Laurel Howard, 25, began her educational career as an undergraduate in Los Angeles by tutoring children in neighboring schools. She credits those years of tutoring with strongly influencing her decision to eventually become a high school teacher. The exposure to the education system, the children who went through it, and the nuances of the field impacted her immensely. As an 18 year old, Howard had babysat and mentored at summer camps before, but college was her first formal exposure to tutoring. “I felt like this was a space where I could really make a difference,” she says.
Howard explains that her first experience tutoring was through an outreach program at her university that hired students to go into neighboring Title I schools to discuss college and the opportunities it afforded with the children. “I remember there was a kid who had just taken his PSAT,” says Howard, referring to the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, an exam often taken by high school sophomores to prepare them for the SAT, “And I asked him how he felt about his scores. He told me he had no idea how to feel because he didn’t know what the actual test was for.” She notes, “So basically, someone had sat this kid down for a five hour test, and hadn’t bothered to tell him what it was or why he was taking it.”
She mentions that while tutoring in Los Angeles was often disheartening– “A lot of teachers can be jaded, and come down hard on kids unnecessarily,” says Howard– her years of tutoring inspired her to become a teacher, and motivated her to apply for graduate school. Now, having finished her credential and M.A. in Education, Howard teaches high school in the Bay Area. Her tutoring career has undoubtedly made Howard a better teacher, however. While it requires a vastly different skill set then teaching, the two professions play into each other. “As a tutor, I have to try and figure out what the teacher was thinking, but didn’t manage to communicate to the kid. As a teacher, I have to figure out how to be as clear as possible in my messages, assignments and grading. Knowing the perspective of both these roles has been very helpful.” On the stigma that surrounds students who need tutoring, Howard says, “In my perfect world, everyone would be getting an A in my class–it shouldn’t be easy, but you should have the opportunity to do well. But life happens, and I know I won’t be able to explain everything to everyone. If a student needs extra help, there’s absolutely no shame in that. Getting help in some capacity is better than not getting help–and if that means talking to a tutor instead of me, that’s totally fine.”
But Howard’s full time teaching position doesn’t mean she no longer works with children one on one. She says, “We’ve all seen the strikes–teachers are underpaid, and constantly told that they’re overpaid, so there’s very little movement in that regard. We’re constantly on the lookout for income opportunities that fit into our schedule–substitute work, summer school, and tutoring.” She adds, “You can’t really do without it, even in a well funded school district. We’re constantly improvising and adapting. Freelancing is a way of life for us that keeps our skills sharp and helps us thrive.”