In this occasional feature, we’ll be sharing profiles of some of our outstanding tutors.
The first thing you notice about Margie Speer is that she sparkles.
As she shares enthusiastic stories about her work in education and her family, it’s easy to see that she’s high energy,
It’s easy to hear how her experiences shaped her passion for math.
And it’s easy to see why she would inspire students to love learning.
She’s made that difference as a tutor for Back to Basics since 2011.
“I worked in engineering for– well I like to round up by saying nine years, but my husband says, ‘You’ve clearly worked for eight,’” she laughs. “I worked for DuPont, but then I had my son, and I didn’t go back.”
Speer was a full-time mom until her son was in ninth grade, when she responded to a posting for a long-term sub position teaching engineering technology at a vo-tech program. The school offered her a full-time position after the first semester.
Although she loved teaching and working with the students, she wanted to stay more flexible than the “full-time-plus” hours expected of a teacher.
Once she was hired at Back to Basics, Speer worked in a wide variety of settings. She has worked at the Back to Basics private school, Title 1 programs, homebound support, and 1-on-1 tutoring at the middle and high school levels. Currently, she tutors students in math through Algebra 2, but she has also worked with physical science, chemistry, and other subjects.
“I love math,” she said. “And when kids say thank you, it makes you feel good. Or if they did well on a test, you feel good that you helped them. Or when something clicks, and you hear, ‘Now I get it!’ You realize you’ve really helped somebody.”
Speer suggests one of the most important ways that parents can help their children as they progress through middle and high school is to stay involved.
“I know not everyone has the luxury of lots of time. But find ways to make sure the teacher knows you, and knows you’re on top of your kid’s stuff,” she said. “Many people work full-time, so they can’t go to all the events. But you can still e-mail, you can still make a phone call, you can still check their online grades.”
She encourages students, also, to make sure they are reaching out and communicating with their teachers. “So when they’re doing the grading, they know you— and they know that you did come to the teacher for help, and try. You have to be somebody that they recognize, right?”
Sometimes this is where Speer sees that tutoring helps the most.
“Sometimes kids feel they don’t want to say anything in class. They don’t want to be the one to raise their hand,” she observed.
In 1-on-1 tutoring, though, that same student will be more comfortable asking questions.
“You have to make them feel good about what they’re learning,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a confidence problem. They can do it, they just need to be able to say, ‘Oh, hey! I can do this!’”
Building students’ confidence as she works with them individually is one of Speer’s greatest strengths, and one of the aspects of tutoring that she finds to be most rewarding.
Her children are now following in her footsteps. Her son is about to graduate this spring with a degree in mechanical engineering, and her daughter is studying chemical engineering. Both of them attend challenging university programs.
She encourages her children to put in their best efforts— but not to stress out too much.
“Just know that you gave it your best shot. Don’t go to bed the night before, thinking, ‘I should have studied,’” she tells her kids. “My own GPA— well, I rounded up, and I got a good job coming out of engineering school.”
“It all works out when you always give it your best shot.”