Author Archives: tutors

As Individualized Instruction Goes National, What Do We Know?

Individualized instruction has gotten a lot of good press over the past month. Check out this piece in the Times about Nick Ehrman’s Blue Engineers, and this one in the Chicago Sun-Times about Match Education’s partnership in Chicago.

This press is well-deserved; if anything, it’s overdue. What started almost eleven years ago as a Match “summer high school” on the MIT campus has grown into arguably the highest leverage intervention out there. To quote the piece on Blue Engine, “Gains like this are not often seen in education … it’s worth taking notice.”

As the movement has grown, Tutors for All is increasingly being asked to offer counsel to schools and community organizations starting their own programs. It’s a gift of an opportunity; far more kids are in need of the practice than twenty Blue Engines, Match’s and T4A’s could serve. As we do so, however, it becomes clear that our counsel (and, for that matter, the advice of companion organizations) is based on our particular philosophy and history of success more than on a more general research base.

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Alumni Portraits: Tai Sassen-Lang

Brandeis University, Class of ’09
Major: Linguistics, minor in Computer Science
Activities: Free-running club, running a high school linguistics olympiad

When Tai isn’t headbanging at the latest metal show or whipping up some homemade oreos for his friends, he’s hard at work in the classroom, making a difference in the lives of every student he meets. Tutors for All caught up with Tai to see how he’s been.

What are you doing these days?
I’m currently finishing up a year-long commitment as a MATCH Corps tutor, a full-time tutoring position at the MATCH charter high school in Boston.

How does your job relate to the work you did at Tutors for All?
Tutors for All shares a lot in common with the MATCH Corps program.Every freshman and sophomore student at MATCH receives a mandatory two hours of one-on-one or one-on-two tutoring, and sophomores receive an additional 4-hour block of MCAS tutoring on the weekends. Tutors for All’s belief that tutoring is an effective tool to help students thrive academically mirrors our own, and both programs share a sense of urgency and that there’s not a moment to waste. The similarities between the programs have helped me make a smooth transition to my position as a MATCH Corps tutor.

Did TfA help to prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
The skills that I learned from 3+ years with Tutors for All help me every day as I work with my students. Through Tutors for All I learned how to be a “drill instructor with a heart of gold” – pushing my students and demanding nothing but the best, but always letting them know that I believe in them, and that I care about their success and future.

Words of wisdom for tutors today?
Be patient. Always remind your student about why it’s important to do their best, and why the tutoring program is such a great opportunity for them. And when the going gets tough, remind yourself why you’re doing what you do. Tutoring can be a tough job at times, but programs like this make a direct and lasting impact in their target communities, and your work is important in making these programs succeed. Don’t forget it!

Fondest memory of Tutors for All:
In 2006, I started tutoring at City on a Hill’s MCAS program. After the semester concluded, I figured that I wouldn’t ever run into my students again, but two years later, one of them signed up to work for the program! Having a former student become a colleague and seeing him contribute to a program that helped him succeed on the MCAS was definitely the highlight of my Tutors for All career.

We wish you the best of luck!

Thank you for your service!

Alumni Portraits: Victoria Sale


Simmons College, Class of ’08
Major: Biology
Activities: Pre-Dental Club, Biology and Physical Sci Teacher, Aug ’08 – Present
TfA: CoaH FA ’07, SU ’08, FA ’08

Tutors for All was able to reach Vic for an interview over the phone. She’s currently in New Jersey, spending time with her family and fiance, Daniel DeFiglio. She was kind enough to take a few moments out of her vacation to talk about her experience with Tutors for All.

What are you doing these days?
I just finished two years with Teach for America in St. Louis. Now I’m in the process of preparing for nursing school. I’ll finish in the next year, and then go on to get my doctorate to become a nurse practitioner.

What was your experience like, working for Teach for America?
My first year I worked in a charter school teaching biology for the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. It was definitely hectic. I remember staying many nights until 8:30 or 9:00. My second year I taught physical science and biology to 9th and 10th graders at the Soldan International Studies High School, a school for refugees of religious and ethnic persecution. It was an entirely different experience from what I had before. It was a place I felt I could teach and make a lot of changes to my own methods.

How did your work relate to the work you did with Tutors for All?
Working with Tutors for All, it was the first time I was able to put faces to the achievement gap. You hear about it and read about it, but until you see the students that are struggling… It was the first time it clicked for me, that I had a chance to make a change in a life. I was able to take ownership of the issue.

What was your experience like, working for Teach for America?
My first year I worked in a charter school teaching biology for the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. It was definitely hectic. I remember staying many nights until 8:30 or 9:00. My second year I taught physical science and biology to 9th and 10th graders at the Soldan International Studies High School, a school for refugees of religious and ethnic persecution. It was an entirely different experience from what I had before. It was a place I felt I could teach and make a lot of changes to my own methods.

How did your work relate to the work you did with Tutors for All?
Working with Tutors for All, it was the first time I was able to put faces to the achievement gap. You hear about it and read about it, but until you see the students that are struggling… It was the first time it clicked for me, that I had a chance to make a change in a life. I was able to take ownership of the issue. But, being in the classroom is not the only way to help close the achievement gap. My decision to leave teaching and pursue a career in nursing is my way of helping in another facet. Too many students that lacked health insurance would go to clinics. I, myself, was misdiagnosed at a clinic and given a prescription for medicine I was allergic to. These are basic needs, along with nutrition awareness, that are all contributing to the widening of the achievement gap.

How well did Tutors for All to prepare you for the work you do now?
Amazingly. I was able to think back to lots of little things Mark would say. Little things about interpersonal relationship skills and dealing with your students on an everyday basis. And having that one-on-one relationship over a long period of time makes for different experience that definitely helped.

Fondest memory of Tutors for All:
The time I taught one of my students how to long-divide. He was in 10th grade. I remember he hated math. He’d keep putting his head down. But we kept at it and I kept encouraging him. Once it finally clicked, he was able to do all these different math problems. Long-division was the common thread that was preventing him from moving forward. I was able to see how his perspective changed. I saw the connection happen and became totally addicted to that.

Dan and Vic have been engaged since November. They met in St. Louis both serving in Teach for America. The wedding is scheduled for January.

Congratulations Vic and Dan!
Best Wishes!

Alumni Portraits: Katiri Willaum

Emmanuel College, Class of ’09
Double Major: Sociology & International Relations
Honors: Presidential Scholar ’05-’09, Magna Cum Laude, Dual Distinction in the Field
Activities: Dance Team, Red Cross Volunteer
Previous Tutors for All Programs: Fall ’06 – Spring ’09; tutor at City on a Hill, Lead Tutor at Codman Academy, Program Coordinator at Codman Academy.

What are you doing now?
I am currently an Executive Assistant with the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) under the Department of Defense. We focus on stabilizing war zones (Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan) through economic development in order to increase safety for the people and our troops. It’s necessary and fascinating work. On the cooler side, I have 24/7 access to the Pentagon and recently went go-karting in Iraq.

How does it relate to the work you did at Tutors for All?
While on a surface level the two organizations seem very different, at their core both the TFBSO and Tutors For All are driven by a desire to create opportunity, develop potential, and improve someone else’s chance for success. It sounds very altruistic, however benefits reverberate much further than we think and in both missions, whether economic or educational, there are positive effects on security and, in general, for the community. I’m currently working with populations whose educational statistics are outright depressing and while we do have programs working with the Universities in the countries we are involved in, we could be doing more. Hopefully one day me and Mr. Destler can figure out a way to make the TFA mission worldwide!

How well did Tutors for All prepare you for your work now?
I didn’t realize how profoundly Tutors for All had affected me until I started working with the government. I had the unique experience of being a coordinator during my time with TFA, so it definitely prepared me professionally for the tasking that comes along with my position now. Mostly it prepared me to interact in a positive way with so many types of people; every student and tutor is a different person with a different personality and navigating through those differences to find effective communication tactics is actually a very political skill that is serving me well.

Words of wisdom for tutors today:
It’s not just a part-time job or a work-study gig; it’s important and life-changing work for your students and you, if you let it be. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re stressing out about college finals…

Fondest memory of Tutors for All:
One of my students was always in a terrible mood, always fighting me every step of the way, and even though I was frustrated I just kept trying to change the lesson to get her interested. My commitment did not go unnoticed and towards the end of the program she wrote me a letter apologizing for being ‘difficult’ sometimes and thanking me for not giving up on her. I still have that letter. Also, TFA is how I met one of my closest friends: Sarah Pingeton!

Knowing what you know now, how do you think Tutors for All could better reach its mission?
TFA needs the same things any good-doing organization needs to better succeed: more money, more resources and more manpower. The program in itself is excellent, you just need more of everything!

Alumni Portraits: Alyssa Noble


Working as T4A Tutor during my time as an undergraduate, I learned many of the lessons that teachers master in their first year of the profession. In addition to learning the basics of lesson planning and reflection, I learned about building relationships with students, communicating high expectations and helping students successfully meet them. By working with small groups, I learned about each student individually; therefore I was better at personally targeting their needs in the classroom. The students began to trust me to lead them in the right direction after they knew how much I cared about them and was invested in helping them to be successful.

My time tutoring with T4A sparked my interest in working with kids who struggle academically. I love meeting new students each year and figuring out how I can adapt my teaching to meet their needs. After weeks of struggling with the material, there comes a point in the school year when we finally find our rhythm. This is what makes this difficult job so rewarding. I first experienced this feeling while working with T4A, and I looked forward to those moments every year.

I became a teacher after graduation with one of T4A’s partner schools, City on a Hill, and am currently teaching with Boston Green Academy.

Alumni Portraits: Victoria DeFiglio

When I met Mark, I was a college junior seeking a part-time job. At that time, I would have characterized myself as a good person, genuinely invested in the cause of helping students. I did not realize, however, the complexities and hardships that educators in low-income communities face. On my first day at Tutors For All, I sat across from a high school sophomore who scored at a seventh grade reading level on his diagnostic exam.I now recognize how pivotal this moment was in forming my approach to working with students in low-income communities. I entirely credit the culture Mark built among our staff because during our reflections on students’ progress, my thought process always put the emphasis on what I could do better as a tutor.

Through our data-driven debriefing sessions, I gained a core belief that this student and all students like him could learn, and would learn, if I followed the right steps as a tutor. While I tutored my student, Mark tutored me. He gave me the skills necessary to avoid “rookie mistakes” in classroom management and set the bar high in terms of behavioral expectations of students. The success I had with one student gave me the confidence to be able to manage more students, and by the time I left City on a Hill, I was a Lead Tutor managing ten students and five tutors.

With this skill set and my passion for closing the achievement gap, I joined Teach for America directly after college. My placement school began the year with good people, genuinely invested in the cause of helping students. By October, however, 47% of our teaching staff quit, citing reasons like, “these kids are just too far behind” or “I’m not able to teach because I’m too busy disciplining all day.” I was not among this 47%. I finished my two years of service with Teach for America, and I strongly believe it was due to the core belief that my students could learn. When I taught a lesson my students struggled to understand, I used the same data driven reflection process that became second nature during my time at City on a Hill. Since I believed all my students wanted to learn, it seemed only natural that I would hone my skills to become the type of teacher they deserved. At the end of my two years of teaching, my 186 students averaged second of nine schools in the district on their state End of Course exams. I firmly believe my success as a teacher is directly linked to the skills and mindsets that I acquired during my two years as a “Tutor for All.”

After serving 2 years with Teach for America I went back to school to become a nurse and am a practicing Community Health Nurse in Camden. New Jersey.

Student and Tutor Spotlight– Kadeeja Davis & Patrick Welton



Kadeeja Davis is a tenth grade student at Community Charter School of Cambridge. Twice a week Kadeeja meets with Mr. Welton to work on her reading comprehension and composition writing skills. We asked them both to write a little bit about their experience. This is what Kadeeja had to say:

“In the tutoring program the tutors are very nice, they sit down and work with you on your work and actually help you out. I learned how to start writing down vocabulary words that I did not understand and define them. Also they helped me learn different ways of understanding an article; I can reread the paragraph over again and once again define words. While in the tutoring program I have noticed that my writing skills have improved so much compared to when I started the program. I have been learning a lot about myself and the way I always second guess myself.

“My tutor is so nice, he makes me laugh and smile when I have down days… My tutor is the best tutor ever. He never yells or gets frustrated when I ask a lot of questions. He seems very interested in what I have to say.

If I can do the program all over I would not change one thing about it. These moments will forever be with me.”

The lesser-known side of our program is the affect it has on our tutors. Often, they’ll leave a session having learned something of their own. Patrick, a senior at Emmanuel College and a veteran tutor in our program, had this to say:

“I like having the opportunity to work one-on-one with a student. Every session is not perfect, but I have learned what works for my student and I can see that I am making a difference. My student has a personality that can light up a room. She is quite extroverted and persistent when speaking, The combination of these attributes makes me smile often. …The best way for my student to produce great work is when she is comfortable in her setting. It is important and possible for her to be herself while maintaining a professional demeanor. Not only has she improved drastically in her reading comprehension skills, I feel that she has matured greatly as a person. It was a pleasure to be her tutor.”

Congratulations to Kadeeja Davis & Patrick Welton for their hard work and persistence!



Student and Tutor Spotlight– Feb 2010: Deja Jacobs and Natashia Thomas


Deja Jacobs is an 8th grade student at Smith Leadership Academy in Fields Corner, Dorchester. Twice a week Deja meets with Ms. Natashia Thomas to work on basic-skills mathematics. We asked them both to write a little bit about their experience together. This is what Deja had to say:

“My tutor Ms. Thomas is great. Out of all the tutors we had she’s the most interactive and actually wants to help me. I like when Natashia knows that I don’t get something, and I also like how when she comes in to tutorial she always has a smile on her face.

Recently I’ve been working on percentages, converting fractions and working on negative numbers. We also have been working on review like multiplying decimals and using mean, median, mode. These are helping me in math… I would recommend tutorial for my friends that need it because you get paired with someone who cares about your education and wants to help you. Basically, this is how tutorial has been helpful and improved my math skills.” Natashia, a senior studying Business Management at Simmons College, has always found time to help in her community. A Brockton native, she tutored her peers in math at her high school. Before joining TfA, she worked in a Dorchester community center. “She’s got a ‘let’s get this done’ attitude that really motivates her student and her tutors,” says Smith Leadership Academy Program Manager Christopher Baginski. “Always on time, always professional, and all-business, I’m thankful to have her working with us.”

This is what Natashia had to say about working with Deja: “Deja and I have worked together since September 2009. Over the past six months we’ve tackled negative integers, mean, median, mode, range, strengthening skills to solve basic mathematics using the four major functions, along with conversions of fractions, decimals and percents. After focusing each session on her weakness and incorporating her interests, it became clear that Deja had a better understanding of the material presented. She has begun to master most of the topics in each session. Deja’s greatest achievement throughout the six month period was scoring approximately 20 points higher on her last Show What You Know assessment, which was a tremendous improvement. Essentially, Deja is an amazing student who tries hard and it shows, especially through the improvements she has made on each Show What You Know.”

Congratulations to Deja Jacobs and Natashia Thomas for their hard work and achievements!

Student Tutor Spotlight– March 2010: Victoria Cole & Stephanie Carlisle


Just because the students are small, doesn’t mean the hurdles are any smaller. Stephanie Carlisle, a graduate student working toward a masters in Teaching at Boston College, knows this. Twice a week she comes to Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton to work on basic-skills literacy with first grader Victoria Cole. Victoria is an amiable child and a willing student; the kind of student that any teacher would love. But, not unlike many of her peers throughout the public school system, she lacks the necessary tools to be a competent reader and perform at grade level. For the past two month, Ms. Carlisle has been working to get her there. ”

The thing that stands out the most about Victoria is her positive attitude. She rarely turns down a challenge; in her writing assignments, she would rather write words that are difficult for her to spell than change her creative ideas to make the work easier. Her hard work is paying off, too – in the weeks that we’ve been working together, Victoria’s reading and writing have come a long way.”

On any given day, Victoria can be seen, pencil in hand, working diligently to combine letters into words and words into proper sentences. When reading, she may furl her brow at a certain word, but she’ll sound out each letter until she gets it right. Recently, they’ve been working on “sight words”. These are words that a reader will know automatically (ie: the, when, other), and are a necessary bridge to becoming a fluid reader. Each sight word is written out on a note-card and together they work through a stack. For each sight word Victoria gets correct she colors in a big star in her tutorial journal, which Ms. Carlisle has drawn in prior to the start of the session. This opportunity to combine academics with coloring is only the start.

“One fun activity that we have done is the ‘Make Your Own Mad-Libs’ book. Victoria gets to customize the story by filling in the blanks and illustrating the pages herself. When we finish, she gets to take the books home to read with her family. This has been a great way to practice identifying and writing the letter combinations that we are learning, and the final product is a book that she can be proud of.”

Congratulations to Victoria Cole and Stephanie Carlisle for their hard work and achievements!

Tutors for All Awarded “Outstanding Community Partner”

Recently, Tutors for All was recognized by the Scott/Ross Center for Community Service at Simmons College as an Outstanding Community Partner. Tutors for All Program Manager, Courtney McSparron and Operations Manager, Mike Zinni, accepted the award on behalf of all TfA staff, campus representatives, program coordinators, lead tutors, tutors, and volunteers.

Over the course of five years, Tutors for All and the Scott/Ross Center have cultivated a partnership that has served to benefit TfA greatly, not least of which has been the consistent base of high-quality tutors the center has helped to recruit. In addition, the efforts of the always friendly and helpful staff have served as an invaluable resource since TfA’s inception. Tutors for All would like to personally thank Scott/Ross Center Faculty Director, Steve London and Associate Director for Undergraduate Service-Learning, Desirae Simmons.