Achieve More Tutoring

I am a firm believer that we are all on the path we’re supposed to be on. Some of us take a more direct route from one point to another. Others make several detours, but those detours are important to our overall journey. Here’s my story.

From the time I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. I remember coming home from school. Lining up my stuffed animals, pulling my giant chalkboard from under my bed and teaching my stuffed animals everything I had learned that day in school. My first detour came in eighth grade when we all took a class called “occupational investigation”. It was supposed to be a time for us to investigate different occupations, so we could pick the right classes in high school. Most of my classmates weren’t really sure what they were going to research, but from the first day, I knew I wanted to research being a teacher. It was the late 1970’s and teachers were making about $13,000 a year. Now, remember that salaries have increased over the years and money went farther back then. However, even back then, it wasn’t a huge salary. I was 13 years old and didn’t really have a sense of salaries, but my teachers did. And, they all encouraged me to not go into teaching.

They recommended that I follow my strengths in math and science. What did I know? They were my teachers, and they knew better. So, I gave up my teaching dream and followed a math/science-based schedule in high school. I followed that math science schedule for four years. I also took drafting and architecture classes to see if it was for me. I really enjoyed my drafting class. I loved the teacher and learned a lot from him. I also enjoyed my architecture class, but I wasn’t sure if it was really for me.

Then came college. My parents were divorced, and my mom was single mom. My dad refused to pay any child support whatsoever. During my junior year of high school, I mailed away for college catalogs to figure out where I was going to college. I explicitly remember my mom asking me what I was doing. There was no way I was going to college. She was expecting me to go to the local community college where I could live at home and keep working to pay for my college. I was devastated. Although our community college was the 5th best in the country, it wasn’t what I’d been dreaming of.

So, I started community college and majored in chemistry. I even took chemistry 102 one summer, so I could take organic chemistry that fall. I graduated with my associate degree in science with an emphasis in chemistry. Two years had passed, but I still didn’t have a clue what I wanted to major in. I had taken calculus, differential equations and a lot of chemistry, but that didn’t really add up to a major or a career. I knew I didn’t want to major in engineering. I also knew I didn't want to commit to pre-med or med school. So, I was back to square one: what was I going to be when I grew up? I was paying for college myself, and I couldn’t commit to a school or even a major. So, I left college.

I worked at a printing company for a while and traveled around Europe for a summer with Nancy, a friend I’d met at community college. I left the printing company to work for a title insurance company. I loved working for the title company. I loved the people I worked with, I loved the work, and I loved the energy. And, then one day in late January, I met Nancy for dinner. Our W-2’s had just come out, and we started talking about them. She had gone into teaching, and when she told me how much she was making as a teacher, my jaw dropped. She was making just about the same amount as I was, and it was a lot more than $13,000! And, she had a great vacation schedule! I always worked the day before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and all summer long.

She asked me for a favor that night. She was teaching in a Chicago Public School and was taking her third graders on a field trip to The Shedd Aquarium. She asked me to chaperone with her. Sadly, she expected some of the parents to cancel last minute, and the Shedd doesn’t let you in if you don’t have enough chaperones. She knew I wouldn’t cancel. I took a day off work, spent the night with her and went to school with her the next day. Sure enough, two parents cancelled, and she had to find new ones. She handed me a brochure on the Shedd, told me to go over it with her 35 third-graders, whom I had just met, and walked out of the room. I really couldn’t believe I was alone in a room with all these children. I started reviewing the brochure that I’d never even seen before. My voice was cracking, my knees were shaking, but somehow I got through it just as she walked back in. She had found one parent to come in but had to go try another one. She handed me their math homework, told me to go over it with them and walked out, again! I really just wanted to strangle her, but since she didn’t give me a chance, I went over their math homework and prayed she would find another parent, so this torture would end.

And, that’s when the magic happened. As we were going through the Shedd, every one of those third graders came and grabbed my hand, dragging me to see something I had told them about. I think I criss-crossed the building about 30 times that day. It was amazing! They were so excited to share everything with me. That’s when the light bulb went off! This was it. This was always it. I was meant to be a teacher. I decided right there and right then that I was going back to school and getting my teaching degree. I was back at my community college to take a few classes that summer and was at a four-year college that fall. I worked full time and went to school full time for two years and graduated with honors.

I actually decided not to find a teaching job that fall. Applications for teaching jobs were hand-written then and often contained multiple essay questions. I had been working full time and going to school full time for 2 years. I was tired! I had a great job at the title company to go back to. I had been working there while going to school and could easily go back without any effort. And then the phone call came. One of the girls I’d been in several classes with called me. She had graduated a year before me and was already teaching. She was wondering if I’d graduated, if I’d passed my state boards and if I’d gotten a job yet. It took a few days for me to connect with her, but she was working at a middle school and one of their science teachers had just quit. Interestingly, the principal of the school was my former social studies methods teacher. He already knew me and knew my work ethic. After hanging up with her, my phone rang, and it was him. He asked me to come interview on Monday. By noon that day, I had a teaching job. I gave the title company 1 day notice. I took one day to run errands, get my physical, and file my certificate with the ROE. Thursday was “New Teacher Orientation”, Friday was an institute day, and the students came on Monday. I wish I could really tell you about that first week or even month, but I can’t. It was crazy! I didn’t know how to put a grade book together, how to take attendance or even what I was supposed to be teaching. I had student taught second grade, and these were going to be eighth graders, so I had a lot of work to do in those fist couple of weeks.

I taught for 4 years, took a sabbatical year to get my master’s degree and then taught for two more years in the same district. Then I found my soul mate, got married and pregnant a few months later. I loved teaching, but it’s a lot of work. I wanted more time at home with my baby. I quit teaching and went back to work with the title company. I was working 2-3 days a week and got 2-3 days at home with my daughter. I got more time with my daughter and had my son. Things were good.

And then the housing market crashed. Both my husband and I were in real estate and the crash really impacted us. No one was buying or selling house, so the title company didn’t need me. My salary went down from over $70,000 to less than $20,000. I tried to get back into teaching, but no one was hiring teachers with their master’s degree. Here I had 2 fantastic careers and couldn’t make a living with either one.

I was on Craigslist one afternoon, listing our baby furniture, when I saw an ad for a tutoring company. I called on a whim and got an interview. They hired me, and I started tutoring. I quickly became a director, and my area grew so quickly that we had to split it twice and hire an assistant to help me. I realized I was good at this. I loved meeting with new families. I loved following my students’ progress. I loved interacting with my tutors.

At the same time, one of my friends from the title company, Erin, had a daughter who was in high school, and she needed a tutor for ACT. I agreed to work with her and 3 other friends who wanted tutoring as well. They all increased their scores significantly and started telling their friends about me. My private student base grew until I had to start turning students away. So, I left the tutoring company to work privately. Within a few months, I was turning students away which broke my heart. So, I hired a tutor and then I hired another one and another one. I now have 30 tutors on staff and 90-100 students. We’ve had a waiting list every fall for the past 4 years.

This has certainly not been the path I thought I’d take. It’s not the straight-forward path I would have planned if I could have. Sometimes I think back and wish I’d gone into teaching right away and that I wouldn’t have left it when I had my daughter. But, had I not worked at the title company, I would never have met Erin and would never have tutored her daughter and her friends. Had I not gone to Harper College, I wouldn’t have met Nancy and chaperoned in her classroom. Had I not left teaching to be home with my daughter, I wouldn’t have worked for a tutoring company and expanded my abilities. These have all had big impacts on my journey.

As I meet new students and interview them before I match them with a tutor, I hear the same thing. No one knows that they want to be when they grow up. And since they don’t know what they want to be, they can’t decide what to major in, and so they don’t know what college to think about. That means they don’t know what ACT score they need. This has been bugging me for a while. It’s the hardest question I have to ask these young adults. It has such a big impact on their future and almost none of them can answer it. I have been thinking about this for awhile and looking through books to find one that will help. Nothing’s working so far, so I decided to take things into my own hands. Did I ever think I’d write a book? NO! But, here I am. I hope you find it helpful. I hope it helps you on your journey. No matter what, remember that you are where you are supposed to be and you will end up where you are supposed to end up!

Jane Keene

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