For a significant part of my life, I worked at math-only learning center.
As a millennial, I know how competitive the job market is. And I know what it’s like to apply to 50 entry-level office jobs in a day on Indeed and not hear back from a single one. After graduating with a degree in Mathematics in 2016, I wasn’t sure how to put my education to good use. I wasn’t sure if I was competitive enough to work in finance, engineering, statistics, or information technology - and time has proven that deep down in my heart, I’ve shut the doors to those fields long ago (in high school, I thought about being a writer, but I didn’t think it was possible to step outside of the hobbyist stage, so I majored in something that others thought was more practical) and only realized it after completing my degree in a STEM field.
So naturally, I did something that didn’t seem like it was out of my reach in terms of skills, experience, and education - I applied to be an instructor at Mathnasium! All I wanted was some work experience and a way to help others. And I loved algebra and trigonometry so much that I couldn’t wait to review all those topics and share my enthusiasm with students who didn’t know their full potential and needed someone supportive to guide them through challenging problems.
I’ve found that despite being more reserved and quieter than other instructors (I’m definitely not the outgoing or bubbly type), I really enjoyed working with students, getting to understand how they think, and providing them with the skills they need to be more confident in their abilities to tackle math in school. It was an incredibly rewarding experience that wasn’t like anything else.
Here are 10 incredibly important things I’ve learned from working at Mathnasium:
The Mathnasium Way: How to manage my time effectively under time constraints and still provide quality instruction
People are under the impression that tutoring is an “easy” job, but that’s not exactly true. I worked at the largest tutoring center in the state, and I can say for sure that I definitely felt challenged. I usually found myself working with seven or more students at a time, especially with middle and high school students who have more complicated problems, homework assignments, and even lengthy projects that they wanted me to go over with them. So I had to learn how to manage my time really, really well. I learned how to tell when students needed to be asked just a simple question to help them figure out how to solve a problem on their own or if they required an extensive explanation (a walkthrough of steps that they probably never learned in school). On top of that, I also needed to monitor when students arrived, how much time they had left for their sessions, and when they needed to switch to homework. In the beginning, I had a lot to grapple with, but I’ve found that I improved a lot on time management the more I got used to working with more students (I even had a day when I worked with 12 students at a time).
The Mathnasium Way: Keeping track of students, what they’re working on, who needed help, and generally, how they were feeling about their learning session
Teaching at Mathnasium wasn’t like having one small class. I typically worked with eight students at a time, so it was more like having eight classes of one because they all were working on something different based on what kinds of math skills they needed most improvement on. I needed to be aware of times when I saw a student struggling or getting stuck on a page for an unreasonable amount of time, when to step in, and how I could best help them based on their current understanding of the topic. I had to keep track of when students felt disengaged and find a way to present the problem in a different light so that they can be more motivated to complete their assignment.
The Mathnasium Way: Switching gears in my brain by switching back and forth between multiple topics in math (due to each student at a table having customized learning plans)
Because each student had a customized learning plan and a whole binder full of worksheets, I’ve learned how to switch gears very quickly. One student might be working on the law of sines and another student might be working on triangle proportions and then another student might be working on the quadratic formula and another student might be doing SAT practice. Every time I transitioned from working with one student to another, my mind had to switch to a new topic at the snap of two fingers. It was overwhelming at times, but I’ve gotten used to switching back and forth between hundreds of different types of math problems, so it really helped me build a quick mind and strengthen my ability to solve a variety of different problems at a rapid pace.
The Mathnasium Way: Working cooperatively with other instructors, helping them out when necessary, and learning from them as well
I’ve learned about the importance of teamwork. Sometimes, when the tutoring center got too crowded (100+ students during the busiest hours), instructors had to work together to accommodate every student so that no one fell behind and that students were getting the help they needed. This meant I had to help out with check-ins whenever some other instructor was busy with explaining something to another student, and sometimes I’ve had to receive help as well. There were also times when another instructor needed help on a problem and a better explanation/perspective, so I was able to step in and provide that.
Receiving constructive criticism
The Mathnasium Way: Receiving feedback and learning about ways I can become a better instructor through meetings with the center director
Taking constructive criticism and applying it was an incredibly essential life skill I picked up. There would be meetings with the center director every six months and we would go over what I was doing well, what I needed to improve on, and how to be more aware of the company’s objectives. As someone who self-deprecates a lot and thinks I’m worse than I am, I’ve learned that the center director saw me as a valuable part of the team and showed positive reinforcement.
The Mathnasium Way: How to improve myself and reach goals - provide quality instruction, help students improve and have fun, maintain safety of the facility, and meet certain requirements for using teaching strategies as outlined in the training binder
This took a lot of self-awareness and deep reflection regarding what I could be doing better to align with the company’s mission. There was much to be done on any given day and prioritizing was definitely something I picked up while instructing students, doing what the lead instructor told me to do, and ensuring that students felt safe, welcomed, and relaxed.
The Mathnasium Way: Connecting with and showing empathy for students
As an introvert, I got to step out of my comfort zone a bit. As I became one of the designated instructors for upper-level math (Algebra 1 and up), I bonded with these students, empathized with their struggles, and soon became a favorite instructor of theirs (a lot of the time, students would request me to be there instead of some other instructor, which definitely made me feel valued and loved). Whenever I doubted my abilities to connect with students, they affirmed that I was doing a great job in not only explaining math, but also in showing understanding and compassion. This was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced.
The Mathnasium Way: Understanding that I have made an impact in students’ math learning experience more than I realized
I was told that I did make a difference in enriching students’ education and that my teaching style combined with the Mathnasium strategies definitely improved the way students felt about math. I did more than just make math easier for students, I did it in a way that no future instructor would be able to replicate.
The Mathnasium Way: Providing succinct explanations, understanding how to frame questions so that students think about what they already know, and using visual representations when necessary
I was able to apply my knowledge of various topics and understand which strategies were the most effective and simplest to communicate. I also learned that drawings and diagrams were extremely useful, and they helped students think outside of the box with similar problems.
Quantitative life skills
The Mathnasium Way: Clever tricks to do calculations mentally in practical, everyday situations that require math
Using number sense, I found more effective strategies to solve percents, calculate sales taxes and discounts, find volume and area, and generally be aware of when I can apply math to everyday life in ways I never thought of before.