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PrepNow Tutor - John E.

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John's Bio

With a bachelor's in chemistry from MIT and a PhD in physical chemistry from UCLA, John has worked for twenty years as a researcher in surface chemistry, infrared detectors, nuclear chemistry, and spectroscopy.

In his career, John has published scientific papers in a variety of subjects, including nuclear waste management, spectroscopy, surface chemistry, and analytical chemistry methodology. He has regularly come up against the limits of knowledge in a given field and had to push his research into new territory. "I credit my ability to do this to the comprehensive education that I received," he says, "and I think it has given me the ability to diagnose what I don't know and how to go about learning it." This ability also translates to diagnosing and guiding his students.

John began teaching as a PhD candidate, serving as a teaching assistant, helping teach the undergraduate course load. Since then, he has continued to help students who need it, mostly in math and chemistry. In the last few years, he has also volunteered with a local non-profit that organizes ESL classes. "Teaching a non-technical subject like ESL, is different in many respects from science and math, where equations and formulas can carry the lesson," he says. "What it has taught me is that effective tutoring is all about communication, which means more than having the student nod in agreement."

"Teaching is about passing along knowledge so that people can make use of it," he says. "Once they understand, you have brought them up to your level and you have a new friend with a shared experience in common."

As a tutor, John takes the passive role, as he wants his students to be actively showing what they know. He describes it as "a version of the Socratic method, where the teacher coaxes the solution to a problem out of a student with well placed questions." If he detects a lack of understanding or knowledge hole that needs to be filled in, he will lecture "only until I have explained the point." He explains, "I try to keep my explanations brief, because I want the student to learn by doing, not by repetition of what I do."

John jokes, "My area of subject expertise, chemistry, is intimidating to most of the population already, and I don't want my teaching manner to add to it." His awareness of his students' anxieties helps him make general subjects and test-taking less intimidating. Chemistry, he says, is also "a subject full of abstractions, so if there is any way to make it more concrete, to make analogies to our everyday common experience, I try to make full use of them."

John's philosophy about the SAT is encouraging and optimistic. "I think the meaning of 'A' in SAT gets overlooked," he says. "What's being tested is aptitude -- and it is not a fixed quantity. If it were, no amount of tutoring could change it. But it can be changed, and if students have motivation, they can develop their aptitude."

In high school, John played baseball and tennis. When he got to college, he began playing ice hockey. These days, John has a wide variety of interests: foreign language and foreign travel, gardening, climate change, classic cars with diesel engines, cooking, mycology (the study of mushrooms), and hypnosis. He likes to use his knowledge of hypnosis to help students with test anxiety. Fun fact: He has lived in 10 states and 4 foreign countries!