Olivia Robinson, an elementary education major with a minor in mathematics, is learning by doing. As part of her Honors Senior Thesis, she single-handedly designed, coordinated, and conducted a mathematics tutoring program at Northeastern Elementary School in Fountain City, Ind.
Unlike many school programs, where students work with faculty advisors, and much of the coordinating is done for them – or connections are at least provided – Robinson was completely on her own. First, she had to convince a school to let her try.
The Hagerstown native received help from an aunt, who is friends with a Northeastern High School guidance counselor. The counselor loved the idea, and forwarded it on to Principal Sam Pritchard, who agreed to meet with her, and discuss it.
“I really grew as a professional, getting to work directly with the principal,” Robinson said. She found that she really enjoyed the feeling of independence that working on her own gave her.
She incorporated Pritchard’s ideas into her program, and began preparations. During the spring semester, she visited the school three times, to observe math classes, and to get a feel for the students and the school system.
In the fall of 2014, she went to work. Every Friday, Robinson set up shop all day long in the school’s RAP (Respect All People program) room to tutor children during their lunch breaks, recess, or at their teacher’s discretion.
She also worked with children in the classrooms during math class in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. “I liked the variety of experiences, working with the different grades,” Robinson said. “I feel like it has really prepared me for success as a teacher.”
The teachers, whose classes she worked in, appreciated her efforts.
“Usually she would take a student who might be behind on his morning work assignments, or sometimes she would just work with some children who struggled,” said third-grade teacher Darlene Govin.
Robinson’s one-on-one experience with the children helped her to grow in InTASC principle 2, which concerns learning differences. She found, from first-hand experience, that not all children learn the same way, and she was able to adapt her tutoring to meet the needs of the individual child, rather than expecting the child to adapt to the tutoring method. This flexibility on her part helped the children to learn and grow as students.
“Ms. Robinson worked diligently to help students get caught up with math. Students enjoyed working with her. It was a blessing to have her,” said Northeastern Elementary Fourth Grade Teacher Teresa McNew, one of the teachers with whom Robinson worked.
Govin agreed, saying, “I really appreciated her help. She was very faithful and seemed to have a good rapport with the students.”
Robinson reflected on her tutoring program in her thesis, “A Learning Experience.” She found areas that could be improved as well as shared what worked. Some of the things she has learned are that a program has to have specific goals, has to be widely and assiduously promoted and publicized, and that her program might have been more successful in a junior-high, or high school, where students have study halls, and more leeway in their schedules, as well as being more mature and responsible.
One of the hardest facts to face was that her expectations were way too high. “That was really difficult for me, because I have such high expectations for myself,” she said. Even though the program wasn’t the success she’d hoped, her experience in the classroom has reassured her that she is right in following her dream of becoming a teacher.
“She is an extremely hard worker and I have gotten nothing but positive feedback from her cooperating teachers in all her field experiences,” said Lori Dilworth, lecturer for the School of Education, and Robinson’s Honors Program project advisor. Dilworth added, “She has produced nothing but well-thought-out and well-designed work for me.”
Robinson is especially grateful to Mrs. Govin and her third-grade class, writing, “Mrs. Govin’s class was my favorite to work with … It was a huge joy to be able to work with her and her students. They were always happy to see me and excited to work with me.”
Even though Robinson has dreamed of being a teacher since childhood, she began college as a nursing major, due to the influence of friends and family members concerned with the downsides of a career in teaching: poor pay, lack of respect, high stress, and so on. However, a conversation with old friend and fellow student, Blake Babcock, convinced her to follow her passion. “He told me, ‘you have to do what you want to do, not what others want you to do,’ and he was right. You have to do what you’re passionate about.” She changed her major to elementary education, and hasn’t looked back since.
In addition to her tutoring program, when she graduates next year, she will have spent five of her eight semesters gaining field experience; four as a pre-service teacher, and one as a student teacher, in Wayne and surrounding counties.
“It’s interesting to see how kids differ from grade to grade and district to district. The students have always been very welcoming and engaged. They really want to know what I have to say and to learn what I have to teach,” Robinson said.
Working in the classroom as a pre-service teacher has had its challenges: “Going into another teacher’s classroom and figuring out where you stand, and how you fit in, particularly in regard to classroom discipline is really tough,” Robinson said. “Finding the line between being proactive, and stepping on the teacher’s toes is extremely important, and it changes from class to class, teacher to teacher.”
She has worked with a variety of teachers, using widely different teaching styles, from old-school teachers to newer teachers with more modern methods. “It’s made me much more able to prepare for teaching,” she said. “I’ve always had a very good experience with faculty members. I’ve really enjoyed a good relationship with all the teachers I’ve worked with.”
Robinson has presented on her program both at the 2016 Mid-East Honors Association (MEHA) conference, and for IU President Michael McRobbie during his January 2016 visit to IU East. She is also a four year recipient of the Lingle Scholar award, one of the campus’ most prestigious scholarships.
After finishing her B.S. in Elementary Education, she plans to begin teaching before beginning graduate school, in pursuit of either a Master of Science in Education or a Master of Education in School Administration.