Photo by Peshkova/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Peshkova/iStock / Getty Images

DJ closeup2 in VT (Aug'07) cropped.jpg

The most soul-killing years of my life were the two I spent teaching Biology in struggling New York City public high schools.

To my students I was just another white guy paid to teach them. (Most of the relatively well-paid faculty and administration were white, but almost all the kids were black or hispanic.) However, 95% of the job was not teaching at all. Rather, it was “classroom management”, the euphemism used for “keeping ‘em in line”.

I was a mercenary. And I was a pawn.

But the most agonizing part of each schoolday was the following frustrating dilemma:                     In the back of most of my rowdy classrooms were usually a couple quiet kids who really wanted to learn and were willing to make the effort. But I could really teach these gritty kids only if I could get them 1-to-1. Yet between my “classroom management” during school days, and my desperate next-day-prep late into evenings, I couldn’t consistently meet with them.

And that’s what those gritty kids really needed for their learning: consistency. In struggling to keep my job, I was failing to help them.

In 2006, I left that job, returning home to the easy-by-comparison responsibility of caring for a dad struck by Alzheimer’s. (My parents, both engineers, had groomed me to also be an engineer. Thus my educational background in STEM.)

But I kept a toe in teaching, tutoring when I could get out of the house.

I’ve since worked hard at developing my tutoring craft. I've learned that the best tutoring for hard-studying students is to point them in the right direction, then let them take over from there.

Though I didn’t realize it, my tutoring experience was prepping me so that I could finally, though belatedly and indirectly, do right by those gritty NYC kids. After 13 subsequent years of tutoring and developing my craft, through EEF I can now make a difference in similar gritty kids’ lives:  helping them help themselves in their challenging journey through to early college.