some sort of knowledge to apply and be creative. Like what I said about my student earlier. He tried to find triangles in other shapes but he wouldn't have found these triangles if I hadn't told him that you can find triangles in other shapes. So, this type of knowledge is almost like a prerequisite for creativity or creative performance. Education is not just knowledge acquisition, it's also building up skillsets and building up discipline, and even building up a work ethic. 

Education is like a safeguard to tackle the world and try to analyze it through your own lens. It helps impact decisions. 

What motivates you to tutor children in your community? 

For me, tutoring is very important to help others who don't have enough resources. When it comes to students [in] high school or middle school, it's very difficult for tutors to reach out to them. Most institutions, from what I've seen, don't offer any tutoring programs, so it's almost like you just go to class and you learn. If you don't know the answer, then you either have to ask the teacher or ask your friend. 

Sometimes in class, the teacher will ask, ‘does anyone have any questions?’ and nobody will raise their hands - then the [teachers] will assume that everyone understands. But in reality, you don't want to raise your hand, because you would look like the [person] who doesn't know. We're conditioned to think that if we ask a lot of questions, we're just not paying attention. 

How does the work you do for the Sunshine Method connect to your own personal values? 

I'm Hispanic. I was born in Cuba, so a lot of times when you are an immigrant, it's very difficult to get accustomed to the American culture, especially if you don't know English. You pretty much get left behind. If you don't have external help, or if you are not continuously working to learn English, you're more inclined to fall behind just because of the language barrier. 

The values that match my values with the Sunshine Method is equity in education. I like being able to help immigrants go through this language barrier by teaching them English while helping them with subjects they are stuck on. I think it's very important for them in the long run because if they don't know English, despite them maybe knowing something like mathematics, it's going to be very difficult to proceed further. 

Can you describe the best experience you've had working with a child? What do you believe made it so successful? 

In particular, I have a student who is a bit behind in math. He's described as a person with ADHD. Since I studied psychology, I understand that ADHD can differ from person to person. You may not even know if a person has ADHD because they learn how to adapt. I think students or younger children struggle the most with ADHD because they don't know how to accommodate for this difference in processing.

My student for example, is a bit behind with math but he is very curious. Even though I'm helping him with multiplication and division, when it comes to ADHD, we do a lot of reinforcement. I may have to ask him what 5 times 5 is four or five times. Maybe in a row or maybe throughout the session, but I'm going to have to ask him or give constant reinforcement so he can remember it well. Most of the time, if I teach him something, he may process it in his working memory, but it may not even go to long-term memory because he may be distracted by something else that I may not even be aware of.  

One day, I was showing him how to find the area of shapes. I showed him that the area of a triangle is half of the area of a square. If you think about a square, it’s just two triangles or two right-angle triangles. He seemed to have his mind blown about this! He started to find right-angle triangles in other shapes like pentagons and hexagons and it really surprised me. I think he does have a good mathematical intuition. 

How has education changed your life and how has it changed the lives of the children that you work with? 

As a psychology major, I became more observant of people’s behaviors. Psychology is about defense mechanisms and how people cope when it comes to grief or other things. So, you can kind of pick up on these behaviors towards your friends and you can know what decisions to make to help your friends or understand what's going on with them. 

With my math background, it helped me become more skeptical. For me to believe something, I need hard evidence. When you're a math major, you must prove things and when it comes to proving, every step needs to be pretty strict. You can't assume something is unnecessary. You need to provide good evidence for it, and I think it helped me become more of a skeptic, not like thinking ‘Oh, this is fake, and this is true,’ but I think it just helped my standard for choosing information. 

When someone gives me information I don't know, I try to research it. I try to find out if it's true or false, because I think a lot of people have biases with information. Of course, like confirmation bias, they only search things that agree with their points. So I think overall it just helped me become more wary of information and helped me understand others better. 

For my students, [education] helps them become more disciplined. I think it helps you try to find your own basic interests. If you like reading, then maybe you want a career that's close to reading or something about reading comprehension. Or maybe you like math more, then you may want to go into a science field. 

What do you think it takes to be a Sunshine Method tutor? 

The Sunshine Method is very diverse, so I don't think there's a specific way. I think we just have to be very patient with students. I had some students where they’re not talkative and it's almost like you're just talking to a wall. So, you have to have some patience and let the student open up to you. It's not like the first session they are gonna start talking to you like you're their friend. Be willing to take time every day outside of tutoring sessions to make practical lesson plans for the student. Try to help them learn faster.

At the end of the day, having another person to help you helps the students because it doesn't make them feel like they're alone or that they are a failure. Trying to have a kind heart or trying to be emphatic with students is also another thing. Overall, I think Sunshine Method tutors should be patient and willing to help or willing to learn outside of their tutoring sessions to better accommodate students. 

What advice would you give to other tutors? 

You have to, more or less, be a model and understand that you're not going to impact every student because some students don't want to open up and are reserved. It may be difficult to help them in that regard, but I think constantly trying to be a role model and trying to extend an arm to help, even though they aren't receptive to it. They're just weary of learning, again, because they just got back from school. Trying to build up a relationship can go a long way in helping them. Not like being a second friend but trying to be someone there who cares for them. At the Sunshine Method, you're not just a tutor, you're also a person there to emotionally help and support them. 

Thank you for reading, and thank you, Emanuel, for your contributions and impact on the next generation!