Feb 07, 2018
Manhattan-based Private Tutor & Learning Specialist Ben Israeli shares his story of going from the ice rink to tutoring.
I was one of those lucky people who graduated in the spring of 2009, when (for those who don’t remember) the U.S. economy was in dire straits. Despite holding a degree from NYU that said I had done well as a double major in Economics and English Lit, my 3.7 GPA had little real world relevance. Jobs were few and far between. Low ball offers for entry-level consulting positions. Unlivable starting salaries in publishing. I remained upbeat.
The lone bright spot was supporting myself the same way I had in college, giving private ice hockey lessons to kids at Wollman Rink in NYC’s Central Park. The business, however, was seasonal. I had to find a “real job”.
Now, this was pre-tutor Ben. But looking back, coaching hockey at Wollman may have been the springboard for my tutoring career. It was where I learned how parents liked you to interact with them in person and over email. Where I came to understand my personal approach to teaching, how to push and back off when dealing with kids, how to get results. “Maybe, just maybe, my method was unique,” I thought. Gradually, I became conscious of my desire to see students succeed, and that that desire distinguished me from other instructors.
But this was on the ice.
So when I came across a job posting from a family looking for a tutor on NYU’s career listserv, I sent my resume and a cover letter. They responded, asking that we meet at their apartment in Chelsea for an interview. It was formal. Beyond what I expected. They sat down with me there at the dining room table, and, each with reading glasses, pored over my resume. This wasn’t their first rodeo, either, as the mom mentioned they had done quite a few of these interviews. I smiled. I listened. I talked about having taken 12 Advanced Placement courses in high school and how I took the initiative to move to Argentina the summer after my junior year and become fluent in Spanish (and passed NYU’s language requirement without taking a single semester of Spanish). I even surprised myself, discovering that I suddenly had strong, articulate opinions on teaching. An hour later I got the job.
The mom, bless her heart, must have seen – even better than I could myself – that I possessed the right skills for the job: simplifying the complicated, managing not only the substance of what I would be teaching but also the student to whom I would be teaching it, understanding and anticipating exactly what my students would struggle to understand and be able to explain or train them in a way that would make it all clear.
Perhaps she sensed that tutoring was my gift because, after our interview, she emailed me with a networking opportunity: “I'm going to try to arrange a time for you to speak with [my daughter’s] learning specialist. If it entails a meeting, I will, of course, pay you for your time, but it may just be a phone call. Might be good for you to meet her anyway as she has a full slate of students, some of whom may also need someone like you.” I ended up meeting with that learning specialist, and, as my worked progressed with my first client, I ended up earning trust. Nearly ten years later I can say the rest is history.
As I’m writing this, I realize that the pride and joy I derive from my work can be summed up by what happened today. Five students showed up. And they showed up on time. To the minute. Eager and ready to work. That tells me I’m doing something right. That says I should keep going. That my work is effective, yes, and that it has meaning.