Behind the Screen: Talking with Math Tutor, Fatema Lokma
We are honored to have a tutoring community of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise. To learn more about these amazing tutors, we created Behind the Screen, a series of blogs featuring interviews with tutors part of the Pear Deck Tutor (formerly TutorMe) community.
In our last feature, we met with Ohmeko Ocampo, a skilled math tutor with expertise in computer science and electrical engineering. We are now proud to present our next featured tutor, Fatema Lokma, an expert math tutor with a passion for watching her students learn and thrive.
In this interview, Fatema dives into why she decided to become a tutor, her most valuable tutoring skill, how she structures a successful tutoring session, and her top tips for individuals interested in a career as an online tutor.
Where did you go to college? What did you study?
I studied electronics and communications engineering at the American University in Cairo and the University of Colorado Boulder. I love all math courses, especially trigonometry and calculus. I enjoy taking courses other than engineering. For example, I took a course in Arab history that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Why did you decide to become a tutor?
I studied tutoring when I was in high school, when I was teaching assistant in a math class. While a TA, I was helping colleagues who were younger than me by one or two years. It was a great experience that I really enjoyed, and showed me how much I love watching the learning process. I felt very rewarded when students made that final connection, and told me, "Wow, that's nice! You made it so simple!" I also loved seeing the outcomes of my work. For example, one of my students was expecting to get a C in the class, and she got an A! She was so proud and came to thank me for helping her achieve that.
When I was in college, I had a lot of free time during summer vacation and wanted to do something with this time. I was traveling abroad during the summer, so I couldn’t be a TA again, so I did a bit of research and learned about Pear Deck Tutor. With Pear Deck Tutor, I was able to tutor remotely and connect with students all over the world.
What is your most valuable tutoring skill?
I love learning from my students and seeing math from their point of view. We can often learn from each other. Maybe I learn something from them that is new – a mutual learning experience! That is something that I really value. The students that I enjoy teaching the most are those that I interact with the most. There are some students who just want me to explain it to them and be done, but I really want them to be part of an interactive learning experience.
To help these students get engaged, I explain everything from the basics. I go with them from the basics up to the more complicated stuff, which I think my students really appreciate. They tell me, "Oh, you made that so simple!" even though it was a really complicated concept for them.
Finally, I love making learning fun! Education shouldn't be something boring or something that we don't enjoy. I really want to make my classes fun as much as possible. Of course, it depends on the student themselves and the subject, but whenever I have the chance to make it fun, I do.
How do you structure a tutoring session? Do you have a set plan in mind, or is it based on the student's needs?
I keep lessons tailored to the specific needs of each student. Before a session, I ask students to send me what they need help with so that I can look at it and see how I can make it as simple as possible, then I put together a rough draft of what we will need to cover.
For example, if I’m tutoring for a language course, I want to know the student's level. I spend the first minutes in a session asking questions and establishing a baseline. Do they know the basics? Do they know how to speak, how to write, etc? I also tailor the lesson as much as possible to be suitable to their age and level.
If it's an Arabic lesson, for example, they might want to learn something from scratch, so I will have to prepare all of those materials. On the other hand, in a math class, they often have plenty of materials available, and they just want to understand it better. I still ask questions, but the lesson can be more fluid.
Do you have strategies or tactics that you use to make students feel more comfortable?
A simple "how are you" statement at the beginning of a session makes students feel so much more comfortable. I open with very simple statements to let the student know that I am there to help and support them.
Can you share a transformative moment that influenced your tutoring career?
One of my very favorite tutoring sessions was with a set of twins. Their mom reached out to me and told me that they were homeschooling, and she thought I would be a great fit for tutoring them in math, science, and other subjects.
At that time, they were twelve, but they already seemed older than their age because of how mature they were. When we started with their lessons, I noticed how much they enjoyed subjects other than math, so we started integrating those subjects inside math classes. That was the start. After that, I noticed that they were interested in much more than normal school subjects, so we started integrating real life scenarios into their math lessons. They became part of my day. It was a really great experience working with them.
Sometimes, students just want the answer. They don't want you to explain and do all the things that I love to do, but they just want me to give them the answer. I don't like that. They aren't learning anything. If I give them the answer, they are going to come back tomorrow and ask me for another answer, because they don't know how to do it. They aren't looking for the benefit of learning how to do it themselves.
I also had a student who was struggling with math at a much lower level than her age and grade. I had to go back and figure out what she was missing. We managed to do that in just a few classes, and she was able to get back on track as soon as possible. I was able to simplify things for her, so she was open to coming back and asking me things in the future.
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