Subjects I Teach
– Algebra, Algebra II, Trigonometry, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, AP Calculus AB and BC, AP Statistics, AP Macroeconomics.
– Math sections of SAT, SAT Subject, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, HSPT, GRE, GMAT, GCSE, CAHSEE/CASHPE.
– Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Statistics, Valuation and Corporate Finance for College.
Not As it Seems
Contrary to my students’ assumptions, I haven’t always been good at math and it certainly didn’t come naturally to me. I struggled through my math classes in middle school and early high school. What I was being taught seemed like a horde of unrelated formulas and arbitrary rules. I got decent grades by brute force, but without ever thoroughly understanding the subject and – most importantly – without being able to trace the relationships between all the mathematical formulae and concepts I was learning.
All that changed during my senior year when I began studying for my National College Admissions Exam and met my first math tutor. He had a capacity that very few teachers have to present the most complex concepts by breaking them down to their most fundamental components and feeding them to me – and exactly in the order in which I could be ready to absorb them. Additionally, he modeled how to transfer theoretical knowledge into real-world problem solving, with an accuracy and quickness I both admired and strove to imitate. This tutor had high expectations, and demanded nothing less than a real care and attention to the subject; but those demands were invigorating and encouraging. The confidence instilled in me that year, and in those encounters, helped me to become my own best tutor. He not only inspired many of my early “Aha!” moments, but he also allowed me to prove to myself that I possessed the ability to make those moments for myself. Later, he served as a role model as I began to grow my own tutoring business.
Needless to say, the math section of the exam went very smoothly for me. I felt calm and confident; and my clarity strengthened my performance in the other sections of the exam as well. But my math score was the reason I was accepted into the Mechanical Engineering department of one of the best technical universities in Turkey.
The Start of an Era
My own tutoring career began during my sophomore year in college, in 1992, when a family friend asked if I would tutor her son who was preparing for the same exam. I was initially anxious about this request and the amount of faith that was being placed in me. The National College Admissions Exam, in that era, was the only factor taken into account in college admissions: there were no essays and no interviews; colleges looked only at the raw data of students’ exam scores. This 4-hour exam was only offered once a year, so if you weren’t suitably prepared, or were confounded by your own anxiety on exam day, you would have to wait a year to try again.
I did a great deal of preparatory work before each of our meetings and strove to model my own experiences with my first tutor; and I quickly started seeing improvements, not only in my student’s capacity to think on his feet, but also in his clarity and in the amount of pleasure he began to take in the subject. It was in these meetings that I realized that the work of instilling patience and composure in one’s students is as important as growing their actual knowledge base. I worked with this student for about a year, and was there to celebrate his acceptance into the same prestigious university I attended. His mother would later confess to me that she had hired me less for my math skills (although she knew math was a subject I knew well), and more for the role she knew I would play as her son’s mentor and “big brother.” I am a big brother in my own family, and this role comes naturally to me. But it wasn’t until this later conversation with my first student’s mother that I realized one cannot truly be a teacher unless he or she is first a real role model.
Cannot Not Teach
By the time I graduated from college, word-of-mouth had spread, and I was tutoring five to six students per week. I was meeting these students in the evenings and on the weekends while working full time at my first engineering job. This was a time when it was still unheard of to give up a “real job” to become a tutor; and the thought of choosing that profession when I had a perfectly useful degree in Mechanical Engineering seemed, at first, absurd. So I worked a few more years as an engineer, too afraid to sacrifice my profession and virtually invent a new one in an old country. Then – feeling something was missing, and so deciding to pursue my own education further – I enrolled in an internationally acclaimed program at the University of Rochester and graduated in 2000 with an MBA in Finance. Shortly after graduating, I accepted my first finance job in San Francisco as a Business Valuation Consultant. I was delighted by this new opportunity, which I believed was going to fill the void I had felt up until then in my career choices.
But it took only a couple of years to feel the itch. I soon found myself creating training programs for the new hires and spending more time coaching them than on anything else the job required of me; and it was then that I realized I was ready to get back to one-on-one tutoring. Around this time, I randomly attended a book signing one evening, at which I heard precisely the advice I needed to hear. During the Q&A, an audience member asked, “How does one know one is a writer?” The author’s simple – but profound – response was: “If you cannot not write, then you are a writer.” My own experience had already begun to prove this to me in another profession. Shortly thereafter, I began tutoring for a Bay Area SAT company: a gig that lasted about 2 years. Finally, in 2005, I established SFTutors and started my one-on-one math tutoring adventure with a single student.
In the Right Place at Last
Today, tutoring is my full-time job – as well as a full-time source of real pleasure. I tutor students from a variety of middle and high schools in San Francisco, and I also help adult students get back in the “math game” as they prepare for standardized tests such as the GRE and GMAT. But while I am finally happily making my living as a math tutor, the biggest reward is the feedback I receive from my students and their parents. Many students have confessed to me that they even ask their parents to go to math tutoring; and I consider this no small accomplishment. Math has become the “favorite subject” of many of my students; and many of them have begun, in turn, to tutor their own friends. Thus I have had the privilege of seeing the care, the attention, and the high expectations that my first tutor modeled being modeled by my own students; and there is nothing more satisfying than watching my students gain the confidence not only to teach themselves, but also to teach their peers.
I have never forgotten that early period of real struggle with math. I remember having what I thought were ‘stupid’ questions, and I remember the fear of asking them. I recall trying to get answers from elsewhere, or only learning the answers much later – and often by coincidence – rather than simply asking my teachers for further explanation. But these very struggles made me a better coach later on. It is said that the best coaches are not necessarily the superstar players, nor are they the ones with inherent ability; they are instead the ones who have had to work hard for what they know, and what they can do. Remembering those early battles allows me to empathize with my students, and to speak to even their unasked questions.
Don’t get me wrong, I still make a lot of mistakes and my students never fail to surprise me with challenging problems. I think witnessing me make those mistakes, and then watching how I correct them, is an invaluable experience for my students. I encourage them not to fear mistakes, because mistakes are the best lessons. I require them to give every problem a try before asking me for clues. More often than not, they know how to take the next step; they just need to know that the person sitting beside them has confidence in their ability to take it.
I used to wish that I had been brave enough to see that teaching was what I was meant to do from the beginning, and that I had started tutoring exclusively right after college. But my first-hand experience of other career paths is the very “mistake” that taught me the important lesson that my current path is the right one. I now recognize that my diverse experiences enrich my teaching – not to mention the fact that they have brought me just a bit closer to answering the question each one of my students eventually asks: “when will I ever use this stuff in real life?”