The Right Equation

Shamaka Rice, '16

As a math educator and tutor, Shamaka Rice, ’16, knows that confidence is half the battle to mastering skills.

Some students, such as an elementary school boy who was a recent client, are eager to improve and get past their mental blocks. Others, such as a woman who aspired to take the ASVAB test and join the military, first need to believe they’re capable before they wade into new concepts.

Rice is happy to meet her clients wherever they are and help them reach their goals. “When I used to run track, I used to say, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work,” she says. “So if I’ve gotta practice the same problem 100 times and someone else only has to practice it once, great, if that puts me on the same level as them.”

Rice has a seemingly inexhaustible work ethic. Her journey to entrepreneurship as the owner of iTutor grew out of tutoring she offered in the summer of 2018 while on break from her job as a Broome High School math teacher. When the pandemic hit in 2020, demand for her services soared, and continued to grow in the years following as students struggled with learning loss.

Rice quickly grew from one location to two, one in Gaffney and one in Spartanburg, and has up to seven other tutors, depending on the semester. Half are certified teachers who come to the center after their school day is over, the others are college students or college graduates who previously taught and now tutor full-time. Rice says everyone has their specialty so the needs of all student clients are covered.

While Rice offers tutoring to all ages, over half her students fall in the K-5 range. She says that reflects the toll the pandemic had on early learners, particularly with reading skills. The learning loss was even harder on students who were behind to begin with. “I feel like the only way for us to catch up would be if every single school was doing during the day what I’m doing after school with students,” Rice says.

She is currently working to create small online classes, no more than four students at a time, where she can focus on a specific concept that the children are struggling with. From there students will go into breakout rooms to receive individual tutoring before returning to the group again to practice skills together. Rice says that will enable students who only see her twice a week in Spartanburg to get additional help online when she’s in Gaffney. She also hopes to create a series of videos that her students could log on to review whenever they wanted.

Ultimately, Rice says, her goal is to help students learn in a way that makes sense to them, a lesson she learned in her math education classes at Upstate. “A great teacher can teach math in a way that people understand it, but the only way you can do that is if you specifically reach every student, or the majority of students, in the way that they learn,” she says. “That’s the beauty of tutoring in a nutshell.”