BestOfPosterRecently, center owner Daryl Gage (Chesapeake, VA) emailed Mathnasium Matters with some great news! Mathnasium of Chesapeake won a citywide consumer’s choice “Best Of” competition in the category of Children’s Education/Tutoring, besting supplementary education businesses Kumon, Sylvan, and others. Of course, we had to catch up with Daryl to reveal the secrets to his success! In the first part of this series, we’ll share Daryl’s instructor selection, training, and management advice.

Daryl Gage“I spend a lot of time making sure I have good Instructors on the floor,” Daryl tells us. He advertises for new staff members at the local university and on Craigslist, specifically seeking out candidates with solid math competency through algebra II and high school geometry. “I also say that it’s a plus if they know calculus or pre-calculus, but not necessary. I do want to limit Instructor turnover, so I hire people who I know plan to be in the local area for a while. Prior experience working with kids is helpful, but not required. I’ll give candidates the Math Literacy Test, and they have to do really well on that—higher than 85%.”

Daryl values great communication skills across the board and has all potential hires submit cover letters with their resumes—“I want to make sure they can write [reasonably well].” During the interview, “I also look for an engaging personality. Do they seem like they can speak and interact well with parents and kids?”

New staff members don’t start teaching until they complete MU 101 training. “They don’t start until they hand me their finished work. I want them to understand how the Mathnasium Method works and how we teach math. Their pay goes up [by $2 more per hour] once they finish 101, 102 and 103,” Daryl says. “It’s a great motivator.” To expose novice Instructors to the Mathnasium curriculum and give them the opportunity to explore our take on higher math topics, he has them work through Mathnasium assessments appropriate for high school students (without calculators). “Then they sit with my Lead Instructor and go through their answers.” Working through these higher math topics also “really reinforces Instructors’ confidence, especially if they haven’t seen the material in a while.”

We'reNumberOneAs they work through the training, Daryl encourages his Instructors to “just go with the material—let it brainwash you!” There’s no room at his center for staff members who are set in their ways about teaching. “When they come in here, I want them to think about math the Mathnasium way,” he tells us. “There are issues with the ways in which math is currently taught—that’s why our students come here. We offer them an alternative because what’s already out there isn’t (in many cases) working for them! I remind [new hires] that the reason they’re going through these courses is to learn how to teach math our way, and that we want them to think about math differently. When they walk through that door, they’re wearing that Mathnasium ‘thinking hat’ and when they’re explaining the concepts, they need to explain them in the Mathnasium way.”

Daryl and his Lead Instructor monitor new team members carefully during their first month of employment. While a trial session can provide a great deal of insight into the candidate’s personality and teaching style, “you can get a [more well rounded] sense of an Instructor’s [capabilities, strengths and weaknesses] if you observe them over a longer period of time. You can usually tell for sure within a couple of weeks whether they’re a good fit for us. I keep my Lead Instructor’s teaching load a little lighter so he can roam around more frequently and listen and watch the others and how they’re teaching. We’ll make corrections [tactfully and respectfully] if we need to and talk to the Instructors later if there are any issues regarding how they’re employing the method or talking with the parents and students.”

As he manages his Instructors, Daryl’s positive leadership style sets the tone for an open and communicative work environment. “We all talk and joke with each other. We’re like a family and we talk a lot about what we’re doing here—that we’re so much more than just tutors. They know they can always come in and talk to me about anything going on with the kids and we’ll get it sorted right away.” He strives to establish “an atmosphere where Instructors look forward to coming to work. They don’t dread coming in, they know they won’t be micromanaged or belittled.”

All on-the-spot corrections are handled “subtly, without embarrassing the Instructor in front of the student,” Daryl adds. “When you need to call someone into your office for a talk, don’t be overly critical. You have to tell them what they’re doing right as well.” If something needs to be said, “I’ll catch the Instructor’s eye and he’ll come into the office [after he finishes with the student] and we’ll talk there. ” However, such moments are few and far between. “The great thing about this business is that you’re generally working with fairly sharp people! I don’t have many issues where I feel as though I have to constantly correct someone.”

Consistent communication is essential to ensure that the needs of students are being met. Daryl encourages all of his Instructors to own their responsibilities and take the initiative to greet parents and give them informal verbal updates when they come to the center. Internally, “If a student has a special need, my Lead Instructor makes a note of it and makes sure all the other Instructors are aware of what’s going on. We also do informal updates where I’ll call them into my office to talk about issues that come up,” Daryl says. “For instance, I’ll mention that we’ve been having issues where parents assume that students always leave the center with their homework finished. But we’re working out of the binder too, so the whole hour isn’t just about homework help. So we have to get better at letting parents know if the student still has homework left to complete [after the session].

“We have quarterly staff meetings where we get together and talk about procedures and policies, as well as any issues we’re having with students,” Daryl continues. “We go over teaching techniques—the way I think of it, we’re trying to clone Larry’s teaching style. Obviously there are some deviations we’ll make depending on circumstances, but by and large we generally stay as close to the center line as we can without trying to reinvent it.”

Daryl’s positive and empowering demeanor trickles down to his Instructors, who are already passionate about math and eager to bring out the best in their students. “I tell our Instructors, ‘Sell yourself to the student! Make them want to come back. Show them that they’re capable—it will motivate them.’ You actually see the student’s body language change as they start to understand and have little epiphanies. Many times it’s the first time anyone’s ever really taken the time to slow down an explanation so they really understand it.” At the core of his message is the fact that “we’re so much more than a tutoring service. Tutoring is a subset of what we do when we’re helping with homework and upcoming tests and quizzes, but when we’re working off the learning plan, we’re a learning center. We really break down the concepts and teach kids math in a way that makes sense to them.”

Needless to say, Daryl can’t say enough great things about his current staff. A fair chunk of his Instructors are college students attending the local university. “They’re great. In most cases, they learned the math they need to know [for the job] fairly recently and if they’re in [a math or science program], they actively use math regularly outside of work,” Daryl explains. “Plus they’re still young enough to remember what it was like being in high school so they can relate to a lot of our students as they struggle. Many of them are local and went to high school in this area so they [came in with a basic understanding of] what schools are doing in math departments.”

OwnerandLeadInstructorChesapeakeIn particular, “My Lead Instructor is amazing. He’s an electrical engineering major and he’s been with me pretty much since I opened two years ago. He really got into the Mathnasium Method and absolutely loves it. He knows the curriculum really well too—he remembers specific PKs or FOs [and can recommend materials off the top of his head]. He’s also taken on extra responsibilities voluntarily, such as helping with assessments and training other Instructors.”

Daryl’s Instructors have played a key role in turning his center into a much-loved local business worthy of a consumer’s choice award. Largely due to his top-notch teaching team, “We’ve seen enormous successes here at the center. Sometimes it almost seems miraculous! We get parents bringing in report cards that show that the student went up two letter grades.” When prompted for staffing advice that could benefit other Mathnasium owners, he was quick to suggest, “Don’t rush to hire someone! Take your time to do this right and make sure they’re the type of people that are going to make your Mathnasium great. You want someone confident, mature, and positive who knows the math and can speak properly with parents and students.” There are a lot of moving pieces to center management, and “if you’re confident that the people you’ve hired have the teaching under control, it takes a lot of stress off of you. You might have to pass over quite a few people but when you make the right hire, you’ll see that it’s worth the time investment.”