Q&A: Tutoring Through The Pandemic

by Pratham Dalal

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered routines and quarantined millions of people at home. For kids and adolescents, this has disrupted their in-person education. According to a USA Today Poll, 73% of Americans claim they had a teacher positively impact them. Those teachers are now teaching remotely — and questioning their impact on students in a remote learning environment. Pratham Dalal recently spoke to Collen Schoenthal, a tutor at Dublin High School about how she has adjusted her tutoring style during this time.  

Pratham Dalal – Let’s go back to your academic career when you were a student. Did you have a teacher or tutor who you felt an impact from? 

Collen Schoenthal – Yes. Mr.  Westover and Mr. Culbertson were my two Math teachers. I didn’t even know about college. I don’t come from a family that went to college. I’m the only one of my generation who went to college and that was because of my high school counselor: Mr. Gomez. He arranged for me to apply to get into college. 

Pratham – How long have you worked at Dublin High School as a tutor? 

Collen – I was the first hire and only because I had been doing free tutoring at the high school after school since 2013. It was the time that any student could come on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we had volunteer tutors and a teacher there.

Pratham – What motivated you to become that free tutor?

Collen – My next-door neighbor’s kid was struggling with math, and so his mother sent him over to me and I started tutoring him. Then, he brought friends and word got out. So it started at my house about 20 years ago and then after about two years, it got too big for my house. I moved it to St. Philip Luther, which was my church at that time. We had a tutoring center there every Thursday and it got to be about 20 kids every Thursday.

Pratham – Covid-19 has created an unexpected learning environment due to school closures, distance learning, and distance tutoring. What do you miss most about the in-person classes and in-person tutoring? 

Collen – I can’t see the ‘aha’ moment in their eyes. It’s just killing me. I can tell when a kid has it. It’s just, like, a flash in their face and this kind of interface does not provide that kind of “oh I get it”. . I was helping a  kid the other day and he said it got. I’m like, “are you sure?” He didn’t have it. 

Pratham – How do you think the current COVID-19 crisis will impact teaching in the future? 

I think we’re not going to open in a normal way. I think we are going to be modified. Maybe the teachers are there every day, but maybe one-fifth of the class comes in.  However, it doesn’t build up camaraderie in class. I don’t think we are going to open in a normal setting. I don’t see it[pass or fail semesters]  as a long-term system. Some kids aren’t [keeping up with their work].  I have some seniors who got acceptances to colleges, with a hundred percent scholarships, and they haven’t been doing their AP work. 

Pratham –  Do you think they’ll put more emphasis on becoming teachers and the next few years because people are finally starting to see their value?  

Colleen – I’m thinking that you now see that kids are not as easy to teach as you thought they were. We’re already running a shortage. But I’m hoping that people do realize that we need it [teachers] desperately. In this country, we do not value our teachers.

Pratham – Has this job altered your outlook on life in any way maybe with working with students? 

It’s just a joy.  I love working with students. It’s definitely made my life more fun!  Now I know what TikTok is and I know how to watch TikTok [videos]. 

Pratham – What would you say to someone who is thinking of becoming an educator in the future? What tips could you offer? 

Collen – Do it early and start young. I mean, if you start as undergraduate thinking that you’re going to go into education, you can get your credential and then have one year to get a masters [which is quicker].