But since he was good at music, Albert started tutoring his fellow guitar students with their classwork. And since he also had an aptitude for math, he began helping some of them with their math homework as well.
"I had 60 guitar students, and a lot of them turned into math students," Albert said. This blossomed into a private tutoring gig that helped finance his education at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and turned into a career afterwards as he started his own SAT tutoring company, score2400.
"Then I started tutoring privately. I got spectacular results - some kids who were failing got 90s after a few sessions," said Albert, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Bayside. "I learned the SAT stuff and started teaching that. By the time I was out of college I was making real money tutoring."
Though Albert now has his hands full tutoring students to prepare for the SAT in private sessions at home and recently at Cardozo HS in Bayside, he is slowly moving out of another job working with students of a different sort.
"I do some contract training for Citibank's legal and graphics people. I train them all over the country to use software," he said. "I'm thinking I'll drop that soon. I'm getting too busy with the SAT. I just filled in two more hour slots today. My schedule is three-quarters full."
The successes of Albert's alumni seem to bear out his effectiveness. A student of his, Eytan Debbi of Great Neck, L.I., had worked with Albert for two weeks on his college essays. With Albert's help, Debbi gained admission to Yale University and will be a freshman there this fall.
"The person on the admissions committee reading my application told me and my guidance counselor specifically that the thing she was most impressed with was my essays. That was all thanks to Don," Debbi said. "He wouldn't relent. He basically sits there with you and goes through the paper with you."
Though his work with Debbi was not focused on SAT prep but rather on writing, Albert thinks his writing tutorial services will be more in demand in the future, in part because the SAT will soon include a writing section as well.
"Partially because of the changing of the SAT, a lot of people are nervous. In March 2005 there will be a new 800-point writing section," he said. "I have a feeling I'm going to do more of it. I like teaching writing more than I like writing. If you really like seeing a spark of intelligence on the other side of the desk, you tease and prod and say, 'Is that really the best you can do?'"
In addition to his classes, Albert is working on a book aimed at parents worried about their children's academic performance in math.
"I'm currently writing a book called "Why Your Child is Failing Math and What You Can Do About It." Some math is pretty hard, but that's not why (kids are failing). It's a book for anybody," Albert said. He admitted that he does not expect the book to be a best-seller. "I don't know if I'll ever do well in publishing. I don't think I'm going to get rich."
But he does think that his 19 years of tutoring has resulted in an understanding of how today's students learn and what environment is optimal for education.
"The attention span of kids has completely changed in the last 15 years. I found many of them have difficulty focusing. What has changed is the stimulus they receive throughout childhood," Albert said. "I found that I had to become a totally different kind of instructor. Back in the '80s I could stand in front of a classroom and just explain it. If I did that now, the kids would be zoning out. What I have to do now is engage every student. When I do that the results are explosive."
"These poor kids are dying to be engaged," he added. "These kids are so smart. The intelligence that I see in my classes is just amazing."
Albert's next plans for score2400 is an online course run through his Web site at www.score2400.org.
"I'm trying to make an online course that's extremely low price, yet totally engaging and powerful," he said. He anticipates launching the course in 2006.
In the meanwhile, Albert is also planning to present a version of his private classes in a format conducive to public schools this year.
"I think I found a way to take these SAT classes and make them affordable for inner city kids. Because I'm the only person in the company, because I'm not trying to be Kaplan, I'm able to lower my price and put a few more kids in a class," he said. "Because the schools are interested, they open their classrooms to me and I have no overhead."
In the end, seeing his formerly struggling students succeed is the greatest source of satisfaction, Albert said.
"It's more gratifying to me than teaching executives," he said. "I don't think I'll be doing corporate training for much longer."
Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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