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!
Karen loves singing and playing the guitar and spent 20 years performing all across the United States. She brings her love for music into her lessons and encourages her students with compassion and patience.
Share a little bit about yourself, and describe what motivates you to tutor/mentor children in your community.
My degree background is a bachelor’s in Social Work. My true loves are two things: children and music. My motivation for tutoring comes from my own childhood. I saw that the education system could be better and what really saved me was a mentor. I got into a group that was really encouraging to me and the need for this type of support system today is so strong. I just love kids and I've never had any kids of my own. I have always loved my experiences in the schools as a substitute teacher because I just love the environment and the joy of kids.
What is your favorite thing about the Sunshine Method?
They are the most understanding people I've ever met and that I've ever worked for. They are just above the bar and go the extra mile for us, for the kids, and the parents which is wonderful.
How does the work you do with the Sunshine Method connect to your own personal values?
I'm a spiritual person and I think what kids need today is patience, empathy, and positive reinforcement -and parents too, especially during this time we're going through.
Describe the best session you have had with a child—your ‘Golden Teaching’ moment, if you will. What do you believe made it so successful?
There was a child that I tutored last year, and her mother and I had a great connection. At first, [the child] was standoffish but after I honed into what she loved and what motivated her, she improved so much. Just the joy of that really inspired and reinforced the notion that, in my small way, I am making a difference. I usually have really good relationships with parents. I try very hard because they're part of the team.
What kind of long term progress have you seen your children make?
I have seen an increase in confidence in themselves and their abilities and that is so important to me. Encouragement and praise is so important and I follow this model I learned at a prep school here in Orlando that was so amazing to work for as a substitute. It's the responsive classroom technique (this centers around redirection when a child is doing something that they're not supposed to do as well as praise for every small success that child makes). Even in one-on-one lessons and from the first lesson it's important to let the child and the parent know you're on their side and ask what you can do for them.
What role do you believe education plays in a child’s life?
For children that are struggling, it can change their entire destiny to give them confidence to move forward through their struggles. I openly share the struggles I had as a kid and I never thought I could overcome it but I tell them my story and they are inspired by that. Education gives so many opportunities. It opens the door to do what you love. Pick something you love and work on that so that you can follow your dreams. I know that's cliché but it's true.
How has education changed your life?
I had a double major in social work and guitar and voice so I got two very different challenges. It's tricky but social work really helped me to understand myself, my family, my friends, and just behavior in general. I worked in that field about 15 years with all populations including kids and just the ability to go out and get a degree and to continue to learn. I have this insatiable desire to keep learning. I'm a senior citizen but I don't care. My mind is active so it's my passion. Learning is my passion and helping people is my passion.
What is something that you’ve had to overcome?
I have a disability. I was hit by a drunk driver when I was younger. I was sitting still, and I was hit at 65 miles an hour. Also, when I was younger, my family was not always supportive of me, so I had to find ways to better myself. I was lucky to grow up with the greatest grandma in the whole world. She gave me a lot of spiritual encouragement, emotional encouragement, and it just carried over. My faith helps me so much and there's somebody else down here on the floor that really helps me because I'm a huge dog lover. I used to train dogs and I do use her in my lessons as a part of the reward if [the child] like animals. I also leave my guitar sitting here so the kids can see it, and a lot of kids like music!
What advice would you give a child that is struggling or having difficulty with a subject?
I would suggest that we break it down into small parts and just talk frankly. I ask what the hardest part for them is and then they usually tell me. They feel comfortable with me and then we start with a small part. I use the whiteboard and I go through that step by step and we reinforce that part. My advice would be ‘you can do it, let's work together, and let's set some goals’. If they can do it then I would offer a positive reward like maybe they can see my dog, Penny, or listen to some music.
What advice would you give a person that is interested in tutoring/mentoring with the Sunshine Method?
Have compassion, empathy, and know that you're working with the parent and the child both. Always keep open communication between the parents and yourself. Look inward and take self-inventory to see what it is that you possess that you can give to a child. Look within and uncover your own unique abilities because we're all gifted in different ways.
What are your hopes for your students in the future?
I hope that they make wonderful progress toward their goals that they dream of. Also, that they know that they are very special and can do this.
Thank you for reading, and thank you Karen, for your contributions and impact on the next generation!