Today we’d like to introduce you to Leah Hamilton.
Leah, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
There’s a quote by Paulo Coelho that I feel sums up my story pretty well which is: “Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself.” As a tutor, business owner and singer, I find joy in interacting with people, connecting through shared human experience, tapping into creativity, and indulging my nerdy side by learning and teaching new things as often as possible.
But this wasn’t how my story started. In fact, while growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, I was painfully shy and struggled in school, save for concert choir and middle school Spanish class which I looked forward to every day. That Spanish class led to my decision to spend a college year abroad in Spain and to eventually live in Spain for two more years after graduating. I didn’t have friends doing anything like this and I felt like I had discovered a secret path to true happiness that no one else knew about. Inspired by that experience, I traveled for the next five years spending time in Argentina, France, and Cuba, sometimes as a teacher and other times as a student. It was surprising to me how these experiences traveling essentially melted away my shyness and taught me how to be confident with myself through learning about others.
A few years before moving to Los Angeles, I had decided to become a teacher. I got my master’s degree and followed that with a six year stint in New York City teaching ESL through Drama at a newly formed public high school specifically designed for international students. It was a fantastic school, the students were amazing, all from various parts of the world. Every day I delighted in hearing the chatter of the dozen or so first languages they spoke among each other in the moments before class started. But as much as I enjoyed the energy of working with my drama classes, I felt like there was a different path for me that I needed to find.
Over time I began to realize the best part of my teaching day was often when my students would come for extra help and we could work together one-on-one. I found that in those quiet and reflective moments, the real learning would happen. I became aware that working with teenagers can be both difficult and magical at the same time. They so desperately want to be understood yet so rarely feel that they are. I love to be that one adult person who listens and gets it, sometimes for the first time in their lives. I’ll never forget one student in particular who had just arrived in the U.S. from Yemen. She was such a quiet wallflower in the beginning. Dealing with extreme linguistic and cultural barriers, she had no idea why on earth she was being forced to take my drama class in order to learn English. Cut to the end of that year, and she was on stage, the star of the show, speaking English in front of her classmates with bravery, strength and intelligence. Her success gave me a clear sense of purpose and joy.
When I first arrived in L.A., I took a position teaching Spanish at an elite private school and although I loved it there, there was still that persistent tug within me, a nagging thought that I needed to be on a different professional path. Finally, after much hesitation and fear (that timid girl in me still trying to take control), I decided to listen to my intuition and dive into a career transition. In 2017, I left the classroom to focus entirely on building a business with the goal of engaging my students in a process of discovery where they learn to help themselves, find their confidence, and succeed. I find this work extremely fulfilling and I feel grateful every day to be able to earn a living doing what I am most passionate about.
Today I’m thrilled to live in this crazy, complicated, inspiring city. It’s here that I learned how to be the teacher and business-owner I’ve dreamed of being. And the best news is that L.A. gives me permission to tap into my inner “ham” as well! I can dabble on the side in performance, voice acting, singing, and you know, just generally being as silly as possible. As one would expect, this has turned out to be a wonderful place for a “creative” like me. I feel like I have found my people here, especially in the vocal groups I perform with both professionally and non-professionally. Life here is wonderful and varied. Just the way I like it.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Some aspects of my journey may seem paradoxical, but hopefully that’s what makes my story more interesting to tell. As I mentioned earlier, I always struggled as a young student. This continued to be an obstacle even while earning my master’s degree and teacher certification at The School for International Training in Vermont. Some learners like me struggle in a grey area, where we aren’t succeeding but no one can figure out why and we are left to float around helplessly because the system is not set up to accommodate every learning style. Like me, not everyone fits the mold of “gifted” or “learning disabled” and this was exactly my challenge. My road to self-discovery and learning how I learn was often long and lonely.
I remember many college Saturday nights as I watched my friends go out partying while I stayed home to read my third pass of Chomsky in Spanish for my advanced psycholinguistics class. I am a slow reader, but once I figured out how to study properly, my GPA climbed to a 4.0! This is why I do what I do today: try to help those who are floating in that grey area feel a bit less alone and a lot more confident in school and in their future. I love running my own business – but it’s not without its challenges. I realize the first few years will be especially tough, but I am fortunate to have found a wonderful network of supportive business owners who actively help each other. Another benefit of this amazing L.A. community! It’s been a humbling and eye-opening experience and, though I still have a long way to go, I could not be happier.
We’ve been impressed with Learning with Leah, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Most of my work involves tutoring students in middle and high school Spanish. My heart is with that age group because those are the years when I struggled the most. For me, it’s all about patience, incorporating compassion and empathy into my daily routine, and applying the years of experience I have in my field. Although many of my students initially come to me for support in Spanish, I also enjoy working outside my primary subject area. For some students, issues that seem related to Spanish class turn out to be deeper and more complex. Once we get started, we typically expand our work to include other subjects and areas like study skills, executive functioning, or anxiety management. I tend to focus on those deeper issues as well as the subject matter. Some parents like the results they see so much that they ask me to work with their other children as well. Occasionally I even teach the parents themselves, essentially making me their “family tutor”.
In 2020, I expanded my portfolio to offer language training for English-speaking corporate clients who are breaking into Spanish-speaking markets and vice versa. I help foster communication between international businesses and bridge gaps in understanding both linguistically and culturally in order to build more productive relationships. Cross-cultural understanding through communication is a high priority for me and when the pandemic hit, I decided to volunteer by doing translation work and offering free Spanish lessons to first responders and health workers to help them better communicate with their Spanish-speaking patients. One of my future goals is to find other ways to weave more activism into my business. Learning language and culture builds tolerance, acceptance, open-mindedness and ultimately creates a better world for everyone. So, you know, small goals!
Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
There are so many resources I’d like to mention, but I will choose a select few of the greatest hits to highlight here. To start, working with the incomparable Parker Bennett of Aligned Online (alignedonline.com) has been a true Godsend. He has helped me hone my craft through website building, design, branding and marketing, and unquestionably helps my business thrive. One of my favorite communities of freelance entrepreneurs is District Bliss (districtbliss.com), headed by CEO Sara Alepin. It is through my participation here that I have been able to shake off my occasional imposter syndrome and gain the experience necessary to succeed in this supportive and welcoming environment. Other honorable mentions are listed below and are truly worth anyone’s time to check out: Creative Successful Entrepreneurs (creative-successful-
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