Spotlight

Jim Wiess and Wilfrid Noel

Jim Wiess had a career in the financial services industry before turning his talent and energy to helping others through teaching. He has been BEST’s volunteer math teacher for almost four years, a regular Monday night presence in the aptly named “Confidence Room” at BEST.

Although Jim’s tutored a number of hotel workers (and even the daughter of a hotel worker) at BEST, his constant, unwavering, and most dedicated student is Wilfrid Noel. Wilfrid is a banquet houseman at the Omni Parker House and is as committed to learning as Jim is to teaching. Jim says, “The thing with Wilfrid is, he’s so appreciative, he’s so hard-working, and a little bit goes a long way. Particularly with adults, they have a focus and a purpose and they’re motivated and appreciative. They’re there because they want to be. Wilfrid is to the extreme of that. He’s off the scale in those qualities.”

The feelings of respect, admiration and appreciation go in both directions. Wilfrid says, “Jim takes the time to explain to you until you get it. And he shows you many ways so that you understand. You know, in one math problem, you can do it five ways to get the same result.”

“Jim makes you feel like a person. He wants you to learn. He makes sure you understand what you’re doing. He makes you want to go to school every day because you learn something from him every day.”

Jim does private and volunteer tutoring throughout the city, including at several other non-profits. He sees that having his students up at the board, actively working out problems is more effective than worksheets. He says, “The biggest thing that comes out of the tutoring is building confidence. That carries on outside of the subject matter that we’re teaching. Being confident, being able to advocate for yourself, and being resourceful is much more important than knowing the sine of 30°.”

But this attitudinal change, Jim says, has to come internally. “So then the trick is, how can I design activities that show the student what he’s capable of? Praise isn’t going to do it. First, it’s diagnosing what they’re getting and what they aren’t. For example, once they believe they can do the basic problem, integers, then you can overlay the more complicated pieces.”

Jim’s payoff is Wilfrid’s smile, enthusiasm and progress in math skills. Unlike when they first started, now Wilfrid doesn’t hesitate to ask, “How did you do that?” “It’s hard not to help someone like Wilfrid,” Jim says.

BEST is very grateful that Jim is part of our family. And, as Wilfrid says, “Jim is unique. With Jim, anybody can learn. Anybody can learn. He is very patient. He gives you time to think. I don’t know what to say because he’s so good.”