After not finding a job in Austin for a few weeks, I got lucky and was recently hired by The Princeton Review to be a full-time math tutor at a middle school. When first interviewing for the job, I was under the impression that I’d be like the tutors I had run into during my life – I’d sit in some room and kids would come to me with math problems. Instead, I’m now in the middle of an ambitious educational experiment that very well could have national repercussions. A little bit about what is going on:

  • The middle school I am tutoring at was given a huge grant by the Texas government and the Federal government because it is “Unacceptably Achieving.”
  • This money is being used to hire 33 full-time math tutors for this middle school, purely in math classes and purely for the sixth grade level.
  • What this means is that there will be seven tutors in each 6th grade math class at all times. Essentially, one tutor for every four or five students, ensuring that no kid can be ignored if they aren’t fully understanding the material.
  • While I have zero previous teaching experience, many of my fellow tutors do, with some having taught for as many as 35 years.
  • The school has a student population of 55% falling under the category of “English Language Learners” – my Spanish knowledge from working at an ice cream shop with Mexicans will truly be put to the test.
  • The Texan government and Federal government are keeping a very close eye on this program. There have been press conferences and newspaper articles, many of them suggesting national replication of this program if it is deemed successful.
I hope that paints a picture of what I am getting into (first day is on Monday, training took all of the most recent week). Here are some thoughts I have as of right now:
  • This is my first experience teaching, really at all. Although I am interested in education policy a lot, this will be a valuable experience to actually see how schools work, with an adult perspective (I got it from a child’s perspective 10 or so years ago).
  • The school and The Princeton Review talk more about the standardized tests than I feel comfortable with. With every lesson, the instructors are actually supposed to state the STAAR or TEKS (Texan standardized tests) concepts that are bring taught.
  • Paying 33 tutors full-time at 10-15 dollars an hour is expensive. If this works, how financially feasible is it to replicate this at other troubled schools around the country?
  • The government and school are employing a private agency to tackle this problem. This last week alone has given me good insight on how effective the Princeton Review has been at helping students for things ranging from SAT scores to general writing skills.
  • One of the women running the program hesitantly told me she’d like to have a corporate takeover of our education system because the people in the education bureaucracy are such idiots. She was relieved to hear me say that I don’t think that’d be such a bad idea.
  • There are actually a lot of things that we can do as tutors in terms of instruction styles that the teachers can’t do because of rigid constraints imposed on them by administrations and school boards.
  • Texas is truly 10 years behind the rest of the country in education. Their K-12 system is really near the bottom.
  • As one fellow tutor put it, this program is analogous to “The Surge” in Afghanistan. We really are putting tons of resources and man power to make sure these kids’ math skills are fully up to snuff. As such, I think it will really demonstrate how much good can be done in education when funds are spent on instruction (believe it or not, the current system spends a ton of money on administration and union BS).
  • It will also show the limitations of what schools can do in terms of education. I know that might sound weird. But I wonder how much schools can do if kids come from broken families, immense poverty, etc. Can the welfare state, via the school system, really replace something like committed parents? Obviously not all these kids have negligent parents, but it is often something people like to argue about when it comes to rich kids getting a better education.
  • With all of the resources being spent towards kids who speak very poor English, I wonder whether I will leave this school year with a more hesitant view on immigration. After all, it is a huge pressure on school funding and time to teach these kids English. Will all of that make me less in favor of such open immigration? Who knows.
All I know is that it’ll be quite an adventurous and insightful year.
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