Michael Reimer has been a staff tutor at Red River College Polytechnic since late 1998. He specializes in math tutoring for first year Business Administration students, including: Business Math, Financial Accounting I, Financial Accounting II, and Statistics.
We wanted to interview Mike and get to know his role as a tutor, how he connects with students, understand the services he offers, and dive into his passion for helping others.
Q: What are some common challenges with math and numbers that students face, which are often misunderstood or misinterpreted?
Mike: Language. All courses bring a new language to the table. Business math, statistics, and accounting all have their own languages. This is true even more for international students who are learning this new language while learning English. So not only does it need to be translated to their first language, there are still subtle changes in wording that need to be considered.
Statistics not only has its own language, but also uses a lot of Greek symbols. For example, students not only need to understand what “the mean” is, but what the symbol for mean is (µ = Mu is used to represent the mean of the population).
Here are a few examples for Business Math:
“Accumulate”, for example, means you are saving your money for the future, making it a future value. (Example: by the time you retire you would like to accumulate $500,000).
“Accumulated” means you already have the money, making it a present value. (Example: you have accumulated $500,000 and would like to take out monthly withdrawals).
Accounting has its own language as well, and a lot of problems are word problems. In a sense, accounting doesn’t have much “math” in it. Students are required to create "general journal entries". Students are asked to read the question, make the journal entry, and make sure to balance the debits and credits.
Q: Do you have any go-to tips for first-year students, who are learning these new math concepts for the first time?
Mike: Understand the definitions of keywords. For example, “of” in math means to multiply.
I spend a lot of time talking about language. No matter what subject, I’m trying to get the students used to hearing the language, making sure they understand what the language means and what it is telling them to do. The goal is to get from the word problem to the formula. If you follow the rules, you can get to the outcome.
"It's all about what is the question asking you to solve for. Sometimes students forget that."
Q: How do you address the challenge of these new languages?
Mike: I’ll create worksheets and answer keys ahead of time for workshops. I try to add as much challenging language as I can, which gives me the chance to explain certain terminology while we're doing the workshop. I've been going about this long enough to know which material students will likely have questions for. So, my worksheets usually include variations of those questions. They also tend to contain everything that's in the chapter the students are currently studying and/or finding difficulty with.
I also think it is important to connect with the students and get to know the students, and this depends on what the students are interested in. Sometimes I’ll break down the concept they are struggling with in terms of hockey, football, video games, movies, TV, logistics, to find common ground either before or afterward. I'll sometimes even use friends’ first names to personalize the questions.
Q: How do you structure your workshops?
Mike: Generally, the workshops are designed as an end of week wrap up session:
Step 1: The student should go to class for a week.
Step 2: Then attend the workshop to review what your instructor has gone over in class that week.
Step 3: Review the worksheets created with the questions that touch on material from the chapter being covered that you perceive to be challenging.
Q: Can you describe other math resources students can access?
Mike: We do provide other resources aside from the workshops, such as:
Q: What made you want to pursue a career in tutoring?
Mike: Wanting to become a tutor began in grade 12, when I had the measles (chicken pox) for two weeks for the hardest topic "Math 300." When I came back, my instructor knew I needed help and knew he couldn’t give it because he had to keep moving forward in class. I was 2 weeks behind everybody, so he took me down to the counselling area where the tutors were located and got me a tutor. I still never understood that part of the course and it was not the tutor’s fault; I just did not get it.
Five years later I was accepted into Red River College Polytechnic during the first week of classes. I got in one of the classes and found the math to be super easy. My business math instructor would teach about 30 to 35 minutes, and then give us time to do questions out of the book. I'd have my questions done and I’d ask, "What do you do if you're done?" "You can go," he'd reply. I saw so many people in my class struggling with math and I realized I'm getting done so fast I might as well start helping others. People started asking me for help, and by the end of my first term I was tutoring my entire class. I said "I could do this for a living"– I could help people for a living. When I was one credit short of graduating, I got a tutoring job with Red River College Polytechnic. I didn't want to work anywhere else.