Well, this month it finally happened. I got an all-caps, screaming, I HATE THIS PLACE kind of Yelp review. I can understand why you, the prospective student, would be concerned. I feel that I can address the review better here than on Yelp.
The review was written anonymously; I never had a student named Fredrica. Piecing the clues together, I believe it was written by a past student named Kara. Kara recently took my GRE group class. She was a great student! She came to every class and paid her second installment halfway through, so she was clearly satisfied with the course on the whole. She also made incredible progress.
As is so often the case, the review stemmed from one emotional moment. It came on the last day of class during math Q&A. I randomly chose a homework problem to discuss with her, which it turns out she had already done. It was a multiple-choice problem and she had selected the right answer. I knew that there were “easy” and “hard” ways to solve the problem, so I began to Socratically ask her about the approach she had taken. Well, it turned out that she actually hadn’t understood the problem at all and had frankly gotten the right answer by luck. It took me quite a while to realize that. We were both pretty confused for a while. In retrospect, I can understand how Kara might feel embarrassed or on the spot, but that was definitely not my intent. I was just trying to get to the bottom of what she had done and then how she could approach it differently. I think she felt particularly indignant when I had to tell her that she hadn’t understood the question, because in her mind she had already gotten the question right. When a student is on the wrong track or I don’t understand her reasoning, especially when they start to feel defensive, it can be hard to find the right words to say. I admit, I did not choose my words carefully enough in the moment. At one point I said that her explanation didn’t make sense to me, and I could see that she was stung by those words. “Why did I say it that way?” I figuratively slapped my forehead. I felt bad about that Q&A session too. After we finally took a break and came back to resume class, I apologized for taking it hard on the students that day.
I have been teaching for two decades, and in all that time I can only remember about three such incidents when a student and I “clashed” in the classroom. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more often; students can be very sensitive about answering questions in front of the class. This one just happened to be on the last day of class, on a day when I did in fact encourage my departing students to write Yelp reviews. It was a perfect storm for a negative review. As it turns out, that same day we had an exit diagnostic, and I actually singled out Kara for being the most improved student in the class! But what she remembered was the painful moment. I feel that she used the review to lash out at me.
The adjectives most often used to describe my teaching style are “calm” and “helpful”. This, I feel, was a very distorted view of my very worst day. I have since reached out to apologize to Kara, though she has not responded. Anyway, I will learn from this what I can. I have to take accountability for not always using the most constructive language in that back-and-forth. In these days of online reviews, one bad day can linger for years. I will be sure to be more careful next time!
99% of my students are highly satisfied with my tutoring skills as well as the care I show for them. I am surrounded by a very supportive community. If you would like to talk to a student or parent who can vouch for me, I would be glad to offer contact information!