Remote Work: The Toll of Interruptions

Remote work is the new cool, and it’s easy to see why. With advancements in technology, improved digital communication tools, and a global mindset that’s increasingly valuing flexibility and work-life balance, the traditional 9-to-5 office grind seems almost archaic. More and more of us are embracing the freedom that comes with working from our living rooms, local coffee shops, or even from a beach halfway across the world. But as the saying goes, every rose has its thorn.

During this period of sequestration, those of us juggling work and parenting are facing more interruptions to our work than ever before. One moment you’re deep into a project, and the next, you’re helping with a math problem or attending to a household chore. And these interruptions seem to strike right when we need all our faculties in order.

This Isn’t a Recent Issue

Now, if you’re thinking that the challenges of remote work are a product of our current times, think again. This isn’t some trend birthed in 2020. In fact, there’s an article from way back in 2015 that delved into the very challenges of juggling remote work with personal life. What has changed, however, is the intensity and scale of the situation. The global shift to remote work has brought these challenges to the forefront, making them more palpable.

Just the other day, a friend remarked, “I’m still trying to get to the bottom of why it makes me angry.” And I thought, Wait. I know this one.

For those feeling this same frustration, I’d like to suggest the possibility that it’s because we like to feel that our thoughts and focus should be under our control. We like to believe that our thoughts, our focus, and our time are ours to command. But in the current landscape, it often feels like our mental space is shared property, with everyone and everything laying a claim to it.

It’s as if external factors, from family members to household chores, have a say in dictating the flow of our day.

You’re Not Alone in This

This intrusion into our mental sanctum isn’t just about the disruption of work and the effort it’ll take to regain that headspace; it’s a deeper violation of our personal space and autonomy. The constant interruptions, the background noises, and the unexpected demands all contribute to this feeling of invasion.

If you’re in this boat, know that you’re not alone. Many are grappling with the same challenges, and that feeling of violation is a testament to the deeply personal nature of our thoughts and focus.

Tutoring by video, Done Now and Done Right

COVID-19 has undeniably reshaped the way we live, work, and interact. As countries grappled with rising case numbers and healthcare challenges, individuals and communities were thrust into a whirlwind of change. From remote work and online education to social distancing and mask mandates, the very fabric of our daily routines have changed.

It’s Had a Tremendous Impact on Education

For countless students worldwide, this pandemic has led to one significant consequence: schools are closing. The initial closures, which many hoped would be temporary, are now stretching into months. This unforeseen extension has thrust both educational institutions and their students into the deep end, forcing the shift to distance learning. The transition is happening in real-time, regardless of whether schools and students are prepared for it.

Distance Learning is More Than Just Video Calls

Effective online tutoring is not as straightforward as you might think. It’s not just about hopping onto a video chat or spending a few hours getting the hang of Google Classroom or Zoom. It’s about creating an environment where learning can thrive, even in the absence of physical presence.

We began virtual education well before the pandemic. For several years now, we’ve been teaching most of our students via face-to-face video sessions, improving our approach over time to provide an enriching and interactive learning experience. Our online classes connect students from all over the world, including those living in the same country as us.

Some of our students live very close to our office but still choose our online classes. They prefer the smooth and user-friendly experience we provide with our online tutoring platform, which often feels as good as, if not better than, regular classroom lessons. No kidding: the experience can be so seamless that even a five-minute walk seems wasteful.

This didn’t happen overnight. Our success results from relentless practice, year in and year out. We’ve honed our skills, adapted to various challenges, and refined our methods to provide top-notch education remotely.

How Do You Take the Most Advantage of Video Tutoring?

Online video classes are becoming more common. However, not all teachers are familiar with this method. For newcomers to online teaching, it can be challenging.

To help, here are some ideas for getting the most out of an educator unaccustomed to working over video, based on our real-world experience. We’ve tried different methods, talked with other educators, and learned from our mistakes to offer practical advice.

If you have questions, please schedule a chat. We’re here to help with no hidden fees. Just set up a chat, and we can discuss online education together.

Unknown unknowns

You probably remember the quote:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

When it comes to STEM tutoring, test preparation, and contest preparation for especially strong students, this is a shockingly important concept.  After all, strong students know a lot; they know what they know; and they are aware of things that they ought to know but don’t yet.

But typically there are things that they are missing that they don’t even know that they are missing.  And this is where most of the real trouble lies.  I help these students recognize these “unknown unknowns” in their academic lives.

The most common unknown unknown is a deficit in one of three qualities (which some colleagues helped me identify in a previous post):

  • Fluent: the successful student knows the material and how it all interconnects.
    Otherwise, success is necessarily limited (of course). This category includes not only “I need to study more” but also “I had memorized that fact, but didn’t know how it was relevant to this question.”
  • Present: the successful student is fully focused when engaging with the material.
    Otherwise, knowledge doesn’t matter; you’ll still flub it, e.g. by misreading the question, answering a different but related question, making an arithmetic error, doing too much in one’s head rather than on paper… in essence, a forehead-slapper. This is often missing in students who are so fluent that they aren’t used to having to focus 100% of their attention.
  • Bold: the successful student is willing and able to make progress with incomplete information.
    It’s often called creativity, critical reasoning, or problem-solving. But at its core, it’s about reasoning successfully even when some pieces of the puzzle appear to be missing. This is often missing in students who are so fluent that they aren’t used to having anything less than complete information in the first place.

That’s it in a nutshell: to be extremely successful academically, you should aim to be fluent, present, and bold. But most strong students consider any academic issue to be a failure only of fluency, which means they often use the wrong tools for solving their problems.

This can cause extreme frustration, and can threaten both morale and identity.

My diagnostic systems identify gaps in these categories, and my interventions help students build the new habits that bridge these gaps.  This eliminates these frustrating “unknown unknowns” for most students.

I’m glad to finally have a way to easily discuss these issues with students and parents, so that we can all help the student as a cohesive team.

Math under pressure

This outstanding TED Talk by Barnard’s president is mainly about choking under pressure. But how interesting that the example Professor Beilock spends most time on is girls’ learning math.

One of the excellent points she makes so well is that there’s a difference between knowing how to do something, and being able to do it when the pressure’s on.  And as you have probably experienced yourself, the pressure is in some sense always on.

I’ve experienced this since my school days, and I’ve done my share of studying this issue and experimenting with various best practices. When it comes to preparation for math tests of any kind, I consider this issue to be of equal importance to actually learning math.

I know. It sounds like heresy. But I know it’s right. So we use a three-pronged approach to preparing for math tests and math competitions alike:

  • Learn the necessary math to fluency
  • Identify and resolve all your performance/execution issues (per the above)
  • Strengthen your ability to critically deconstruct and to creatively synthesize

We give equal weight to these keys to success, because we understand that it isn’t just about what you know. It’s also about what you can do, and how you feel when you do it.


Tutoring: in-person vs. offshore

As the offshore tutoring industry continues to gear up and get huge, I’ve been coming around to the idea that different people have different needs, and it’s good for everyone when many solutions are available for a problem. It’s just like having McDonald’s around the corner: it’s no good when you want a gourmet meal, but if you want a Big Mac, then that’s the very best place to go.

And then I read this article in SFGate, in which the following quote seems to have slipped past the editor:

Kevin said he feels more comfortable talking to his tutor — sight unseen — than asking questions in class: “No one is paying attention to me that much.”

Is it just me, or is this a problem with this “service”?