How to be a Great Tutor

This series on how to tutor is written for people involved in City Gospel Mission’s Whiz Kids program in Cincinnati, but the principles apply in many different situations, especially where people are being taught to read. In this first post, we’ll look at the importance of establishing a relationship before diving into teaching:

Most people need to be listened to, especially children and youth. They may not want to read, or to learn at all, but if we listen to them well, and are prepared to tell them about ourselves too, that begins a relationship. And once we’re in a relationship with a child, they will often work with us even if they’re not all that motivated, simply because they trust us and know we care about them.

So relationship is always the place to start. When our tutoring site begins a new school year, we start with a handout full of non-threatening questions, such as:

What do you like to do when you get home from school?

What are your favorite games?

What are your favorite TV shows?

Where would you like to travel?

What reward do you like best for good work?

If you had $50 what would you buy?

irst, the tutor interviews the student, and writes down their answers in spaces after the questions. Then students are guided to ask tutors the questions and write their answers. This gives you an idea of the new student’s reading and writing level, as well as helping you get to know them. With kids under third grade, and even with some older kids, you’ll have to help them a lot when it’s their turn for reading the questions and writing the answers.

If your child comes from a tough or complicated family background or has experienced a recent trauma, they may not want to answer questions about family. Be sensitive about that and don’t push. Also avoid questions that assume a nuclear family, like, “Do you live with your mom and dad?” or “Do you have contact with your dad?” or “Why do you live with your grandma?” Keep questions open ended, like “Who do you live with?” As you get to know children better, they may want to disclose more about their families, but often they need time to build trust first.

It’s also important to do fun things with kids. Some kids would rather do stuff than talk at all, in which case you don’t try for too much discussion, you find things to do. After we have the question time in our first session, we give the children bags to hold their tutoring supplies, and let them decorate them with permanent markers and stick-on decorations.

Only after connecting in these two different ways do tutors begin to talk about what sessions will be like, and what the rules and expectations are for the time.

Sessions after that are focused on reading, but tutors always begin by asking kids how their weeks have been and how they are doing in school. A quick fun game precedes the tutoring session, and tutors finish by praying with kids about their needs and concerns.

Sandwiching tutoring with a focus on relationships makes the whole experience better for everyone and improves outcomes. Tutors and kids look forward to seeing each other and there’s great potential for tutors to become role models and mentors as well as reading coaches.

Why Sit When You Can Stand?

(Sixth in a series on working from home.)

I love working from home. Years ago, when I had to work in an office, I would get up early enough for the commute, put on my binding clothes and walk out the door feeling a pang at leaving the place where I felt most comfortable and free.IMG_20170607_171452142

For many of us, it isn’t the work that we don’t want to go to; it’s the confining space where the work gets done.

No wonder. Human beings were made to move around.

Dr. James Levine, in his 2015 book, “Get Up! Why your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It,” reports on research that proves our norms of 12-15 hours of sitting per day are causing a litany of health problems. Our risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity is higher than for less sedentary people. We gain weight, we can’t think as clearly or stay as alert.

A 2014 Canadian study, found that the more time people spent up on their feet, the longer they lived.

Our culture is way overdue for major lifestyle changes.

Image result for sleeping at a deskWorking at home gives us unique opportunities to either sit ourselves to death, or keep moving all day long.

On one hand, some people report that working at home leads to less movement, since they don’t need to go anywhere.

On the other hand, we’re free from the office norms that keep so many people sitting. We can stand up for phone calls, to work on computers, to read and write. We can pace around our whole place while we’re thinking through a problem. We can do huge, office-inappropriate stretches while someone’s monologing on a conference call.

We can work in our sweats till we’ve exercised and showered. We can jump up and down 100 times when we get dopey. We can walk around the block to calm down when someone has made us mad.

Our family invested in a standing desk this year, and I’ve been delighted with how much more alert I feel, and how tasks even seem a little bit easier. My sons have used a fold up desk extension – it looks like a tray on long legs mounted on a desk. That worked well too, and was a whole lot cheaper. Working at a kitchen counter or even sticking your laptop on a stack of big books is better than sitting all day. A good starting place for shopping is this review: http://www.reviews.com/standing-desk/

So far in this series on working from home we’ve covered the need to eat well, take regular time off,  set boundaries for how available we are, build good work habits and reward ourselves for the work we do. I think that taking advantage of our freedom to move is another key way to increase our health and productivity at the same time.`

Exercise, Eat Your Veggies and Go to Church (Why Even Go to Church Part V)

Think of it as free health care. Who would guess that church attendance is good for both mental and physical health? Not running around the perimeter of a church, not climbing its tower – just regularly going to worship services, has shown itself in a whole body of research, to be really good for us.

New York Times writImage result for running to churcher T. H. Luhrmann, an anthropologist, describes studies connecting church attendance with increased immune response and decreased blood pressure. Peter Haas, author of Pharisectomy, cites studies tying church attendance to lowered risk of depression, higher goal achievement, higher grades and completion of degrees, and longer life expectancy.

In one depression study, psychologists Rita Law and David Sbarra, studied the relationship between church attendance and mood disorders in older people, and found that church attendance protected this population from the development of depression. The study even corrected statistically for physical health and social support, since these are known to impact depression, and they still found significantly lower rates among the church attenders.

Going to church also correlated to lowered smoking and drinking rates, more physical exercise and more stable marriages, in a 30year study of 2,600 people. The study also demonstrated that religious groups did not just attract people who already behaved in healthy ways; they helped create these behaviors.

I didn’t need to know about any of these studies to know that attending my church, has been good for my own health and that of others. College Hill Presbyterian in Cincinnati has had a powerful healing ministry for decades, and prayer is offered both during and after services. We have seen partial blindness disappear (the lady could read again), cancer tumors disappear, and an eating disorder loosen its grip, just to name a few.

In longer sessions with volunteer counselors, I have been substantially (not completely, alas) healed of depression. Less dramatic but just as important, I have observed that spending year after year in a community where people love and respect me has empowered me to make steady improvements in everything from diet and exercise to the capacity to forgive.  (I guess you could argue that I’d figure stuff out as I got older anyway, but you would be underestimating my former enslavement to self-destructive people, negative thinking, and chocolate.)

Many behavior studies are correlative; we observe that church attendance leads to better health but we don’t necessarily find out why. Social scientists theorize that it is the social support in churches that improves health, or the peer encouragement away from addictive behaviors and towards responsible, faithful action that does the trick. That only makes sense, but I would also point to the promise in James 5:16  that if we pray for each other we will be healed, and in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, we will be forgiven, and in Isaiah 40:31 that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.

Good church services give us the space and help we need to pray for one another’s healing, to confess our sins, to wait on God. I have observed over and over that during the week after I have had to skip church, I am more tired and emotionally discouraged by Thursday night than during weeks when I go. It’s not that God abandons me if I bag church, but I have missed out on the joy and centering and renewal that come from gathering with people who are seeking God. Going to church literally gives me strength for the week ahead. Apparently, it’s good for my health in many other ways too.