Ray Dass Shares His Secret for Student Engagement
How did Ray Dass amass over 200,000 TikTok followers for — of all things — teaching math!?
Ray explains his success (and math) simply: “It’s all about putting the student first.”
TikTok is just the latest way that Ray has focused his career on engaging students.
Starting as a classroom teacher and tutor, he built the #1 school in the nation among private schools for its number of National Merit Scholars across multiple years and has spent the last decade teaching over 150,000 students across the country, producing over 1000 National Merit Semifinalists.
We recently caught up with Ray to learn his secret for driving student engagement, as well as results.
The answer is as surprising as it is, simple:
DIA: So Ray, what drew you to this work?
RD: My mom was a teacher and before I started kindergarten, we had so much fun playing together. It was only when I was older that I realized that our games were educational. She made learning fun and was way ahead of her time. She got her Master’s in computer science in the early ‘80s, before most people even thought about owning computers. I was like a little assistant in her lab, helping grad students print their papers on these computers that no one understood yet. I was learning and teaching before I really even knew what I was doing.
DIA: How did you get into education?
RD: I always wondered what I was capable of. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up and I didn’t feel like I was a genius, so I wanted to know what was possible for my future. If I could help a friend with a seemingly unsolvable math problem, it made me feel like maybe there was hope for me, too. So teaching, tutoring, being the sounding board for my friends: these were always part of my life.
And I know how this might sound but I’m sharing this for a reason: by the time I was in college, I was certain I was going to be a rapper. I was in the studio every night and was going to classes and tutoring during the day.
RD: Yes! Originally, I didn’t even name the company after myself! I wanted to fade into the background and make music.
DIA: Is this your secret for engaging students? Do you rap for them?
RD: I do rap for them. Sometimes.
The truth is that the secret, if there is one, is just about simple care.
Even when I wanted to rap, I kept getting drawn into what was happening with every student I worked with. I couldn’t stand the thought of a student thinking they were anything less than capable. I had people who believed in me, and that belief changed the course of my life. I knew how powerful it could be and I wanted the kids I cared about to have the same shift in their lives. I still do.
DIA: Is that why your program motto is “Know You Can”?
RD: Absolutely. I want every student to see the genius within themselves, so they can become great learners and thinkers, and not be dependent on me, or any tutor.
The “test prep world” is filled with so many people just looking to make some quick cash. These students’ futures and how they felt about themselves are too important for that.
DIA: Many of the kids that follow you on social media know you through the SARA™ program. What was your vision for the program?
RD: When I first heard about books going digital, I had this idea in my mind of what that looked like. I imagined a book coming to life – providing us with an engaging, interactive learning experience. That’s not what I saw, though. I saw books that had simply been converted to digital PDFs; the same kinds that had been available for years.
DIA: Even now, most digital textbooks seem to be, basically PDFs.
RD: Exactly! I wanted the experience I’d originally thought of. I wanted to be able to touch a question and have it come to life, to teach me—in a high quality, well-produced video—and then I’d want to be able to practice until I understood.
That’s not what I was seeing, so we created it! It feels like destiny to name it after my mom, who was a visionary in computer science and gave me my love for learning.
DIA: In a few of our meetings, you’ve mentioned that in addition to PSAT, SAT, and ACT, you have developed math programs within the SARA™ platform. What inspired you to create these specific math-centered programs?
RD: Yes! I’m so excited about what we’ve been able to do to help support students and schools with Math!
It wasn’t long after schools began closing in March of 2020 that I started hearing from so many schools, students, and parents about math gaps and how they were affecting student performance and confidence.
I wanted to help so I immediately began holding live online events and building math courses in SARA™. Now, we have SARA™ middle and high school math programs running in and available to all of our partner schools, and the teachers and students are absolutely loving it.
DIA: What is the focus of your math programs?
RD: I’ve worked with schools across the country to create these courses based on their most prevalent math gaps. Now I’m actually working with schools to align the content in SARA™ to their specific curriculum, which is something I dreamed of when I first started!
DIA: It sounds like so many dreams come true, and your mom would be proud of you. If schools are interested in learning more about the Ray Dass program, where should they go?
Ray Dass partners with schools nationwide to provide award-winning, results-based PSAT/SAT/ACT test prep and supplemental math programs to his network of partner schools. Through his educational software program, SARA™, and live, online instruction, Ray and his team offer the highest quality instruction across formats that provide the level of engagement and flexibility that schools and students need in today’s educational landscape.
DIA members receive a 10% discount on the total cost of the full, school-wide PSAT/SAT/ACT program.