Meet the Tutor: Sarah S.

College: University of Colorado

College Major: Communication/Mathematics

Subjects Tutored: Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry

How Long with Almost 2 years

Favorite Book: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

Favorite Movie: Shrek

Favorite High School Class: All my math classes

A math superstar who tutors algebra, geometry and trigonometry

Math tutor Sarah S. has been a whiz at factoring second-degree polynomials as long as she can remember. The 27-year-old lives with her husband in the same city she was born and raised, Colorado Springs. She also lives with her 12-year-old poodle mix, who's not the biggest fan of all the time she spends on the computer as it means he has to get off his favorite resting place—her lap. "I use a laptop just so he can't sit there!" she says.

A love of math runs in the family

Mathematics is definitely in Sarah's genes. Her maternal grandfather was a math teacher, her father is a software engineer (with a degree in mathematics) and her mother works as a tax preparer. "I think it probably trickled down to me," she says. "I've always thought it was fun." Chemistry was another subject she excelled in at school. But Sarah pursued a bachelor's in communications from the University of Colorado and continued studying math and chemistry on her own time.

Before she started tutoring, Sarah taught public speaking. It turned out to be a great preparation for tutoring. "Teaching public speaking helped me a lot in the area of finding new ways to explain things," Sarah says. "It helped me be able to quickly think on my feet about a different approach that I can take with a student—how I can turn something around to find some other way that will help the student better understand a concept."

Sarah thinks math gets a bad rap and is often portrayed as difficult and boring. In response, when she's tutoring she makes an effort to present math as something that can actually be fun. "I think my enthusiasm and excitement about math helps students see that maybe it's not so terrible. That's my goal," she says. "I want students to at least be able to enjoy math enough that they don't hate it and can see how they could use it in life."

Take the time to understand math concepts

Want to get better at math? Sarah recommends avoiding the urge to cram. While you might be able to rely on quick pre-test memorization in some subjects, it often makes things more difficult in the long run with math.

"Math builds on itself so much. I find students struggle with higher levels of math because they don't remember what they learned before because they took the ‘cram for the test' approach, and then they just brain dumped it," she says. "It'd be better if they would start from the beginning of their math career realizing that they really need to remember everything they learn."

Everything, of course, is an awfully big word. But that's where a tutor can help. As Sarah sees it, part of her job is helping students figure out the most important things to remember.

"There are certain basic concepts that need to be really understood. I've had students in algebra II or geometry who never fully comprehended the order of operations. Things like this apply to every single thing you do in math. You have to know it forever," she says. "When I'm tutoring and we come across something like that, I'll say 'make sure that you've got this down because you're going to need it for a long time!'"

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