Tiffany Mizell

2009 SI Leader of the Year

Picture of Tiffany MizellI am incredibly honored and proud to have been named SI Leader of the Year 2009. This award, and Mrs. Carolyn's urging that I write this essay, led me to think about how I came to be the SI Leader that I am today.


Some people are good at sports or hunting or the arts; I have always been good at school.  That is why I made a pretty decent “living” as a tutor throughout high school and into my first semester of college.  Being self-employed seemed like the dream job, but I quickly came to realize that being the boss and only employee left a lot of responsibility and no one with whom to share it.  As a first-semester freshman in college, that kind of pressure was not exactly what I wanted, so about halfway through the semester, I resigned, and the once blossoming business failed without me.  However, the desire to help students learn never left me.


My first experience with Supplemental Instruction came during that first semester of college.  My English course had an SI Leader named Nicole.  Knowing what I do now, I wish I had attended more of the sessions that she held; taking advantage of her firsthand knowledge of the position would have definitely helped my confidence in my first couple of SI sessions.  Nevertheless, I did become somewhat familiar with the program through her.  Near the end of the semester, the professor asked me if I would be interested in being an SI Leader like Nicole.  The only problem was, after I stopped tutoring, I had so much free time that I took a tax preparation course at a local company.  I knew I would be busy at that job once tax season rolled around, but, because I am an incorrigible overachiever, I told the professor she could pass my name along to the SI program.


Tax season was as busy as I had expected.  Long hours, dismal pay, and poor working conditions left me desiring a vacation and to never see another tax form again.  I persevered through the tax season, but I quietly hoped for something to come along to give me a reason to not return to tax preparation the next year.  About halfway through this learning experience, my math professor asked me if she could pass my name along as a potential SI Leader; I told her she could.  Had my brain not been consumed with whether or not certain expenses are tax deductible, I might have seen this as a sign two different teachers referring me to the same job.  They do say that hindsight is 20/20.  Not long after that, I received an email from the SI Coordinator.  I do not know if at first I saw it as an escape from the job I had come to hate, but being an SI Leader was the job I would come to love.


The SI Coordinator first intended for me to be the SI Leader for a college algebra course. The numbers came in, though, and she realized the real demand was in the next course, calculus for business and social science majors.  I was taking the course myself when she assigned me to it for the following semester, which she expected would be a bonus. The material would still be fresh in my mind once the next semester started.  However, most students would agree summer is a long time to remember derivatives but I was intent on making it work.  Fall came, and a butterfly circus took up residence in my stomach on the first day of my very first SI class, and it came back to visit every class after that.  Training had helped to show me how to present Supplemental Instruction to a class that had probably never heard of it; at least I could count on them not knowing if I said something wrong.  I laid it all out for them: 1) I had taken the course the previous semester and made an A, 2) My job was to hold sessions where we could discuss the material to better understand it, 3) Their job was to voluntarily come with questions, and 4) Yes, it's all free, and yes, it works.  I answered a few general questions from the class, then took my seat and breathed a sigh of relief.  It was not so bad after all.


I believe that my first SI class, and the five SI classes that followed, were successful.  I learned more than just the material.  I learned to be a SI Leader and a leader in general.  I learned that teachers have an incredible memory to keep names and faces straight months or even years later.  I learned that some of the biggest obstacles to learning have nothing to do with brain power.  I learned to constantly encourage students even when it feels like no progress is being made.  I learned the joy of seeing a student's “AH HA” moment, when everything just makes sense, and knowing that I had a part in that breakthrough.  I learned that it is perfectly fine to admit that I don't know something.  I learned, and am still learning, to stop talking and listen.  I learned that what matters more than the certificate that names me as the SI Leader of the Year, which in and of itself is a pretty nice certificate, are the emails that back it that have come over the past three years from students thanking me for helping them to get the grade they wanted or just to get through the class.  I have learned that helping others to learn is one of life's highest callings.  I have learned that being an SI Leader has changed my life.