The Greer Meister Group is a private tutoring and educational consulting practice specializing in content mastery, cognitive flexibility, resilience, and academic independence and perseverance. The group offers educational consulting and private, in-home, one-on-one tutoring in a variety of academic subjects while also providing support for early learning and for ongoing academics throughout elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. In addition, the group demystifies the overwhelming, ambiguous process of writing for college applications by teaching students to use strategic storytelling to inspire admissions officers to say yes. Tutors at The Greer Meister Group are hand-picked after meticulous recruitment, screening, and testing. As such, they are among the most qualified, accomplished, and inventive educators in the tri-state area, and they offer a diversity of experience in education, career, and life. They are Ivy League graduates, published authors, internationally-renowned performers, and learning specialists. “Our tutors have interests and passions that go beyond just one field,” says Meister. “When we work with younger children who are just beginning to read, write, experiment, and explore math, we have to be engaging and adaptable. We all know that kids learn best when they're having fun. Our biggest responsibility to our youngest learners is to foster a life-long love of learning.” Meister has kept her ranks purposely small and exclusive, limiting her team to just 12 members who have met and exceeded the highest standards in tutoring and private education.

Q&A with Founder Caitlin Meister
Question: How do you describe The Greer Meister Group?

Caitlin: The Greer Meister Group is a private tutoring and educational consulting practice with a focus on academic independence and perseverance. We give students the tools that they need to achieve their goals. We believe that tutoring should teach content and strategies that students can replicate to be successful independently – not only with a tutor by their side. If we’ve done our job well, we’ve put ourselves out of a job!

Question: How are you different than other private tutoring companies?

Caitlin: Our tutors have interests and passions that go beyond just one discipline, which helps students free themselves from the limitation of thinking that someone has to be only a “math person” or only “an artist” to the exclusion of other fields.

Here’s a great example: Have you ever danced the movement of molecules? One of the  tutors in our practice, Chelsea Retzloff, is a scientist – her degree is in chemistry and she teaches advanced math and science – and she is also a professional modern dancer who tours the world dancing for Shen Wei, the choreographer of Beijing Olympic opening ceremony. If a student doesn’t understand the movement of molecules on the textbook page, Chelsea will literally get up and demonstrate through dance.

When we work with younger children who are just beginning to read, write, experiment, and explore math, we have to be engaging and adaptable. We all know that kids learn best when they're having fun. We also know that our biggest responsibility to our youngest learners is to foster a life-long love of learning. Tutoring should never be a burden. Let’s imagine that the tutor had prepared a calm, focused activity for a lesson and instead arrives to find that the child is having a “gross motor” day – she really needs to be up and moving around. The tutor pivots and teaches the same material through an activity that has them up and moving around. The tutor honors the student by meeting that child where she is rather than demanding that the child meet some preconceived expectation. Anyone who tells you that tutoring has to look one certain way is stuck inside a comfort zone that serves the adult first rather than serving the child first.

We honor our students as individuals by meeting them where they are. We foster a life-long love of learning in our younger learners, and we empower our older learners with the tools they need to persevere independently – all while meeting the goals the families set forth for us.

Question: How do you define success for your business?

Caitlin: I consider my work successful if we have given parents peace of mind and provided children with confidence to go into the classroom feeling supported and resilient, not inflexible and overwhelmed. Yes, I want my students to know the material, and I want more. I want my students to know that they have the tools to figure out anything new or unfamiliar.

It’s one thing to say, “My child is really struggling with this particular unit. Can you help her learn the material?” Yes, we can reteach that material in a new way so that she masters it. But so often a particularly challenging unit uncovers foundational gaps that may have accrued over months or years. Teaching one unit is putting on a bandaid, but identifying and filling the foundational gaps strengthens the child’s entire academic foundation and gives her the strength from which to tackle challenges moving forward.

We also have many students who come to us for tutoring because they need enrichment. Research shows us that children who learn to try, fail, try again, and then succeed have the greatest likelihood of life-long success – not the kids for whom everything comes easily the first time. I want my son to be resilient – doesn’t every parent? We want our children to have the internal strength and motivation to keep trying no matter how many times life challenges them. Children who accomplish easily are often less resilient than their peers who try and fail and try again but ultimately do achieve success. If we don't ever give cognitively-advanced learners material that is appropriately challenging for them, they will never get to experience the try-fail-try again-succeed journey that will allow them to develop the resilience that will lead them to success in life.

Question: Why are your services needed?

Caitlin: There are some individual educators and schools doing great work, but overall, our current educational system was designed for a world we don’t live in anymore.

Look at the current turmoil in New York City surrounding the SHSAT (the test used to screen for admission to a handful of highly-sought-after specialized public high schools). The test isn’t the illness; it’s the diagnostic. It’s telling us that our system is failing so many children.

After the Industrial Revolution, America needed workers for factories and manufacturing. Schools emphasized taking instruction, regurgitation, and repetition. The teacher demonstrates a method, the students dutifully copy it down in their notebooks, and then they repeat the process five, ten, 30 times on the corresponding problem set. At the culmination of this process, they regurgitate the material on an exam to demonstrate mastery.

The problem is compounded by the reality that in schools, time is fixed, and content mastery is variable. When the teacher says, “It’s time to move on,” the whole class moves on to the next unit regardless of whether they have all mastered the material in the previous unit. Foundational gaps develop, and when enough of those gaps accumulate, we hear kids say, “I’m not good at history” or “I’m just not a math person.” It is devastating that a child as young as 11 or 12 years old would shut down a lifetime of possibilities for herself because she believes that she is to blame – when the reality is that she is being failed by an inadequate education system. Tutoring changes all of that. The right kind of tutoring preserves growth mindset, strengthens resilience, and fosters independence. I’ve spent a decade watching it work and witnessing the successes, and I am more certain than ever about the dramatic difference that tutoring can make in the life of a child.

What we need now are entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, people who make inferences and connections, and children who understand that they don't have to succumb to the limitations of labels. If we claim to want something different, like a cure for cancer or the end of climate change, why do we keep funneling all of our children into the same system and expecting to get a different result?

Q: Who is your ideal client?

Caitlin: We would always prefer to work with a student who is engaged in the process rather than one whose parents are pushing them into tutoring. The great news is that a majority of our students are with our practice because they have asked their parents for tutoring. Kids are savvy – they are aware of the benefits of tutoring, and they want it. Sometimes, the kids are the ones educating their parents about tutoring!

Q: Private tutoring, test prep, and college application coaching have come under fire lately. How do you distinguish your practice from this controversy?

Caitlin:  It’s interesting the way that certain media seems to want to conflate the three areas, despite their drastic differences. Let’s separate them out and address them.

Private tutoring is one component of a family’s education plan – just as choosing the right school for your child and encouraging her to explore extracurricular interests are part of that plan. Private tutoring can provide enrichment for kids who lack challenge, and it can provide targeted support for kids whose needs are not being met in a classroom with 15 or 20 or 30 other children, each of whom has disparate needs. Most public elementary school classes in New York City have 32 children with one teacher. In a six-hour school day, even if there were no breaks, no non-core classes, and the teacher spent the entire day moving from student to student giving them individual attention, the teacher would have approximately 11 minutes with each child per day. Private schools have better teacher-student ratios, but one-on-one tutoring that is completely customized to each child’s individual strengths and challenges provides a level of differentiation that just isn’t possible in classroom instruction.

Now, let’s look at standardized testing. High-stakes standardized testing isn’t the ideal path to content mastery, but sometimes the tests are necessary components of achieving a greater goal. Done mindfully, standardized test preparation does give us an opportunity to help students develop academic independence and perseverance, which will serve them long beyond the test. Test prep offers us the opportunity to foster students’ executive functioning skills (sometimes thought of as study skills and organization): managing a schedule with multiple deadlines; breaking large, long-term projects into manageable, actionable pieces; identifying “time robbers” and using planners, to-do lists, color-coding, and reminders – in other words, devising an organizational system that works realistically for that specific child; learning to paraphrase and summarize complex texts or data; and more. Everyone uses those skills.

The demand for college application coaches and independent educational consultants is a response to how complex the process of applying to college has become and how many high schools are unable to provide adequate support to the children and parents attempting to navigate the labyrinthine process. Small, independent businesses like coaches and consultants make an easier target than colleges and universities, which are large, wealthy, and powerful, but if the colleges and universities agreed to simplify the application process, it would obviate the need for the coaches and consultants. Until then, in our practice, we help families navigate through the complexities honestly and ethically. We focus on coaching students through the written portions of the application process: the personal statement (aka essay) and written supplements. We demystify the overwhelming, ambiguous process of writing for college applications by teaching our students to be strategic storytellers. Strategic storytelling means crafting the most impactful version of your personal story so that it inspires college admissions officers to say yes. It’s not about pretending to be someone you’re not or signing up for activities that don’t actually interest you just because someone told you they look good on a resume. It’s about strategically connecting the existing pieces of your own story to make it easy for a college to admit you. Admissions officers want you to be an easy acceptance. Their job is to fill an incoming class, and they want to get the job done, but the average admissions officer has thousands of applications to read, and as much as he would like to take the time to get to know every applicant intimately, he has only three minutes to read each application. It’s not his fault, and it’s not yours, but if you don’t tell your story strategically, he isn’t going to have the time to sort through your materials and put it together for himself. You may have the grades, test scores, and character to qualify for the school, but so do thousands of other applicants, and without a strategic story, it is easy to pass by in a morass of statistics like straight-As and high standardized test scores that won’t set you apart in a highly-accomplished pool of applicants. Strategic storytelling inspires college admissions officers to say yes.

Q: Why do certain colleges rely heavily on standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests?

Caitlin: There is actually a trend right now of schools going “test optional.” Students can submit test scores if they feel the tests are a valuable piece of their application, but they are not required. It allows students to have agency in determining how they can best present themselves.

The SAT is only one piece of the complex college screening process, which needs to be viewed in context. Standardized tests were implemented for a specific purpose. Certain schools determined that they wanted to keep certain types of students out and admit more students like the ones they preferred. Schools implemented a set of screening criteria designed to admit more students like the ones they liked best. It was completely subjective, and it was exclusionary by definition. Unfortunately, over time, our society began to consider those screening criteria as an objective determinant of merit rather than the subjective tool that they actually were.

It’s healthy for students and their families to step back and ask themselves, “What do I consider to be merit? What do I value?” College admission criteria are not an objective measure of merit to which everyone should blindly aspire, and they do not determine a young person’s worth. Identifying and acknowledging the subjectivity in the process and having a clear understanding of how you define your own worth is an important step. More importantly, we need to address the larger implications of the current education system on our entire society, and we need to do the work of decentering privileged voices and elevating and amplifying voices from marginalized groups.

Q: How did you get into the private tutoring/education field?

Caitlin: All of my early jobs involved teaching. I taught theater to kids and teenagers, I taught in a preschool, and I mentored and tutored. When I graduated from college, I pursued an acting career and found success in voiceovers – audiobooks, radio and television commercials, and animation. The work is artistically fulfilling, and I absolutely love it and would never give it up. However, I really missed working with children, and tutoring was a way that I could do both. Tutoring is most in demand in the evenings and on weekends, and I could determine my own schedule. I started tutoring on my own, and within the first year I had a full schedule. The question then became whether to turn people away or turn it into a full-fledged business. I still wanted to be hands-on working with the kids, and I had been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug after having had the opportunity to learn from some inspiring entrepreneurs. One of my closest friends was tutoring for other practices at the time, and I asked whether she would join me. That was 10 years ago! Since then, the business has exceeded all of our growth expectations, she introduced me to my husband, and she’s been there for the births of both of my children!

Q: What were the challenges in starting The Greer Meister Group, and how did you solve them?

Caitlin: The first challenge was to make sure that I was meeting the needs of both the tutors and the clients. I tried to go about it simply and authentically: I asked the tutors what they didn’t like about working for other companies, and I asked the clients why they were leaving other tutors to hire us. I built the business around their answers.

I find tutors who are phenomenal at what they do, and I pay them well and give them the respect and flexibility that they need to pursue their other interests, which allows me to attract and retain the best people. I put systems in place to support our work so that we can go out there and do what we excel at: making a difference in children’s lives.

For our clients, our service is designed to be highly flexible and accommodating. All of our tutoring is one-on-one and customized to each individual child’s strengths and challenges, which allows us to be immeasurably more efficient than a classroom teacher or a franchise learning center could ever be. I have tremendous respect for classroom teachers; it’s just a completely different model. We also offer our clients complete transparency and accessibility. Clients can always reach me personally, and they are in direct contact with their tutors so that they don’t have to go through me if they prefer to handle something directly with the tutor. Our lessons have an open door – literally and figuratively – and we welcome parents to listen to the work the tutor is doing with their children. We don't charge our clients for cancellations unless the tutor is already in transit to the session at the time that they cancel. I'm a mom, and I know that a 24- or 48-hour cancellation policy is just not realistic for families with young kids. If a child isn’t at her best, or conversely she has the opportunity to go do something exciting and unique at a time that conflicts with tutoring, we want the families to reschedule. We have tremendous respect for the children with whom we work and for their families.

Q: How have your skills as a voiceover artist translated to what you're doing now?

Caitlin: The creativity, communication, and flexibility that I’ve developed as a voiceover artist have benefited me tremendously as a tutor and business owner. Being able to adapt on the fly, handle any material with little advance notice, and apply my creativity to approaching the material in a variety of ways are all voiceover skills that have been invaluable as a tutor and business owner. Learning to succeed in the business of being an artist is so often overlooked because it’s not romantic, but it provided my early lessons in entrepreneurship.

Q: How has having your own kids changed or influenced your work as an educator?

Caitlin: I was good at my work before I had kids, but I'm better at it now – there's no question. When I became a mom, I understood the intensity of emotion that parents feel surrounding their own kids. Before becoming a mom, I understood my clients’ needs on an intellectual level, but I didn't understand them on an emotional level until I had children of my own. I also always trust a mother’s instincts if she tells me that something concerns her about her child. It guides our work. I work with people’s children, they invite us into their homes, and that is an honor and deserves the highest ethical standards and level of compassion. It's never “just business.”