I've been a private tutor for over 26 years
I graduated from Northwestern University with Honors in English in 1993. Over the decades, I’ve found that academic success is built on emotional competencies, not just intellectual mastery.  Many students struggle with everything from organization, time management, stress, and procrastination, to deeper issues like worthiness, self-image, and self-esteem. As a result, I’ve become not just an academic tutor, but also an academic coach and life coach for teens and parents. 

 I’m a graduate of two of the most highly respected coaching schools— the Coaches Training Institute and The Center for Right Relationship, which are both International Coaching Federation accredited. I’m also a certified practitioner of Internal Family Systems, a cutting-edge approach to self-transformation that helps unlock the power of the core, authentic Self. 

 My passion for personal growth is contagious. In my work, I draw upon not only 26 years of tutoring experience, but 3,000+ hours of my own inner work as well. 

Being human is a humbling adventure. I find it a privilege to share the learning journey with my students, wherever it leads. I do my best to share my vulnerabilities and show up authentically, with as much presence, curiosity and positivity as possible.
For more information about my coaching practice for teens, adults and couples, I invite you to visit my coaching website below  
Why Choose Melissa for Academic Coaching? 
I coach academic success from a place of academic success    
After taking the California Achievement Test in 5th grade, I was placed in honors and advanced classes for the rest of my school career.    

 In 7th grade, my SAT scores qualified me to take gifted classes at John Hopkins University through the Center for the Advancement of Academically Talented Youth (CTY).    

 In high school I took AP English (earning the highest score of 5 on the test), AP French and AP European history (earning a score of 4 on both tests).     

I won the French Prize and English Prize my junior year, and the Three-Dimensional Art Prize and English Prize my senior year.   

 I graduated from Northwestern University with Honors in English Literature, having fulfilled the requirements for a double English major in both literature and writing, with a 3.9 GPA in my major and a 3.7 GPA overall. I scored in the 90th percentile on the GRE Literature in English exam, and in the 99th percentile of the verbal section of the GRE.

I coach my students to connect to their school work by drawing on my own inner experience of middle school, high school and college. I do not pretend I never struggled—I struggled with procrastination, I struggled heartily in math, and I struggled to balance academic accomplishment with personal emotional development. Overall, I succeeded—and I find it meaningful and inspiring to coach students to achieve the same sense of success that I’ve enjoyed. 

I’m familiar with the schools in the area, and their subject matter 

From Lab to Parker to New Trier, North Shore Country Day to Loyola Academy, St. Ignatius to Joseph Sears to Roycemore, Montessori in Evanston to Waldorf in Chicago—I’m familiar with the values and overall community climate of many Chicago and North Shore area schools, so it’s easier for me to immediately understand the context of my students’ academic struggles and challenges. From the “wine dark seas” of the Odyssey at New Trier, to the commonalities in the AP English curriculum, I’m also familiar with a lot of my students’ academic material—after 26 years of tutoring, on top of my own high school experience, you could say I’ve gone to high school 5+ times! 

I understand the academic material 

I have outstanding academic skills which enable me to discuss the details of the inner academic problems of my students without stumbling over the actual subject matter itself.

Here are three old assumptions about education that Renate and Geoffrey Caine explore in Education on the Edge of Possibility:  

Education as information delivery:

“Only experts create knowledge.” 

The role of teachers is to “deliver knowledge in the form of information.” 

The role of students is to store the information the teachers present to them.

In an information society, STORING information is not the most important skill to have, because information is readily available everywhere. For example, before books could be more easily produced in the 1500’s, students had to memorize texts, word-for-word, and good students were good memorizers.  Nowadays, we certainly don’t ask high schoolers to memorize half of the Odyssey word-for-word. We understand that the book will be there, so knowing the words is not the key skill: understanding the words is the key. But how do students develop deep, powerful understandings of what they read? 

 In the information delivery model, students listen to teachers tell them what they should learn from what they read, and good students then store that information. While this is better than just focusing on memorizing the words, it produces students that are only one step better than word-memorizers; they are idea-memorizers. But truly autonomous, productive, creative people are not word or idea memorizers:  they are idea creators, synthesizers, and producers. 

 Thus, I believe education must start with empowering individual students to develop their own analytical and creative skills. This is a long-term, personalized process in which teachers function as facilitators, coaches, co-learners and counselors, creating learning opportunities, offering ideas, and nurturing stable, supportive learning environments where students can take the chances they need to take in order to truly explore their own unique ways of thinking.

Real learning, as opposed to memorizing things based on rules, happens when students and teachers have the time to explore, play with, and ask questions about what is being learned. Real learning takes more time than memorizing, but it’s more fun, more interesting, and ultimately, more effective than memorizing, because the “efficiency” of memorizing is a sham if the things students supposedly “learn” are actually soon forgotten. 

I know in my heart that real learning only happens for each person when they want to learn. A teacher can not make a student learn. Therefore, I believe real learning takes place best in a nurturing environment where teachers and students share authority. I want students to “learn”—to grow, to understand and remember new things—because they agree with the ways they are growing and the things they are adding to their permanent knowledge. I can not tell someone to accept something because I say so, but I can create a place where we can both explore it. 

Many of the hardest things to “learn” are not facts or ideas, but ways of studying or relating to learning in general. I think that this kind of learning is hard and takes time, patience and understanding. Personally, I have a hard time with some of the discipline involved in being a really great student; that may sound strange coming from a highly successful student, but it’s true. I am constantly trying to become a better student and studier and person, and right now, in my life, I must admit that I think it’s hard. It’s worth it, but it’s hard. So I can’t sit back and tell my students “it’s not that bad,” or “it’s not as hard as you think it is,” because inside myself, I don’t have that experience. Instead, I validate that things are hard, and take the time to really look deeply into that difficulty. Why is it being so hard? What should we do about it? Understanding it can help us make plans of attack, not based on me telling a student what she should do, but rather, both of us together coming up with strategies for combating the things that make learning hard. 

Ultimately, I guess the reason why I believe in real learning, not memorizing, and why I believe my students deserve time, attention, validation, and even co-suffering in their learning struggles, is because I think that real learning only takes place in a climate of respect. I deeply respect the autonomy and selfhood of each of my students—after all, isn’t learning all about becoming more independent and better selves?  I don’t ask my students to unquestioningly accept everything I say, or to confront things that are hard for them without also doing the same thing myself. The only thing I ask of my students is that they return the respect I give them, and engage in the process of learning together honestly and with real effort.
Example of a 2003 middle-school tutoring and academic coaching session using IFS (“parts”) language and my commitment (and struggle!) to see my students as whole people, not just schoolwork producers.  This story is presented to you with the approval and permission of a student of four years.

H is sitting on his bed, not looking excited to begin studying. But it’s time to start! My “Let’s get it done NOW!” parts are ready to take control—I’m the tutor, I’m here, therefore it’s time to work! They see my student as a problem to be solved:  he’s not jumping up and down to begin working, so those parts of me think I better cajole him by promising, “We’ll have fun!” or menace him by warning, “We have to work NOW!”

Happily, after ten years of tutoring, I can listen to my “Let’s get it done NOW!” part without allowing it to totally take control of me or my students—at least at the beginning of a tutoring session. I have a larger goal in mind:  How can we begin to engage with his schoolwork in a way that respects him? First, by not insisting that his only value is his ability to produce schoolwork. So instead of talking about school at all, I do what appears to be nothing. I just look at him: a 13 year old, built for activity and movement, who’s been sitting still in a classroom for forty minutes at a time learning English, math, reading, social studies, and science. Now I’m insisting he spend MORE time doing MORE of the same.  I begin to relate to what a bummer I represent.

As if he is a tuning fork and my job is to get in perfect tune, I begin allowing myself to settle in to his reality. He’s strumming on his guitar.  Hey, he just started playing last month, and he’s sounding good! As I tune in to him, I tune out the voices in my mind that insist, “We better start working NOW!” I ask questions about the guitar; I really listen to both the music and the answers. I start learning new things about myself. Parts of me wish I could play the electric guitar—so I say so. He lets me try it!  Pulling the strap over my head, I’m amazed by the new perspective I have on his life. I feel sooo cool with this guitar strapped over my shoulder, no wonder he’s always messing with it! I would too if I had one! In my body, I can feel the allure the guitar has for him, and the parts of me that think, “That guitar is a distraction from schoolwork” are drowned out by the parts of me that are EXPERIENCING this guitar!

After handing the guitar back to him, he shows me a few more pieces of songs he’s learned. Now that I feel more in tune with him, I start asking about school. I begin going over a recent math test. “H, wow, look at this. Without this one simple mistake, you would have had a hundred! I would have done the same thing, I have that same part that makes the simplest mistakes!!  So what was going on that kept you from catching it?”

“I dunno…”

Looking back, I can see that I started asking about schoolwork too soon, and that my “test correction” parts became a bit overactive in their zeal to glean every last lesson learned from any and all mistakes made on his recent tests and quizzes. However, H is the tuning fork, and he lets me know that I’m not in tune with him. As my “test correction” parts persist in ploughing forward with an analysis of every aspect of his recent grades, I have to ask each question about three times because he’s still very actively playing the guitar.

Finally, H comes up with a compromise between his desire to be seen for who he is— a guitar player— and who my “test correction” part sees him as— a grade-analysis machine that inputs errors, processes strategies for self-correction, and outputs higher scores the next time. He devises the guitar-communication method: one loud, crazy strum for “NO,” two gentle strums for “YES,” and slowly plucking each string in turn for “maybe.” I ask yes or no questions:  “So, on this math test, were careless errors one of the main problems?” Two gentle strums. “Were there any other things you could have done differently besides really paying attention to careless errors and checking your answers?” One loud, crazy strum. “Can you tell me anything more about it?”  One loud, crazy strum. Okay, next test…  after going through this process four times, for another test, a quiz and a graded writing assignment, I have some parts that begin to get frustrated.  The part of me that really likes the guitar is still pretty active, but so is the test-correction part—so I can’t hear what even more parts are saying.  I start to lose my focus on H, so I know what to do:  own it.

“H, I have some parts that are coming up right now but I don’t know why. I’m having a hard time focusing.”

He stops playing the guitar and says, “I know what it is. They think I can’t focus because I’m playing the guitar. Most people would say, “H, stop playing the guitar!!!” He mimics an aggressive, annoyed tone.

I say, “I don’t know. I really like the guitar-communication system, I just can’t focus, and I don’t know why.”

H unplugs the amp cord from his light-blue electric guitar and gets up off the bed. He says, “Well, we better start studying anyway.”  So we do.

We spent twenty minutes playing the guitar and going over tests using the ‘guitar-communication method.’  We spent the next forty minutes studying intensely. He was engaged and focused, as well as relaxed and willing to study.

I think forty minutes of studying in a positive, relaxed, engaged way is far more productive than sixty minutes of coerced, tense, uninspired studying. Kids are always singing the tune of who they are… I strive to ask myself:  “Am I singing in tune?”  Singing in harmony creates music instead of noise. I believe that being in tune can help create the music of mutual learning instead of the noise of compulsory studying.