The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which mandated free tutoring for failing schools, has given birth to a growing online tutoring industry that provides help to students from an unexpected source — teachers at home online.
Billie Menges of La Grande has been an online tutor since 2002, logging in more than 40 hours a week between two different tutoring companies. - Photo/Trish Yerges
Certified teacher Billie Menges of La Grande, who earned her teaching degree at Eastern Oregon University, has been working as an online tutor from her home since 2002. She works floating hours for Tutor.com and Brainfuse.com, two well known tutoring companies in the business of educating elementary and secondary school children.
Each week Menges logs in more than 40 hours of work between the two companies. She tutors students from all grades in social studies, high school and college introductory English, science, math and Spanish, her second language.
“Students go through their school’s library website to find the link to live homework help,” said Menges.
The student is put on a waiting page for an available tutor. Meanwhile, the student’s name tag is blinking at the bottom of Menges’ screen or a few musical notes may play indicating a new student has logged on. She has 10 seconds to answer that student and engage in tutoring.
“This is your tutor, how may I help you? Do you have an idea about the answer?” she begins.
Tutoring sessions may be as short as a few minutes or as long as 20 minutes. By 2 or 3 p.m., things start getting very lively on Menges’ computer screen, as she fields questions from as many as seven students simultaneously, each asking vastly different and sometimes difficult questions. It’s a fast-paced and stimulating environment for her.
But she’s good at her work. She juggles the questions, the students, the whiteboard and finds resource material for each student all at the same time as she crunches on ice cubes from a tray alongside her keyboard. She likes to speak what she types — it gives her a better sense of communicating with the student, she said.
“I won’t give the answers to the student, but I guide them. That’s very important,” she said. “I help them to understand how to reason on material and not just show them in black and white.”
Finding her way around search engines is vital to the job.
“Dogpile.com is my favorite research engine for finding answers,” said Menges, “but there is also answers.com and others that I use. I have book marked my favorite sites since I often get asked the same type of questions because schools use similar curriculums during the year.”
Math is particularly hard for some students, she said. When a student has trouble comprehending the math lesson in the classroom, and the teacher doesn’t have time to tutor the student after class, a student may panic at the thought of falling behind.
“Online tutors make them feel they aren’t alone in their studies,” said Menges. “Sometimes they just want someone to talk to them about it.”
The types of questions that Menges addresses vary. Some are more simple than others; some are even humorous.
What do the stars and stripes mean? What day is Memorial Day? What are the disadvantages of arbitration? What is a rebuttal? Why do Rice Krispies snap, crackle and pop?
Menges noticed that the answers to these questions could be found if students developed better research skills, both from their text books and online. That’s what tutoring services like Brainfuse.com and Tutor.com offer their students.
Brainfuse.com libraries are funded by NCLB and are mostly on Pacific Time, said Menges. They are a major competitor to Tutor.com. Hundreds of thousands of students qualify for the free tutoring, but according to the Department of Education, less than 15 percent receive the service. Parents should check with their local libraries and school districts to see if it is available for their children.
“The number of tutors employed by both companies keeps going up,” said Menges. The last time I checked, Tutor.com had 1,700 tutors.”
Entry level wages for tutors may start at $8 or $9 an hour for time spent actively tutoring. But as a teacher, it’s also about helping children learn. She does that by a skillful use of leading questions and encouragement.
“It’s important to praise and nurture the student when they get something right,” she said.
When the session ends and the student thanks her, Menges smiles and types her signature closing — “Glad to help.”