“I like to hire tutors as teachers,” the principal said to me. I nodded and waited for her to go on, as I still wasn’t sure why she invited me to interview for this position–one that I hadn’t applied for, nor even knew existed until I received her e-mail four days earlier. “Your educational background and teaching experience seem to be a match for the caliber of teacher we are seeking,” she had written.
I appreciated the sentiment, but hers was a school specifically for students who have dyslexia. “Have you worked with kids with dyslexia before?” a friend asked when I mentioned the interview. “Nope,” I said. But this principal seemed to think I had something she wanted. And I figured there was no harm in learning what that was.
So as I sat in her office, she told me. “Tutors are able to assess where kids are at pretty quickly. And they’re constantly modifying their teaching in order to help that student understand the concept they’re struggling with.” Okay. I’m following her so far. “And I’ve done my homework. A lot of people here have a lot of wonderful things to say about you.” (I had begun tutoring at an affiliated high school two months earlier.)
“We use a multi-sensory approach with our students–do you know what I mean by that?” she asked.
“Well, just by the name I imagine you want your students saying things, seeing things, touching things, doing things.” She nodded. “But I don’t know much more about it than that,” I added.
“Tell me about a recent tutoring session you had–take me through how it goes.”
I explained how I start by asking my student what area they’re struggling with. They may not know the name of the topic, but as they start to explain it they’ll open their text or notebook to show me. I take a peek and then ask, “So have you done some problems in class?” I invite them to walk me through an example from their notes, prodding them with questions like, “What did you do first?” and “Why did you do this next?” until we get to the part where they say, “I don’t know.”
“That’s all multi-sensory,” the principal said, then asked me to continue.
“At the level I tutor–middle and high school–problems often take a few steps, at least. And students assume if they can’t get the answer, then they don’t know how to do it. I like to point out what they do know, and help them find the step that confuses them. Then I work on helping them with that step. I try not to pick up a pencil myself too much. I want my students to be doing the writing. That’s how they learn.”
“That’s multi-sensory,” she said again. Hmph. Who knew? To me, it was just what I’d learned worked best over my fifteen years of helping students. I didn’t know it had a specific name.
“And what if they don’t understand the way you’re explaining it?”
“I show them a different way. I mean, I want them to understand the way the teacher taught it, but if that doesn’t make sense, I show them another way, and then once they get it, I relate that back to the way the teacher showed it to them.” The principal smiled. “That’s multi-sensory, too.”
She invited me to set up a time to observe one of the current teachers. I set up that appointment, then wrote in my journal about my uncertainty. In times like these, I write specifically to my 87-year-old self. She’s wise. And cuts right to the chase. I knew there was no decision to be made as no position had been offered to me yet, but still, I wondered how I would know if this was something I wanted to do. My 87-year-old self said I didn’t have to worry about making a decision, because when the time came I’d know my answer without a doubt.
As usual, she was right.
Four days later, I sat down to watch the 7th grade teacher, and within five minutes I knew. Oh–they teach like this? This I could do. Not only could I do it, but I knew I’d love to do it.
- There was no lecture, no students furiously copying what the teacher wrote.
- Students were making angles using rubber bands and peg boards.
- Every single one of them was participating — asking and answering questions.
- And at any given moment, the teacher knew exactly who understood and who didn’t. How? When a question was asked, they were given time to write their answer on a personal whiteboard, then they all held them up for the teacher to see. Because really–how much does a teacher know about student learning if only one student–the one who raises their hand–answers the question?
There was conversation, interaction. With all the students. All seven of them. (Did I mention the class sizes?)
I could go on, but long story short: I was invited to do a demo lesson for the 8th grade class. After I finished, the principal said, “Are you sure you haven’t done this before?”
I accepted the position, and spent the last two weeks in June in school-sponsored trainings on multi-sensory mathematics and the Orton-Gillingham approach — the reading and writing program on which multi-sensory mathematics is based. And on August 12, I’ll begin my stint as the 8th grade math, science, and social studies teacher.