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Tutor Doctor of Phoenix, AZ

Serving Ahwatukee, Apache Junction, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Queen Creek
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The Pros and Cons of Smartphones in the Classroom

When you stop and think about it, smartphones are extraordinary devices. They offer multiple forms of communication — voice, text and video — as well as a connection to the Internet, access to audio and video streaming, satellite navigation and a veritable galaxy of apps. It’s no wonder they’ve taken society by storm, especially the world of young people. But are they a bit too powerful? Too dangerous? Too distracting? Should they be banned from classrooms, or embraced as learning tools? Let’s look at some pros and cons:



Instant access for parents

Any teacher can tell you that parents are a major source of calls and texts in the classroom. Some are simple workaday messages like coordinating after-school pickups, while others are of greater importance, concerning family emergencies. Many parents deeply appreciate being able to reach their kids when necessary.


Quick answers

Let’s face it, phones are great for research. They provide ready access not only to the World Wide Web but countless research databases and up-to-date news services. Instead of sitting in their seats not knowing answers to questions, students can find their own answers, bringing a bit of student-centered learning to the classroom.


In-class assignments

We’ve now reached the point where real work is being performed on cell phones, up to and including feature films and bestselling novels. Students can easily write assignments, shoot and edit photos, audio and video, and craft presentations, then share their work with the whole class via projector or Smartboard. Properly employed, today’s phones can be powerful tools for learning.


Social learning

The standard learning model is not the best for everyone. There are many reasons why a student might be unwilling or unable to speak up in the classroom, including learning exceptionalities and just plain shyness. Social media-based learning models offer a route for broader participation and sharing. Indeed the familiarity most young people have with social media can reduce stress associated with learning.



Safety of digital devices

Officially, smartphones pose no medical risk to people who use them. However, questions remain about the methods used in dismissing those risks, so the matter, to many people, is far from settled. Even if there is no risk, the fears many parents have can make the use of smartphones in the classroom a controversial choice.


Inappropriate content

It can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to control what students view on their phones. We all know that a vast amount of inappropriate content is freely available, and this includes content that is harmful but gets less media coverage — for instance teen gambling is a serious problem. Schools frequently implement firewalls to block such content but tech-savvy students routinely find ways around these measures.


Inappropriate contact and cyberbullying

The digital world can be dangerous. Not only are there predators, but students can sometimes be convinced to share compromising imagery. At the same time, some youngsters find themselves the targets of cyberbullying. Using phones in the classroom can inadvertently expose young people to these dangers — the opposite of the goals of educators, who are traditionally devoted to the safety of their students.


Distraction from schoolwork

Phones are fun. They’re fun. If adults can have trouble tearing their eyes away from the little things, then so can young people. Classrooms are supposed to be devoted to learning, and if students are using their phones for non-educational purposes, well, the whole endeavor is just a waste of everyone’s time.

The College Essay That Conquered the Ivy League

Applying for college is a long, difficult, even painful process. Young people work so hard to paint themselves as desirable candidates for universities that are all but guaranteed to receive far more applicants than than they can ever hope to approve. Indeed some schools only accept fewer than 10% of qualified applicants. This is certainly the case in the fabled Ivy League, the elite assembly of schools with an admissions process so notoriously difficult as to be effectively out of reach for most young people. Well, wait a minute! Maybe that’s not true. One amazing teen in the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut, managed to gain acceptance to the entire Ivy League — plus Stanford and UC Berkeley. The key to her achievement? A dynamite admission essay.

Cassandra Hsiao is a first-generation immigrant to America of Malaysian/Taiwanese heritage. As a recent arrival, she has struggled to fit in. She has had to learn a new language, of course, and this involves not just vocabulary and grammar but cultural context and slang, which can be so very difficult to grasp. There is also the effort required to adapt to new ways of performing basic tasks we so often take for granted, ranging from banking to driving to doing well in school. And if all this wasn’t enough there is the contrast between daily life out in the world and daily life at home, where older cultural and linguistic norms often stick around for years.

This struggle, and the resulting feelings of alienation, served as the topic of Ms. Hsiao’s admissions essay:

“We were both crying now. My mother asked me to teach her proper English so old white ladies at Target wouldn’t laugh at her pronunciation. It has not been easy. There is a measure of guilt when I sew her letters together. Long vowels, double consonants — I am still learning myself. Sometimes I let the brokenness slide to spare her pride but perhaps I have hurt her more to spare mine.”

Ms. Hsiao really knocked the socks off the admissions officers who read it. Worth noting, however, is the fact that Hsiao is no ordinary high school student. Though still only seventeen years old, she is a practicing entertainment journalist, and has interviewed movie stars. In other words there’s more to her applications than just the essay.

The bottom line, however, is that her applications were accepted on their merits — she had no strings to pull. This is worth considering for ambitious students who might be too intimidated to aim for the top. The truth is, you never know what might happen.

Tutor Doctor Announces Finalists for Tutor of the Year!

Every year, Tutor Doctor recognizes the very best among the many thousands of tutors we employ worldwide. Being named Tutor of the Year is an honor given to those who display extraordinary dedication, passion and sacrifice — those who go the extra mile for their students. This year we received over 450 nominations from 10 countries and through public voting narrowed that down to our 5 finalists. And so, without further ado, let’s meet this year’s finalists!


Sara Wade, Florida, USA

Sara is someone who makes an immediate impression. She exudes professionalism and empathy, leaving parents in no doubt that she cares deeply about her work and her students. She has especially won praise from parents of students with learning exceptionalities, helping them find a course of learning full of possibilities where previously there had been so much stress.

Click here to see the full nomination


Lara Fincken, Reading, UK

Lara is a gifted tutor who has consistently delivered amazing results. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the kind of student with whom she finds the greatest success. Students living in poverty, or who have survived trauma and abuse often face severe struggles in school, but Lara has the experience required to help these kids. “In my play therapy work I aim to support children in their emotional journey to help them access their education more readily.” Her many successes speak for themselves.

Click here to see the full nomination


Cami Smith, Florida, USA

Love. That is the word that kept coming up when parents talked about Cami. The day-to-day work of a tutor demands a lot from all our professionals, but Cami brings something extra to the table. Her students immediately feel the kind of powerful connection that one only experiences when one is under the care of someone who truly cares. Said one parent, “I am very thankful for Tutor Dr. and especially proud to call Cami our friend. I give the highest marks to both Tutor Doctor and our Cami. She is much more than just a tutor.”

Click here to see the full nomination


Diana Tran, Ontario, Canada

Diana’s students — and the parents of those students — know full well how dedicated Diana is to helping them achieve new levels of academic success. Her tireless efforts have earned her great praise. Indeed she has earned strong support and an impressive reputation throughout her local community. The area where Diana lives has a great many immigrants whose children often struggle to adjust to a new school, a new culture and a new language. She has shown a particular talent for helping these families overcome these difficulties — a task requiring a level of patience and devotion that can be overwhelming.

Click here to see the full nomination

Tammy Turner, Texas, USA

Tammy works hard for her students, earning praise from grateful students and parents. Being a tutor can indeed be hard work. When Tammy is assigned to a student, it’s probably because that student is struggling. This can mean reduced academic performance but it almost always means stress, fear and lowered self-esteem. In these conditions, it takes a tutor who is calm, caring and professional to help that student turn struggle into success, and insecurity into confidence. Tammy fully embodies all these skills and values.

Click here to see the full nomination

Autism: Toward a Deeper Understanding

Autism and autism awareness are important topics, in society at large as well as within educational circles. However a great many people may have an incomplete or outdated understanding of what autism is, where it comes from and what it means for parents, teachers and the community. So without further ado let’s jump in.


What exactly is autism?


Previously, autism was perceived as a collection of vaguely-connected disorders, or as varying points on a spectrum. Nowadays, however, it’s viewed quite differently. A diagnosis of autism includes three key disorders:


  • Impairments in social interaction

  • Impairments in communication

  • Restricted interests and repetitive behavior


Those are the three characteristics that lead to a diagnosis of autism. The thing is, it’s now known that huge differences can exist between children with autism, and that is chalked up to the fact that it affects people in unique ways. It can be mild or intense, or include any number of a basket of behaviors or symptoms that can range from picky eating to sensory abnormalities to unusual abilities, such as superior memorization and perception. In other words, the effects of autism depend heavily on the individual.

What causes autism?

The days of “we have no idea” are over, but there is still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to specifics. For instance, there is definitely a genetic component, but the exact mechanism is unknown. There is no “autism gene,” so it is not inherited. It seems likely that certain genetic changes can happen in utero, caused by external influences such as the mother getting a serious infection or doing drugs while pregnant, and these genetic changes can affect brain development. Mothers who have been exposed to serious air pollution run a higher risk of having kids with autism, but researchers have been unable to find a direct, specific cause-and-effect link between any one cause and the creation of autism.

It’s currently believed that autism is the result of problems with neurological development very early on, soon after conception. It seems to be the result of a confluence of events that involve external factors, stress in the womb and genetic risk factors. There is no single source of prevention, but it appears that prioritizing maternal health can reduce the odds of the development of autism.

How soon can autism be diagnosed?

In most cases, parents begin to notice unusual behavior in toddlerhood, but sometimes the symptoms are spotted even earlier. Diagnosis is based entirely on behavior; there is no blood test or scan that can find it. We now know that the sooner intervention is carried out, the better the outcome. However at present there is no “cure” for autism. Sadly, treatment is likely to be very expensive.

What does the future hold for autism?

Young people with autism have long struggled with acceptance in society. Their difficulties in socializing make emotional connections harder to achieve, which makes it easier for them to be dismissed, ignored or judged. The good news is, acceptance is growing as awareness increases. There may yet come a day when autism is viewed as just another exceptionality.

Supreme Court Rules on Students With Disabilities

In a previous blog post, we described the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which explored the degree to which school boards are responsible for accommodating students with serious disabilities.As related in that blog post:The case…

Homeschoolers Still Fighting for Acceptance

Homeschooling is a fairly well-established phenomenon. At present, over 1.5 million students are educated at home, which is double the number estimated in the late 1990s. These youngsters account for around 3.5% of America’s students, a rate th…

A look at China’s version of the ACT/SAT

Admission to university in China depends on scores in a nationwide exam called the National College Entrance Exam (NCEE), or Gaokao in Chinese (literally, “high test”). It is hard to underestimate how brutal this exam is for most students. It’s a nine-hour exam (spread over two or three days), and it basically chooses the fate of each student — for life. If you can’t get a high enough score, then you won’t get into university, and without university your life is likely to be far more limited. Think of the Gaokao as the SAT or ACT, times a thousand. Everything depends on it. Applying for university mostly consists of sending them your score. And yes, you can re-take the exam if necessary, but because it’s only held once per year, well … let’s put it this way: one nickname for the test is “one-shot, one-kill.” In other words everything depends on one sitting of one test.

In North America, there is an ongoing debate about standardized testing, mainly centered around the idea that schools “teach to the test” in order to raise scores and boost funding. In China, everything is about the Gaokao. Once students hit high school (beginning at age 12), the focus on that exam soars. One thing that happens at around age 15 or 16 is one huge life-deciding choice: they must pick one of two “streams” that will decide their future career. Either they pick the “social science” stream, which emphasizes social sciences like history and geography plus a foreign language (usually English), or the “natural science” stream, which emphasizes advanced math and science. Both streams include math and Chinese.

Once that “stream” is chosen, students spend the next several years doing whatever it takes to master the subjects that will be on the Gaokao. The school year in China is far longer than in the West, at 245 days of the year (it’s well under 200 in the US), and as high school progresses the days get longer — as the Gaokao approaches it’s normal for high schoolers to attend school from 7am till 11pm. No, that’s not a typo, sixteen-hour days are utterly normal. They take regular classes in the daytime followed by evening sessions to cram in more learning. Yes, it’s exhausting. And yes, calling it “stressful” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

High school life is very different in China. Because of the focus on the Gaokao, little time is left over for socializing, dating, gaming or just generally slacking. Forget skipping class. The whole thing is a family affair, with everyone working to support the student. If you’re a working-class family, a child who graduates university and gets a good office job may well be able to support the whole family. On the day of the test, students often board a bus at their high school and a massive crowd surrounds them — their families, waving, cheering and wishing their best.

Unsurprisingly, there are many stories of psychological and physical collapse due to the pressure. It doesn’t help that no allowances are made for sickness or learning exceptionalities. It is a national event that dominates the media when it takes place. After all, it might involve nine or ten million students taking the exam at the same time. Talk about competition!

There are essay questions on the Gaokao in addition to the standard study-based questions. Here’s one example from a recent Gaokao (note that the Chinese school system places a heavy emphasis on what we would call “building character”):

“Everybody has tough and soft spots in his/her heart. Whether you can reach an inner harmony depends on how you balance the toughness and softness. Please choose an angle and write an essay on this topic in 800 words or more.”

In previous decades, the rate of university attendance was extremely low, around 20% of the population. But perhaps because university is seen as a path to raising living standards, the rate of attendance has risen over the years — the exact number is hard to determine for certain but it appears to be around 50% or so.

There are many problems with the Gaokao. In many ways its rigidity makes it demonstrably unfair, for one thing. Indeed there has been debate in China for years about whether to switch to a more American-style system that allows greater room for creativity and imagination over rote memorization, but there’s little sign that any change will take place.

Chinese teenagers see portrayals of American high schools in movies and on TV, and it usually seems incredibly foreign to them — so much socializing, so much fooling around, so much talking back to the teachers! One wonders what American students would think of a day in the life of their Chinese equivalents.

More Tips For High School Introverts

It can be hard being introverted, especially in as social a setting as a modern high school. There are so many groups, so many friendships, so many relationships that begin, that grow, that change, even end. Popularity is often highly prized, and it …

Tutor of the Year Award 2017!

Nominations and voting for our 2017 Tutor Doctor Tutor of the Year Award opens on March 7 – we will begin receiving nominations from our customers right here. Every year Tutor Doctor picks a tutor who best symbolizes the hard work and dedication it t…

Hilarious Excuses from Students and Parents

Ah, the excuse note. A powerful little document with the magical power to grant forgiveness for many a scholastic transgression. They are sacred things, those notes, an inevitable part of school life: written, handed in and then forgotten. But sometimes a note is different — sometimes it stands out. Let’s take a look at some notes that made enough of an impact that the teacher-recipients had to share them. And remember, the misspellings and grammar problems were in the original note.


“My dad forgot to do my homework for me.”


“I left my homework in the back of a pickup truck. Went through a carwash.”


“My son Michael won’t be in school today, he caught his thing in his zipper this morning while dressing and is in lot of pain!”


“Please excuse Johnnie for being. It was his father’s fault.”


“My youngest daughter couldn’t turn in her homework because her younger step-brother had stolen it, filled it in and turned it in to his teacher to prove how smart he was.”


“Please excuse Eric from school on May 5th through May 19th. He was waiting in line for the new Star Wars film. You will be happy to know, he got tickets for next September, when he will be missing another week of school while he waits in line for the perfect seat.”


“Please excuse my daughter from school yesterday and P.E. forever. She had a very bad asthma attack running in P.E. because the coach made her run too much. Please excuse her from P.E. even though the doctor says she needs it.”


“Diane was late on Wednesday. She fell asleep on the bus and was taken back to the bus yard.”


“Please excuse Tommy for being absent yesterday. He had diarrheea and his boots leak.”


“Please exscuse John from being absent Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and also 33.”


“Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating.”


“Tommy wasn’t in school yesterday because he thought it was Saturday.”


“Please excuse my son. He will be out next week slaughtering goats for his manhood ritual. Thank you!”


“Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch and when we found it Monday we thought it was Sunday.


“Please excuse little Jimmy for not being in school yesterday. His father is gone and I could not get him ready because I was in bed with the doctor.”

“I won’t be in class today because I’m in love.”

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