Our Behind the Screen series shines a spotlight on some of the awesome tutors in our TutorMe community. We kick off this series with our first featured tutor, Kirsten Schuder. In this blog, Kirsten talks about why she became a tutor, her favorite tutoring skills, and more, offering valuable insight to all tutors that read.
Since TutorMe's inception, we've cultivated a thriving community of thousands of passionate, highly qualified tutors. These tutors are the heart and soul of our platform — they're the unsung heroes supporting students' academic success while simultaneously supporting teachers in their quest to provide a personalized learning experience for each student.
In our Behind the Screens series, we'll be shining a spotlight on a handful of tutors who are part of the TutorMe community. We're excited to kick off this series with our first featured tutor, Kirsten Schuder, an accomplished writer who provides writing support to students across all grade levels.
Where did you go to college? And what did you study?
I went to University of Wisconsin – Madison and graduated in 1991. Then, I earned a master's degree at Walden University for mental health counseling. Mental health counseling was really fun to learn, and I was very happy to have studied it.
Why did you decide to become a tutor?
It's because of my situation at home. Tutoring is one of the fields where you can stay at home and work. We've been homeschooling our kids for decades. Also, my husband has physical difficulties. Being a parent, wife, and caregiver, I'm not able to travel out of the house every day.
Of course, working from home has its challenges, but I've been doing it for a really long time, and we work it out. I believe online tutors have to be very responsible because there's nothing worse than not having a tutor show up. That's why I strive to be reliable and consistently show up every day.
Why did you choose to tutor on TutorMe?
TutorMe’s Lesson Space is incredibly easy to use. For younger learners familiarizing themselves with technology and digital learning tools, TutorMe provides a wonderful opportunity to master skills like navigating using the mouse and drawing with illustration tools on the Lesson Space's virtual whiteboards.
For older students, it's still easy to use. You can share your screen without any major hassle or concern. I've worked for other platforms, and TutorMe is by far the easiest.
What are your most valuable tutoring skills?
Number one: I’m thorough. If a student really needs to understand a concept, I introduce it, I get their understanding of it, we practice it, we study it. The same goes for appraising students' written work. I’m a published author and have tons of writing experience. I have the capability to be really thorough and accurate.
Number two: I have a ton of patience. I know that everyone starts from somewhere. Everyone comes from a different situation. My goal is to help them concentrate so they can get through what is expected of them at the moment.
Number three: Reinforcing the importance of following directions. This is so important in school. In high school, you're really forging your self-identity and striving for self-reliance, but I tell high schoolers to follow the assignment to the tee. I’m very focused on student success. If you have a C and want a B, I can help you get there. I work with students at various points in their learning journeys, and my mental health counseling helps me empathize with their struggles and provide the best guidance possible to set them up for success.
How do you structure your tutoring session?
The student is my source of info, so the student shares the instructions with me and what they want to do. This is my needs assessment time, which lasts about 5-10 minutes. Then, we dig in and try to get as much done as we can within the session.
Sometimes, getting students to focus is a challenge, and I can help with that. I tell the student that stress is normal. I might introduce deep breathing techniques. Deep breathing changes the physiology of your body and can help a student get back on track and focus.
When we wrap up, I do a little review and ask if they think they need another session.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a tutor?
There have been students who have difficulty reading. To get a student actually reading is phenomenal. I feel privileged to see their "aha!" moment firsthand!
What has been your greatest challenge as a tutor?
Angry and defensive students. The amazing thing is that I haven’t come across that yet at TutorMe. Students on TutorMe are very well behaved. If it does happen, I know it has nothing to do with me because they don't know me. I try to put myself in a listening role and don't take it personally. If they're not behaving well, I see it as, "Oh, this person needs my patience and support."
How do you motivate students to focus?
It depends on the age group. For little kids, I'll do games like tic-tac-toe at the end of the session to reward them. Education should be rewarding. I also sometimes use the fake timer technique, where I say, "3, 2, 1, beep!"
For older learners, it's a lot easier because they know they have to get it done so they can move on to other things. If they get busy and get it done, they get that reward of getting to do their own thing for a while.
What advice would you give to a tutor who is just getting started?
Keep an open mind. You never know a student's situation. Try to make yourself completely devoid of judgment. For instance, I had one student who seemed to have sessions outside. It was very noisy, so I asked what was going on. It turned out she was homeless, in college, with a laptop, sleeping at the bus depot, trying her best to change her life. I think it's an honor to work with someone like that. If I'd been judgmental, I'd have never found out her story. It keeps you humble.
My last piece of advice for new tutors is to keep things upbeat and light when working with students. It not only puts them at ease and more receptive to your guidance but makes the whole learning process more enjoyable for you and the student.
Human connection is an essential component of successful, high-impact online tutoring programs. Sharing the stories of the humans who comprise the TutorMe tutoring community is an honor. Check back in the weeks to come for the next articles in this series. And in the meantime, learn more about partnering with TutorMe to empower your students with one-on-one academic support that fosters deeper learning through engaging face-to-face collaboration.