Chess at Three has so many thoughtful, caring, funny tutors. October’s Tutor of the Month, Alexis, has been with us for a couple of years. Parents and kids alike have rave reviews for Alexis; let’s learn some more about her!
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida.
What brought you to New York?
I’ve wanted to live in NYC as long as I can remember. After going to school in Boston, I moved here to pursue a career in theatre and film. I never imagined that working in comedy would lead me to a career in tutoring children in chess! But I could not be more grateful that it did.
How long have you worked for Chess at Three?
I have worked for Chess at Three since the beginning of 2016.
Favorite chess story from our curriculum?
Secret Mission Number One! I love doing the voices for Cassanova the Dragon and Thalia the Octopus!
Favorite moment with a student?
I had a student early on who was always so enthusiastic and well-behaved. His mom mentioned that he was really enjoying lessons whenever I’d give an update on his progress. I didn’t understand the full extent to which he liked chess until he started rocking the best chess swag I’d ever seen: t-shirts, toys, everything! It was unstoppable and hilarious. One day, the caretaker pulled me aside and said, “I have to tell you — he LOVES chess. He’s taught everyone in the family how to play. It’s the only thing he talks about.” That holiday season, he made me an edible cookie ornament and a card. It was so sweet I didn’t want to eat it (but ended up sharing it with him during the lesson). His caretaker told me I was the only teacher he made one for. I nearly cried!
A favorite online teaching moment?
I love the pure amazement on my students’ faces whenever the pieces do something unexpected like castling or disappearing during a variation such as atomic chess. You get to use a little more “magic” with online lessons. An unexpected puppet can help make them pretty cool too.
A favorite in-person teaching moment?
I was subbing for another tutor. The group was made up of four 5- and 6-year-old girls. We were learning about mean, old King Deboulajae (who ends up accidentally teaching King Chomper and King Shaky about chess notation). I set the scene and dove into character. One of the girls snuck behind a big chair without two of the others noticing. I thought she was just grabbing her water so I didn’t point it out. I continued being mean, old King Deboulajae until one of the students stopped me and said, “I… I think… I think he’s here.” Thrown off, I asked, “Who?” and she said, “KING DEBOULAJAE!” At that moment the other student jumped out from behind the chair and went right into character. It was a great impression! The girls screamed and we all had a really good laugh. He became a pretty fun character for those lessons. Whenever they got too loud or too silly, I would remind them that we had to be quiet because we’d all be in trouble if mean, old King Deboulajae heard us playing chess.
Your record has proven you’re an amazing tutor, what is your secret?
Flexibility and improvisation! I’ve learned that it is crucial to meet the student “where they are” that day. You have to be willing to adapt and customize your lesson around how the student is feeling. Chess at Three tutors are given very good tools and curriculum to work with. For me, every lesson format is a little different because every kid is different. You have to make the lesson fit the child, not the other way around. What’s most important is that the child leaves the lesson feeling confident that they’ve learned something new and fun.
What was the “ah-ha” moment when you realized working for Chess at Three wasn’t just a job but something you loved to do?
I think anytime you’re working with children and their families it’s never going to be “just a job.” You’re cultivating genuine relationships, not trying to sell them perfume at a department store or taking their order at a restaurant (much less rewarding jobs I’ve had).
Over the summer, online chess was the only activity many of my students were participating in because of the quarantine. This has been a hard time, understandably so, and being there for the families — not just to provide a little “edutainment” with a fun chess lesson and really cool story, but as something consistent that they could count on and look forward to — was and continues to be really beneficial. Even just having another grown-up they could talk to about how they were feeling was helpful for these kiddos.
Chess at Three has also changed my life in a big way. The parents of two of my students came to see me in a play and later asked that I teach their girls theatre as well. Having studied theatre most of my life I said, “Absolutely!” That was the beginning of my theatre teaching company, After School Play, which is in its third year. I love working both “sides of the brain,” crossing the logical and analytical with the creative and imaginative in my approach to teaching.