Monday, December 30, 2013

What Does a Tutor Do?

Here's what happens to essay writing when super-duper-everyone-is-special-and-don't-hurt-any-student's-feelings takes over the classroom. Tutors, please fix! Image courtesy of Tutor Memes.
Well, if you're like a good friend of mine (who shall remain unnamed), then you spend half of your day sleeping, several hours cognizant enough to berate his adolescent tutoring students for their disinterest in the fine arts offered at their expensive prep school, and the remaining hours writing literature that will one day end up on the library shelves of such an institution.  As for the logistics of how you choose to spend your day, well that's entirely up to you, Dear Tutor.  Here's a general idea of what you should be doing while tutoring:

  • Help students navigate their coursework from the week to figure out what homework they have to complete.
  • Help students prioritize homework and projects into urgent and important lists.
  • Help students to figure out how to complete said homework--don't complete the work for them, as that kind of work represents an entirely different (though lucrative) part of the education industry.
  • Teach students study skills.
  • Help students with organizational and time management skills.  This service is often referred to academic coaching.
  • When fortunate enough to receive the opportunity, tutors provide enrichment lessons, working with students purely for the purpose of enlightening their young minds; the focus is on education for the sake of knowledge, and not for the sake of test scores and grades.  (Cue: Visual of yourself as Socrates lambasting Plato--"The unexamined life is not worth living!")  Seriously, though, enrichment tutoring offers tutors the opportunity to truly plan individualized lessons and discuss complex ideas one-on-one with students; it's fun, I promise.
  • Provide students with the constructive feedback they actually need in order to help them succeed.  Case-in-point: See the essay edits!

Tutoring Makes You Smarter!

PictureA tutor's biggest fear! Ever heard the expression that the only way to truly know if you understand a concept is to try and teach it to someone else?  Tutoring provides an unparalleled opportunity for you to ensure mastery of a subject before entering either the worlds of teaching or graduate level conference presentations.  For those with experience in the two latter areas, tutoring can help ensure your retention of concepts and materials with which you are not currently working, such as Geometry tutoring for the Algebra teacher or American History tutoring for the European History graduate student.  Students will challenge your knowledge by asking for clarification, further information, and questions that may help you reveal your biases or even misunderstandings of the material. 

But don’t worry!  Not every lesson will involve your student picking apart your brain to glean every possible minute detail of an ethical theory on Utilitarianism that perhaps you should have paid a little more attention to during Philosophy 101 (not that I'm speaking from experience, of course...).  If you’re tutoring in the same few subjects, chances are that the students will ask pretty similar questions throughout the course of your lessons.  If you do choose to tutor for professional and personal development, you’ll quickly find that it is vital for you to seek out students in a wide variety of subject areas to help you (or compel you!) to improve your breadth of teaching (and save you from a slow death by boredom).

Aside from one bad idea of a semester where bored myself silly tutoring only high school American History courses, when tutoring, I try to find students of all ages, elementary through adult learners, who span a wide range of my tutoring areas: reading comprehension, writing development, and test preparation.  In a typical semester (as the tutoring year is generally divided into winter/ spring, summer, and fall/winter), I will usually have ESL, Gifted, Advanced Placement, elementary, middle, high school, college, SAT, GRE, and ESE students, all of whom enrich my experience as a tutor, helping me tutor a wider array of students with increasingly challenging needs. 

I don’t, however, recommend starting with such a wide variety for your first semester of tutoring.  Select several subjects with which you are most comfortable—perhaps pre-Algebra, kindergarten sight words and early reading, high school level Biology, English 101, or middle school general subjects for homework help—and build upon those subjects.

 Don’t feel pressured to accept subjects that you do not yet feel comfortable tutoring.  As I tutor SAT Critical Reading and Writing, I regularly receive requests to tutor SAT Math, a subject I would prefer to not teach (and really shouldn't teach...). I simply offer to provide tutoring services for the verbal sections, but recommend the parent find a math tutor to complement my service.

I hope those tips help boost your confidence to help to accept new students and new subjects!