Welcome to our very first installment of Tutor Talk, where one tutor chats with another. I’m your blogger/host/social media director, Olive Wexler. I joined Prestige Prep as a tutor in October 2020, and have been working in education for 6+ years. In this segment, we are hoping to shed some light on some of our tutors, and show you what makes them tick.
This week, I caught up with Josh Wright, one of our family of tutors. We talked on zoom about what it was like to teach virtually this year, what we are reading, and what we like to listen to while working.
A proud native of Arlington TX, Josh has two college professor parents – she an art historian, he a molecular biologist. He credits them with giving him a unique balance of left and right brain. Josh’s service on Arlington’s Arts Grants Review Board helped him matriculate at Harvard. While getting his BA in English, Josh engaged in around 30 productions as a performer, director, choreographer, and writer. During his senior year, Josh made numerous audition trips to NYC and eventually landed a role in the national tour of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. After the tour, he got his Actor’s Equity card by playing “Nigel the Pelican” in the original cast of Disney’s Finding Nemo: The Musical. As Josh transitioned from performing into directing and choreography, he also discovered the wonderful world of tutoring!
Olive: Alright well, just for the record, what do you tutor?
Josh: I entered as an essay specialist, and then over the past 6 years, my expertise has evolved into standardized tests, SAT, ACT, the middle school entrance exams, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, and I also do full-fledged academic support. Whatever people need, I can do. I’m approachable but rigorous. We can be friendly and still get the work done.
O: What’s your favorite thing to tutor and why?
J: I am an English major, I was always a reader growing up and my mother would read me bedtime stories. I fell in love with literature. For me, there’s something really special about seeing that transition from people having just words on a page to actually understanding the mechanics of it.
J: Like: oh, meaning and layers! These things aren’t just happening in a story, it was the author’s intention to transform that and tell the story in this way. So when you start having the transition from “what is happening in the plot?” to “Oh, how did the author create this narrative arc and establish these characters and choose this line of dialogue?” There’s something really special about seeing that transition in people’s eyes from pure plot into the richness of literature.
O: Absolutely. I’m also an English Major. I graduated with a degree in Theater and English. Do you think that moment, the one when kids begin to really see the nitty-gritty details and the beauty of the page, is your favorite ah-ha moment?
J: Oh I love all ah-ha moments. The ah-ha moment is a special thing. Whether that’s math questions or literature, seeing something click in a way, and seeing the fear dissipate. I feel like there’s a lot of fear in education. When kids stop hating things, you see the understanding click. They see how things function and then the confidence grows. They think “Oh, it functions this way, I can repeat it and then I can do it.”
O: Mmmm. I’m with you. I tutor mostly middle-grade kids, and so they’re afraid of a subject but they can’t recognize the fear, they just know they don’t like it. So 6 years, that’s a while! What makes Prestige Prep different for you? Is there a position we use as a company that you think fuels us to help kids differently?
J: I think that we are very good at matching people with the tutors that will click with them and give them what they need. I think that we have base tools, but there’s also the expectation that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. All the tutors have a lot of flexibility: we don’t have to use a specific system. If someone needs more help then we can source material. We aren’t fitting students into a box.
O: Yeah. And factoring the emotional connection in–like you were talking about before. I’ve seen that valued a lot in my work. Oh, how has virtual tutoring been going for you, by the way? Have you been able to see a bright side to the situation?
J: I think that it works better one on one than in group situations. But the benefit of online tutoring is having a whiteboard at all times. I can work through math problems and actually visualize and see, or when I’m doing an AP literature group class being able to highlight and circle and annotate in front of the class when we’re discussing things. We can draw connections visually. So I think the technology of online helps unpack a lot of concepts visually that may be harder to see when you are in an in-person session.
O: I can’t write with the zoom whiteboard! I have to type because every time that I write, my kids are like “what are you writing?!”
J: But when you are doing a math problem…
J: I don’t like, write, but in terms of annotating it makes things easier.
O: What do you wish that parents knew, about the benefit of tutoring? I feel like when I interact with parents I interact with them on a different level than I do with kids.
J: Right. I think parents in general are very focused on metrics and measurables, and the reality of learning is that it is so much more intangible and about the process than it is about the product. As a tutor, I’m laying foundational work about how to study, how to approach learning, how to resolve things that were never addressed. So there are things that you won’t immediately see in the next 3 sessions or 10 sessions. Then, all of a sudden, 6 months down the line you’re gonna have a completely transformed approach to work. I think there’s not necessarily as much patience on the parent side, and unfortunately, every kid is different. I can’t take the test for them…
O: Don’t you wish you could?
J: As much as I wish…but the goal is not to always have a tutor. The goal is to give them the skillset so that they are able to grow beyond the tutor. I wish that parents were a little bit more understanding of those intangible learning and confidence, responsibility skills.
O: Exactly, and I also feel like that’s a value that Prestige Prep wants. They want us to lose our jobs! Not actually, of course, but they want kids to improve.
J: They aren’t choking the same parents for 3,4, 5, 6 years. That’s not the goal.
O: Right. What motivated you to get through school? Was there anything that you were like: This is why I grind!
J: My parents were both teachers, one was an art historian, one was a microbiologist and so I had both the liberal arts and the hard sciences. It was just the expectation like: this is your job as a child. Your job is to go to school and to do your homework. I was always academically driven, I liked reading and learning and I would feel bad if I got a bad grade. When I was in my senior year of school and got a bad grade in calculus it didn’t destroy me or necessarily impact me personally.
O: I didn’t get past trig! OK, I just have a few rapid-fire questions left for you.
J: Love it.
O: Favorite Study Snack?
J: My vice is black iced coffee. Winter, summer, just plug it into my veins.
O: Favorite Study Album?
J: Umm, the problem is if I listen to music I like the distraction. I was coworking the other day and they said they put on coffee shop sounds. For me, music is distracting and pulling the focus. Maybe classical with no lyrics?
O: When I was in college I would use white noise, so I would be in the library until 3AM listening to this one white noise sound.
J: That sounds a little brainwash-y.
O: It was a little. OK. Least favorite HS class?
J: Probably Trig, not my favorite. Or health, because they phoned it in so much.
O: Your Favorite HS Class? English?
J: My AP chemistry teacher was the best teacher I ever had, so even though i never used the subject matter, I learned the material. She was my icon. The teacher makes the experience. There’s your quote!
O: Haha, there it is! Currently Reading?
J: White Fragility.
O: Currently Watching?
J: I just worked my way through WandaVision.
O: I thought it was really good!
J: I’m excited that Top Chef is back. I love reality TV where talented people compete at what they are good at. Let me see people doing what they are brilliant at and passionate about and elevating the art form.
O: Well I think that wraps everything up. Thank you so much for talking to me!
J: Yes thank you. Hopefully, we will be able to see each other in person at some point!
O: One day soon, perhaps! Until then, stay safe.