Eric Kim of LA Tutors: “Attracting teaching talent”

Attracting teaching talent — this is pretty self-explanatory. Teaching is not a glamorous profession unless you’re talking about higher education. This means that there aren’t enough people interested in teaching students during their most crucial formative years. As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system […]

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Attracting teaching talent — this is pretty self-explanatory. Teaching is not a glamorous profession unless you’re talking about higher education. This means that there aren’t enough people interested in teaching students during their most crucial formative years.

As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Eric Kim.

Eric has worked as an academic tutor and counselor for students in elementary, middle, and high school for over fifteen years. From teaching fluency and addition to college counseling and assistance with personal statements, Eric has had the opportunity to work with a myriad of students. Having worked with both younger and older students, Eric has learned the different approaches and methods necessary to teach different ages. This allowed him to help countless students achieve their goals, whether it be acceptance into a school of their choice or simply raising their school grades. Eric was then able to use his extensive tutoring experience and expertise in his role as an afterschool director for 8 years, helping hundreds of students along their academic journey. Eric considers it a privilege to be a positive influence on students’ academic journeys, and as Partner and Program Director at LA Tutors, he now coordinates between clients and tutors to ensure clear communication, customer satisfaction, and positive results.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?

My career in education started, like many others, as a test prep and academic private tutor. I learned how to work with different learning styles and honed my tutoring chops, and eventually ended up as a director of a K-12 afterschool center where I helped hundreds of students achieve their academic goals. Soon after, I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and my partner and I started LA Tutors, a boutique tutoring firm that specializes in recruiting top talent and connecting families with their ideal tutor.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Over the course of my career in education, I’ve had the opportunity to work with all types of students and families. At one point, in my earlier tutoring days, I worked with a student who came from a family with very little financial resources and clearly had some learning differences. The student (let’s call him Brian) was academically a few years behind his grade level and his mother just wanted him to graduate. Truth be told, I initially thought that he was a lost cause, and his academic deficit, insurmountable. But over the course of the year, I worked with Brian’s school to get him onto an IEP, and started to make progress. I started working with Brian when he was in 10th grade, and by his senior year in high school, Brian was able to graduate and gain acceptance to a state university. Brian’s success made me realize how many students get left behind when they don’t have the proper guidance and resources available to them. And on a more personal level, he taught me that perseverance is one of the most valuable qualities you can have.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of creating a software solution to test prep for exams like the SAT and ACT. There are a few options that currently exist, but none that come close to working with a seasoned tutor. The software would be available for a fraction of the cost of a private tutor and could reach students across the world.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

For nearly a decade, I was a director of an afterschool center where I worked with students in grades K-12, helping them reach their academic goals. I had the opportunity to help hundreds of students graduate high school with honors and get into the school of their dreams. This is where I learned firsthand how best to help families and students from various academic backgrounds and provide them with the educational resources to learn effectively and efficiently.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

The education system in America is quite polarized. It’s great for motivated students who come from privileged backgrounds and can pursue multiple degrees, and terrible for students who end up going into debt to obtain degrees that don’t help them in their career search. Students in the US have the potential to achieve greatness, but it isn’t as easy as it seems. This widening gap is the main reason the US overall consistently ranks below the international average in the NAEP test by PISA.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

When it comes to higher education, the US has excellent options for those lucky enough to attend. The US has a plethora of first-rate options when it comes to graduate school and research opportunities. I wish I could name 4 more areas, but the truth of the matter is that our education system in the US is badly in need of reform in almost every single way.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

1) Attracting teaching talent — this is pretty self-explanatory. Teaching is not a glamorous profession unless you’re talking about higher education. This means that there aren’t enough people interested in teaching students during their most crucial formative years.

2) Providing resources more equitably for K-12 education — essentially ensuring families from different socio-economic backgrounds have the same educational opportunities. If the resources in a wealthy neighborhood always outpace those from a lower-income neighborhood, then the class divide gets worse and the majority of America doesn’t get the education they so badly deserve.

3) Improving our standards of education for K-5th — The US consistently ranks below the top 20 countries in the world when it comes to Math, Science, and Reading. The way to fix this starts by building a strong foundation in earlier years (K-5th grade).

4) Developing a robust Pre-K program for children aged 3–5. This is often overlooked, but it’s been shown time and time again that having the right foundation from ages 3–5 years old can set the tone for success in later years. Incorporating Pre-K into public education would help students succeed in later years.

5) Lowering or removing the cost barrier to higher education. The cost of university is one of the biggest obstacles for many students in the US. It’s simply not feasible or worthwhile for students to put themselves anywhere from 30,000 dollars (approximate tuition for 4 years of California State University) to 70,000 dollars (approximate tuition for 4 years of a UC school) or more in debt to attend college. If you’re attending a private university, these costs can run upwards of 250,000 dollars.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

STEM education has become a focus in the past decade all over the world, and the US is no exception. Many elementary schools have created STEM programs in an effort to teach children the critical thinking skills that will be the foundation for subjects like math, science, and engineering. While there has been some success in increasing interest in these critical subjects, there still many biases and preconceived notions that are hindering STEM engagement. We need to invest more into our existing STEM programs to attract better talent, which will result in better programs, and attract more families. Another way to increase engagement in youth is to start with the parents. If parents can see the inherent value in STEM careers, they’ll encourage and talk to their children at a young age. Lastly, creating more afterschool and summer programs that incorporate STEM topics in a fun, applicable manner will help expose students at a young age.

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

Girls and women have always been underrepresented in STEM subjects. Some think it’s because of the social bias that boys tend to be better at math and science and girls tend to be better at English and history. Having worked with young students for nearly two decades, I see it all the time. Girls tend to think math and science are boy subjects. If we want to level the playing field, we need to make an active effort to encourage girls and women to engage in STEM. That means creating an environment where girls feel empowered to excel.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

The US is doing a good job of reaching out to girls and women, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement. Bridging the STEM gender gap has become more of a mainstream topic and articles like this bring this crucial issue to light. Social change takes time, however, and requires a driving force to push things along. Hiring women into positions of leadership and pioneering roles in STEM fields help encourage young girls, which in turn increases their engagement (e.g. when Sally Ride went to space in 1983). Once girls are more involved in STEM fields, it’s also important to create an environment where they are treated equally and given the same opportunities as their male counterparts. This means developing policies to protect women’s rights in the workplace, provide equal pay, and much more. One other way to help increase engagement would be to highlight the success of women in STEM via media channels like film, podcasts, tv, and radio. Bringing their accolades to life will stimulate more interest and inspire children to follow in their footsteps.

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

STEM is very important, but adding in the arts is a crucial aspect of education as well. The arts can add a unique component to critical thinking, helping students spark their imagination and creativity in different ways. This can align perfectly with the traditional STEM topics when it’s taught together.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Provide more funding for K-12 education in low-income areas

2. Pay K-12 teachers more

3. Create a pre-kindergarten program and integrate it into the school system

4. Make community and state colleges free

5. Create a more comprehensive training/certification program for teachers

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I really like Master Yoda’s “Do, or do not. There is no try.” This pithy quote reminds me that persistence matters most. Sometimes, failure is not an option and you simply have to persevere.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’d have to go with Mark Cuban. He’s not only a fellow entrepreneur, but he seems like an all-around cool guy and I would love to pick his brain over lunch.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m not personally on social media, but you can follow my company here:

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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