Get to Know Our Tutors

Ann Hillesland

I was a bookworm as a child. My favorite outing was to the library, where I’d check out a stack of hardbacks so tall my arm would ache by the time I got to the circulation desk. One of my greatest pleasures as an English tutor is sharing with students books I enjoyed as a child. I love watching students chuckle when describing the mischief that Tom Sawyer and Anne Shirley get into. I also love sharing books I’ve studied, such as Jane Eyre and Great Expectations, with my older students. At IYE, we assign literary classics to our students, using our online texts with highlighted vocabulary words. We guide students through close reading of these classics, giving our students not only a deeper understanding of writing craft but also an opportunity to get inside the minds of people living in different countries and eras. I hope that studying these books gives students a love of reading and an empathy for others.

I also enjoy teaching writing. As a professional writer, I know that being able to express ideas clearly in writing not only gives students an edge as they work towards college, it pays dividends in the workplace after college. I’ve spent my life writing and studying writing, and it’s a joy to pass on some of the techniques I’ve learned, such as using concrete details, cutting excess words, and varying sentence structure. IYE has specific curriculum to help writers in all of these areas--handouts, worksheets, and exercises all tailored to student needs. Many of these teaching tools are tutor-created. My fellow tutors are the most accomplished in the tutoring profession, and together we have a vast pool of knowledge that we can draw upon to make our lessons more productive. I like working at IYE because I can teach subjects I love with a team of talented and dedicated colleagues.

Dr. Mary Lynn Wilson

What I like about IYE is that all the tutors are professionals and not high school or college students trained in cookie-cutter tutoring. We have a lot of leeway to personalize the instruction to each student. All of our tutors have a specialty but are also more than competent to teach all the areas we cover. The owner is very particular in hiring only intelligent, well-trained instructors whom he would trust alone with his own child. This is one of the factors that make us different and eminently better than other tutoring centers.

I teach research and writing for the History Department at San Jose State University. While I get to teach the use of primary sources and thesis-driven argument, I never get to teach literature, which is one of my loves. I have a BA in English Literature and have studied and read a good deal of Latin, Greek, German, French, and Sanskrit literature in the original languages. Getting to spend one day a week teaching Homer or Beowulf or Donne is a joy. I get to pass along my love of poetry and classical literature to the next generation.

The main reason I continue to work at IYE after five plus years is that I fall in love with my students. It is like having a handful of nieces and nephews that I get to see once a week. I watch and help them evolve into adults. Once I have taught a student for several months, we form a relationship. I am not a parent, not a friend, not a relative, and not a teacher. I am, in many ways, all of those with none of the negatives attached to them. I am a non-threatening adult who will listen to them and make them the center of my universe for an hour each week. I am their personal cheerleader, taskmaster, and coach all in one.

Artie Moffa

I like disproving the harmful myths of "magic" or "secrets" in books. Well-written novels, plays, essays, or poems do not have "secret" meanings. To be sure, such stories can have surprises. They can have twists. They can have an obvious meaning and a less-obvious undertone. But it's all there in the text. Some students come to IYE almost suspicious of literature. They think there are secrets that some readers "get" and some readers don't "get." Most students would never accept such rubbish in chemistry class: "Some acids only react with bases if the scientist knows unspoken, secret, background chemistry." Yet many students feel as though there is some secret message at work. There is not. Finding meaning in literature is a matter of close reading. Close reading is a skill. And skills can be taught.

Very gratifying to me are the moments when a student I've been tutoring gets to 10th or 11th grade and switches over from our standard curriculum to our SAT or ACT prep curriculum. If I've been doing my job right, and if the student has been diligent up to that point, we are both amused by how simple and natural a transition that is. "Oh, I need to find the errors in this paragraph? I know how to do that already."

Judy Wendel

What I enjoy about teaching English is the opportunity to guide students to discover universal, timeless themes in literature – to get them to think more deeply than "factually" about what that literature suggests and how it causes the reader to wonder. I also love all languages. The point of teaching language is to show students the tools that all language provides and to get them to become masters instead of avoiders. I particularly enjoy teaching writing because it is such an essential mode of communication, including in modern business and in the field of technology. Most of all, watching a student transform from a reluctant to an eager and independent writer is the pinnacle of satisfaction.

IYE respects and teaches beautiful language, the conventions of language, and memorable literature, such as that found in our Library of Classics. Too often these essentials of learning are ignored in the classroom in favor of fads, shortcuts, and a generally minimalist approach to reading and writing. I have seen these approaches short-change students both in high school and later in college, when high levels of reading comprehension and fluency in writing are essential for success, regardless of the student’s major.

My colleagues are the principal reason I originally applied to tutor at IYE, and those colleagues are also the principal (but not the only) reason I stay committed to the company. It’s quite a privilege, and quite unusual, to work with peers whose high standards match my own. Any one of my colleagues could be academics (and some are!), and all of us have professional standards not found in any other Bay Area tutoring company with which I am familiar. As I have worked in the Bay Area my entire adult life, that’s a significant observation.

Jeannie Stokes-Cobb

I was drawn to Improve Your English because it isn't a tutoring center which simply offers a quick six- or eight-week tutoring package under the expectation that a student will be "just fine" once the sessions are over. There is nothing wrong with centers which do this, but as an English instructor, I know that working on one student deficiency can reveal other weaknesses that may take a while to see. Improve Your English doesn't see our students as time slots; each student is an individual with individual needs, and no two students have the same curriculum.

We work with students to build their writing skills, but we go beyond the grammar and punctuation rules by asking our students to read classic literature. It is wonderful that no matter what age our students are, whether elementary, middle, or high school, they will read and discuss classic literature each week! If that isn't enough, we have hundreds - yes hundreds! - of structured teaching tools that the company has developed over the years to engage students in everything from writing to vocabulary to reading comprehension. I thoroughly enjoy using these tools to help our students grow quickly in so many areas. During each hour, I love seeing students challenge themselves with great authors, discuss their ideas, digest the vocabulary, and develop techniques for writing. They get it! And what's more, they actually enjoy it.

Dream job!

Daniel Hoshizaki

Skilled writers imbue their work with elan, with life, with zest that makes the reader want to turn the page to find out what happens next. Will the princess slay the dragon? Did someone really secede from Australia over a wheat quota dispute? Is the writer just about to unveil a life-changing idea? I consider it an exciting privilege to guide students along the path to discovering both the delights and the practicalities of English.

It's exciting to watch students make progress. Once they acquire enough proficiency with the language, they can convey their ideas and opinions in ways that engage the reader. And when students can express their thoughts clearly and with vivid language, they can identify the issues they care about and polish up the facets of their personality.

Improve Your English boasts a wellspring of resources, from hand-picked vocabulary words and rigorous grammar exercises to sophisticated literature and thought-provoking essay prompts. And those materials don't just pop out of the ground like daisies. My colleagues all contribute to the company’s vast library of knowledge--whether dreaming up exercises in our spare time or having discussions at our regular meetings.

When I joined Improve Your English, I saw right away that my fellow tutors had a passion for reading, writing, and teaching--a passion that motivates me to improve my own English and the methods I use to teach it. Suffice to say that I am honored to work here.

Margaret Marshall

English is a global language now. By teaching English, I feel that I'm significantly contributing to my students' success in life.

I love seeing students acquire knowledge and apply it expertly. For students to read smoothly with expression, and to write showing comprehension and their own voice are IYE goals. The materials we use are pertinent to a student's individual level. My students find the IYE literature selections fascinating and fun. They feel challenged by various types of written assignments. I admire my colleagues because they can quickly determine students' needs and then focus on improving their skills to the level of mastery.

Mirabella Mitchell

I'm always excited to begin my tutoring sessions with students at IYE because I know we'll make progress. Whether that's mastering a foundational grammar concept, developing advanced reading techniques, or learning how to write a powerfully persuasive essay, the skills we prioritize help to prepare our students for a lifetime of reading and writing with mastery. Our class time is never bogged down by busywork or purposeless repetition; we get to know our students, their strengths, and their weaknesses, and we're able to tailor each session to their individual needs and interests. Ultimately, the skills we teach are essential: In today's world, everyone is frequently expected to interpret information carefully and to offer her own response in correct and precise prose. No matter what field my students choose to pursue, I'm confident that our curriculum will serve them well.

David McCalmon

I began my career in education tutoring basic paragraph and essay writing to junior college students. Many of these students were adults, and I often lamented that the work we were doing could have been learned at an earlier age if only public schools had programs that taught English in a foundational, individualized manner that sought to gradually improve the abilities of students at their own pace.

A few years later, I began tutoring fourth through eighth graders. I knew immediately that I wanted to challenge my younger students to read classic literature; I wanted to instill a passion for it. I was fortunate to work for a company that allowed me to develop my own curriculum for helping kids read college-level literature and write about it.

I didn’t believe that there was an English-tutoring service that utilized the same approach. Improve Your English does. Actually, it does more. The company’s software and curricula allow me to help my students’ minds grow quickly and efficiently. Without their even realizing it, this method encourages students to independently cultivate both a passion for literature and a strong work ethic to learn the material. This work ethic carries over into their character for the rest of their lives, creating competent analytical thinkers and writers. Meanwhile, I get the satisfaction of tutoring my students to eventually think, read, and write at the college level, while enjoying the support of a company that focuses on continually improving a platform designed to enable all of its tutors to do the same.

In just a few days, your child can start reading and writing better.


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