Symbols Tutor Profile Series: Beth (Vancouver)

At Symbols, we are fortunate to have a team of dedicated and talented tutors teaching one-to-one multisensory lessons based on the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach. The Symbols Tutor Profile Series is an opportunity for us to introduce you to our team and celebrate each tutor’s unique contribution to the work we do. In preparation, each tutor receives a crossword puzzle with clues about the theme of the interview. This week, we meet Beth, who has been working at the Symbols Multisensory Learning Centre in Vancouver since 2017.

Beth’s Crossword


Beth’s crossword

  1. Are you angling for a freshwater rainbow?
  2. What could Pink Floyd know about envy?
  3. One of the greats is superior.


  1. A unicorn has one; a ram has two; a brass band…many.
  2. If teeth chatter, brooks babble, and wind howls, what does money do?

Rain and rain forests

“I’ll have a chocolate brownie, please.” Beth is admiring one of the magnificent creations behind the glass. I pick out a slice of chocolate cake, for some variety. We eat in sombre, appreciative silence until every crumb is gone. I’m eager to ask Beth about her travels and her teaching, but baked goods are first in line.

LYDIA: Before you joined the Vancouver Symbols team, you taught all over the world, didn’t you? How many countries have you visited?

BETH: Quite a few! I taught in Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Spain… and I’ve visited some other amazing places too: Lesotho, Sumatra, Guatemala.

LYDIA: Has spending time in other countries influenced your teaching?

BETH: Learning Spanish when I was living in South America really helped me understand what it’s like to sit in a class and feel like everyone understands what’s going on except you. I also really felt how much energy it takes to learn any kind of language arts material – it’s really hard work. So I try to teach with that in mind.

Beth hiking in Joffre Lakes Park (Image by R. Abraham)

Later, I discover that Beth has visited 43 countries. Her love for travel and adventure has found its way into her teaching at Symbols. Orton-Gillingham-based lessons at a learning centre in Vancouver may seem a far cry from expeditions through tropical rain forests, but Beth brings the whole world with her into the classroom.

BETH: So many of the children I teach love camping, hiking, and the outdoors. I’ve done a lot of that on my travels. I actually do a lot of it here too – BC has such amazing trails. Having shared interests with my students or being able to tell them about gross creatures I’ve encountered while camping – that really helps set up a lesson or get them to laugh.

LYDIA: Which leads me to my next question: Do any of the words in our crossword ever feature in your lessons?

BETH: “Green”! “Green” is a phonetic word we teach and it’s part of a sight word mnemonic – sight words are always a favourite. And speaking of creepy crawlies on camping trips, I have a really good sight word mnemonic about an earwig. By the way, I’m glad we’re eating cake and not trout – I wasn’t sure what to make of that clue at first!

It’s pouring with rain outside, but we are warm and comfy at Greenhorn Cafe. Trout Lake is on our agenda, but not until we can get some respite from the weather.

LYDIA: Here’s a big one. Are you ready?

BETH: I think so!

LYDIA: Teaching students who have been struggling at school can pose some unique challenges. How do you help them regain their confidence and enthusiasm?

BETH: There are so many ways to learn, so many personalities. I think we lose so much if we reward only some of them. You have to find the spark – dance, painting, video editing – and bring it out. If we see creativity and critical thinking and innovation and unique problem solving as valuable, then spelling or math or reading aren’t barriers any more; they’re obstacles, but ones we can overcome.

A few days later, we make it to Trout Lake. In the chilly air, with snow on the ground, it’s calm and beautiful.

LYDIA: You’ve been everywhere and seen so much. Is there something you’ve learned at Symbols that you wish you had known before or maybe didn’t expect?

BETH: It’s funny you should ask, because I have been thinking about just that. Symbols has been the first environment where I get to witness others teaching. People don’t realize how isolated teaching can be most of the time. Usually, once you’re in a classroom, you’re on your own and you just do your best. But at Symbols we’re always moving about and we interact in a shared space. I get to see how everyone else teaches, get tips and ideas and advice. It’s unique and I think it makes the teaching so much better.

Beth gallivanted all over Vancouver and shared her experiences to make this interview possible. Thank you, Beth!

Rob Wahl