This is part two of the series, “So You Want to Tutor?”
- Prove It
- Get Them Talking
Establishing rapport, in this case, isn’t about selling knives, makeup, or used cars. It’s about breaking the ice a bit, and establishing a common ground. A bit of rapport doesn’t mean finding out their favorite ice cream and their relationship status. You’re not here to be best friends, you’re here to help.
The primary aim is to get them talking and to find out what assignment they’re working on, what class it’s for, how much time they have to devote to the project before its due, what grade they’re shooting for, and other aspects that may be piling on the stress for them.
So besides getting them talking (which is very important), it’s about arming you with the bare minimum of knowledge you’ll need to actually help the student. Rather than charging into the assignment with a red pen, ready to bleed the page, find out a bit of background. This isn’t a novel, and you only have got an hour or less, so a chunk of exposition here does just fine.
Be Aware of Entitlement
As I learned during my tutor training, there are some who will come to tutoring expecting to be given the answers. Maybe this has something to do with our lecture/notetaking format in classes, but this is not your responsibility as a tutor. Your job isn’t to know and give all the answers, but to show them as a successful student how you find the answers when you need them.
Your training may go differently, but ours focused quite a bit on this – on fighting the attitude of entitlement. I believe it was valuable training, helping put up a wall to prevent you doing things you shouldn’t.
The main problem with this training is although it may be true, and it may be helpful to know that you should “teach them to fish” rather than just giving the answers, it ultimately doesn’t help to approach a student assuming that they’re just here to get test answers from you.
Some students may have an entitlement problem, sure, but it doesn’t help to assume this. This might just be a result of not knowing to expect – especially if they haven’t tutored before, or haven’t had a good one.
It’s best to keep a balance between the two perspectives. On your end, become solid in the idea that you are here to help the students learn how to be successful students, or in other words, learn how to find the answers they need. If you only have them for up to an hour, you can’t fix their grade for them – but you can give them some tools that allow them to do this for themselves. On the other end, the social side where you, as a student, are helping a fellow student – don’t get all defensive if they ask for answers, or sit back in their seat expecting you to move the session forward.
Keep Them Talking
Many if not most students will take on this passive attitude at the beginning of a session, especially if they’re not used to having you as a tutor yet. This may tempt you to talk a lot just to get the ball rolling, but refrain. In order to “teach them to fish”, we need their participation. In fact, if we were to weigh the entire session on a verbal scale, it would probably best if they were talking 90% of the time, with you only making small remarks to direct or advise. At worst, it should be 50/50. The thing to avoid is the opposite, with you talking 90% of the time and the student only speaking the other 10%. This most likely means they aren’t engaged in what’s going on, which means the session is not as effective as it could be (if not completely useless).
One of the tricks I would use when tutoring writing was to have the student read the paper out loud. I handed them a pencil (NOT a red one) and encouraged them to make notes of changes as they found things. As they read, I would never interrupt, but simply be marking awkward passages or wording with underlines or circles, just to make note of it for later. This was very important – You’re not making editing marks, showing exactly what’s wrong, but simply highlighting the areas that need attention.
Don’t interrupt. This is important so, DON’T INTERRUPT. Most students will be just a little embarrassed at reading their paper aloud, even in a private setting, so let them work through it. If they are allowed to keep fumbling through reading their paper aloud and eventually realize they aren’t being judged for anything (not the writing, not their articulation, nothing at all), they will relax. They’ll become comfortable with the situation. And best of all, they’ll be talking.
Talking leads to participation. Participation leads to engagement. Engagement leads to LEARNING…
This is part one of the series, “So You Want to Tutor?”
- Prove It
- Get Them Talking
One day while making my way through the campus swarm I actually noticed one of the school billboards about the Writing Center. I suddenly decided that tutoring writing was my dream job. It was this kind of far-off dream, something I could attain only if I became a Rock Star among English majors. I was confident I could do the job (to some extent), but not that I could get the job.
I can’t tell you exactly why this happened. I think I had some kind of weird vision in mind, probably involving collie dogs, coffee shops, and turtleneck sweaters. I put it on this pedestal in my mind, something that I wanted but would probably never happen. I set the dream aside, and decided to try for good grades instead.
I took advantage of some class extra credit by taking a research paper to the Writing Center for feedback. It was awful. The tutor I saw really didn’t seem to want to be there, or have any interest in helping me. They were completely wrapped up in the task of pointing out flaws and problems, which was kind of helpful, but their attitude surely wasn’t.
I was annoyed, but didn’t think too much of this experience. I chalked it up to my being a “difficult person”. The next week, however, I heard more horror stories. Students were leaving the Writing Center with nothing but frustration and anger. Some had left in tears.
This isn’t natural. Sure, it can be hard to receive critique, but that wasn’t the issue. The real issue here is that the Writing Center had somehow employed people who didn’t WANT to be helping students improve their writing. Naturally, since they didn’t want to help, they really didn’t.
No matter how difficult a person I can be, I would make a much better tutor than some of those currently working there. I was filled with anger. Not the kind that starts fights, but the kind that fuels the fire and gets stuff done. I made sure to receive very high scores on my next few papers, set to work editing some of my best stuff for a makeshift portfolio, and (after standing up straight and sucking in a long breath) forced myself to ask teachers for letters of recommendation.
Apparently there isn’t as much competition to tutor as I had believed, because I was hired for the next semester. Over Christmas Break I began reviewing my people skills. I wasn’t trying to change my entire personality in one vacation, just a bit of review on how people work and the best way to get through to them. I read books on giving honest criticism, books on people in general, and evaluated some of my more recent mistakes.
I started training, and I was extremely nervous. I mean, what can be more nerve-racking than trying to tell someone what’s wrong with their writing?
I began helping students, awkwardly at first, but you know what? I never sent anyone away in tears. Every day I got better. I picked up some good tricks from my boss, other good tutors, and my own experience. Every day I struggled with the thought, “what makes me think I’m good enough to tell people how to improve their writing?”. This was the consolation that kept me going:
Taking your writing to someone for critique is a difficult thing. Many people don’t know who to go to that will have the knowledge and sensitivity to be helpful. They should be able to bring their work to someone who genuinely wants to help: They deserve it.
I tutored writing for a few semesters, and then tutored psychology and web design after that. One semester I held my tutoring sessions just down the table from my supervisor, where she could hear all. At the end of the semester she asked me if I was considering a career in education, and if not, I should. The way she put it, I was a natural. I was quite surprised! That surely isn’t what I had thought when starting out, but you have to admit – she had credibility.
If you want to teach, tutor, or in any other way help people, don’t let yourself get intimidated by anything. Not the people who are better at it than you, not the difficulty of working with people or their children. Let your desire to help people drive you to do what is necessary to get there, because frankly – there aren’t enough tutors or teachers in the world who truly WANT to be there, and there never will be.
There are always others who are better than you at writing, photoshop, nutrition, math, grammar or woodworking. But maybe that struggling student doesn’t need the “best”, they just need someone to help them troubleshoot a problem and get unstuck. Do you want to help them?
Go for it. There’s a demand for you.
There are real benefits to tutoring;
- You become better at your work, in the process of explaining how and why you do things.
- You escape your own world and problems for a while, being in the moment and helping someone. For those who struggle with anxiety, there is almost nothing greater.
- You aren’t a douche. You’re giving back, and that’s awesome.
It doesn’t really pay that much. Most students won’t thank you (though some will, and it’s the best when they do). But some students will leave your table re-energized, emboldened to approach their work again when just moments ago it had been nothing but a source of great stress. Things that had seemed impossible before are now quite simple, and they can start to tackle the problem – all because someone with a bit of experience bothered to give them a half hour.
So you want to tutor/teach? Do it. Do what it takes; It’s a righteous profession. Let those who only want the campus job go flip burgers or man a computer lab and leave the tutoring to those with a genuine interest.
photo from City Year
This is an opinion article, but let me take a hint from College Persuasion 101 and establish a bare minimum of credibility:
- I am a user and consumer of both Goodreads and Amazon services.
- I also have a slightly unique perspective because of my invested interest in the Books and Publishing Industry, following many authors and attending geeky cons.
- I work in the Web Industry and often hear news about what goes on, and am deeply invested in making the Web a better place for all.
So, as I bet you could tell, Amazon acquired Goodreads – a social platform for reviewing and sharing books. I’m not that upset about it, I mean: it’s done. I’ll get over it by tomorrow morning. It’s really not a catastrophe, but it’s an interesting and complex issue that I think has many facets. Here are three.
As a Consumer
Amazon is so cool. I can grab hardback books for 12-17 bucks, even when they just came out. When this isn’t possible (such as with a reference book), I can take the e-book alternative route and save half the price. For a student this is a big deal. I’m already going into debt for school, it makes no sense for me to spend more than needed on textbooks.
Goodreads is great. Everything I read is a recommendation from a trusted source: anyone from an expert in the industry to my siblings and their excellent taste.
On Goodreads I can be opinionated: I can make snap star-rating judgements and write out my feelings in a review. I can assemble a “to read” list so I won’t forget books that sounded interesting. I can make myself feel like a literary buff by continually adding to my “Read” list every time I remember another book.
As a consumer of both, it’s easy to see this as a fantastic move. Or maybe a “meh” one. All the people throwing up their arms with their “Oh noes! Evil big company!” just seem so petty – It’s a social site, silly face! As long as I can keep sharing my books, it’s all good!
As a Follower of the Book Industry
Amazon may be great to its customers, but it’s decidedly less reputable in its business practices. It’s easy, at first glance, to boo on publishers. They take all the money from the authors! They markup the price for no reason but profit!
Because of this it may seem like no big deal when I say, Amazon can be a real jerk to publishers. They are known for using bully tactics to force publishers to lower their prices, among other things.
First of all, there are a lot of costs to publishing. Editing, copy editing, art direction, marketing/public relations, printing and distribution take their toll. As much as we may hear, “Every time you buy a book, an author gets less than 1 dollar of that!” and it may make our temples throb, the alternative isn’t any more attractive.
Publishers offer authors what they cannot do for themselves; all the other parts of the work besides the writing. Getting the book out there takes resources.
But okay, let’s assume the typical “publishers are evil” stands in your mind. Let’s assume you’re sympathetic to authors.
It isn’t good for an author to have their book removed from Amazon on its debut weekend. All because Amazon is trying to force a publisher to lower their prices without negotiation. Take a look at Amazonfail 2010 (a link to Brandon Sanderson’s blog on the subject, which features many more links on the #hotDrama).
So as a consumer I may love Amazon, but I am now quite wary of them. They’re like the Walmart of the Book world (assuming we’re just talking about books at the moment).
As a Web Worker
Social platforms are a sticky thing. It’s always disturbing when you can’t tell, just from the surface, how a company makes their money. (Need I even drop the F-bomb here?)
But what’s even more scary is when a social platform is operated by a company that is a major player in the industry. Right now Goodreads features links to several places to buy the books (Check out Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman as an example). Think that’s going to stick around when Amazon takes over?
Let’s assume Amazon continues to do what it’s great at and appease its users. It keeps Goodreads around as a social platform, and even better, uses some of their awesomely vast resources to improve on the site’s user experience. That’s great, right?
Yeah… sure, I guess. Great for whom? The typical user might not care, but sure enough they will find themselves buying from Amazon more than before. It’s a genius business move, I’ll grant, to host one of the most popular social platforms for book lovers when you sell cheap books.
So wouldn’t it be great if Facebook and Walmart merged? Two less things to worry about! Two things I use or frequent most are sharing resources to deliver me a better experience! Now I can gift cheap toys and assemble-yourself furniture to my friends, and all those annoying ads on the right will be replaced by Walmart sales!
There’s just something scary about that.
I’m a big fan of social platforms, especially ones that bring in users by providing an excellent experience and easy-to-use tools. As mentioned in one of my earlier posts about workflow, I’m a fan of Codepen for sharing and teaching code, as well as creating quick experimental prototypes. The tools are superb. The community is great.
Designers have Dribbble and Forrst. It’s obvious that these companies stay afloat through relevant advertising (good products that actually appeal to the typical users) and pro accounts (small monthly/yearly fees that provide an enhanced experience).
And as much as it may be a good business move, I really don’t hope to see Apple or Google buy out these sites. For all I know, maybe they want just that. I’m sure being acquired by a Web Giant comes with many perks, like not having to worry about paying the bills anymore.
Still, seems a shame.
I’d been awaiting “The Hobbit” and “Les Miserables” with anticipation. I’d seen enough previews of “Brave” (probably because I was in the theater for Avengers) to know it’d be worth the watch.
But, since TV stations and I just don’t get along (I’ve elected to use Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Redbox as my TV replacement), I often miss the trailers and previews that generate the excitement.
This isn’t a bad thing. Hype-less movie going has the benefit of leaving me pleasantly surprised. Here’s my most recent Quotable/Ownables:
Here Comes the Boom
Apparently shunned by the critics, I actually entered this movie with low expectations. I feared a modern rendition of the Adam Sandler movies, or a less-awkward Nacho Libre (which, despite its strangeness, I love FOR its awkwardness).
Nah. I’m not going to sit here and type you that it was the most original screenplay I’d ever seen, but they do a fantastic job avoiding some of the cliches I feared most. It was engaging and fun, and best of all it never took some awkward foray into “adults only” land like I’d expected.
It was great fun, and it never made me regret turning it on.
Perks of Being a Wallflower
My personal favorite of the movies on this list, the only thing standing against it is that I can’t honestly recommend watching it with the whole family, if you’ve got youngsters. (This is important because many people I rub shoulders with do.)
The reasons I love this movie are so many it’s hard to list. Part of it is that they captured High School so well. Part of it is the wonderfully flawed characters and their real-to-life struggles. I loved the music and art direction, but mostly it was because the movie made me cry like a baby. That’s always a good sign.
Rise of the Guardians
Dreamworks’s latest work to reach the top shelf, alongside “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon”. The premise itself was somewhat adorable, following Jack Frost in his struggle to be seen and believed in. One of those story ideas I can throw on the “I wish I’d written this!” pile.
There’s been a trend of these movies, one I’ll call the “Discover your Worth” plot. Some might call it a cliche, but its a trend that I’m actually a big fan of. This movie does it well.
It’s also fun to see the portrayals of Santa and the Easter Bunny. They were new, fresh takes, and at the same time they weren’t so far out of left wing that you felt betrayed. (Or right wing… as a moderate, they’re the same to me.)
Another “Discover your Worth” movie, but this one tickled me most on a personal level. The retro gamer references, the adorable characters (Most especially Venellope), the plight of the hero, all touched a chord that resonated well with my soul.
Mmk, that was a strong statement right? But seriously, between the solid story, the big “rude” guy who just wants to be accepted, and the gamer easter eggs (such as the “Aerith Lives!” graffiti in Central Station), its like the movie was made just for me.
And all gamers, I suppose.
Seriously, check these movies out. You’ll love them, I’m sure of it. I feel it in my code.
That was a trick question. I’m writing this post in the first place because I believe the question to be unanswerable. Bet you’ve never seen THAT one before.
The word simply doesn’t carry the same meaning between societies. And by societies, I mean whatever home you were raised in. Families growing up on the same street probably all have a very different idea on what sort of behavior constitutes as polite or appropriate, and therefore rude.
I think a more appropriate question to ask is “What isn’t rude?”
You might have your own answers, here are mine:
- Arguing. People can be, and often are, rude while arguing – but that doesn’t make it a two-way thing. Arguing is merely a way to point out a problem and begin working out possible solutions. A good sign of bad arguing is when the argument becomes about something other than a solution to the issue at hand. If it becomes about the people, then the argument has failed. The best possible end to an argument is compromise. The next is to go separate ways peacefully.
- Establishing Boundaries. It is perfectly appropriate to let people know when they’ve overstepped their bounds with you. I feel it’s best to set them up before or as soon as the problem becomes noticeable in order to keep things from exacerbating.
- Frankness. Sometimes politeness seems to be defined by an over-abundance of caveats and addendums. Frankness doesn’t mean that the person using it doesn’t care; quite the contrary. It could mean that they care most about the issue at hand.
- Unconventionalism. People tend to get a very strong opinion on how things should be done, and that can easily become dogma. Don’t get me wrong, being unconventional can sometimes be bad, or even downright wrong… but not necessarily so. We establish processes and conventions because, for the most part, they make things better – but we should also be willing to have them challenged and improved.
- Being Angry/Upset. It’s okay to be angry. The feeling, the upset part… there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I’d go as far as to say that if it seeps into your tone, this is okay too. Violence doesn’t come from sounding upset or feeling angry, but from trying to control others. You can very easily be angry and merely want your space.
Why I’m writing this post:
I’ve struggled long and hard with trying to balance my desire to be diplomatic with my desire to be open and honest.
I’ve come to the conclusion that all the people I respect in life are most likely polite, but if it came to something important, they would be honest foremost.
In some of my recent fiction, most of my favorite characters show a trend: They all, at some time or another, were considered rude. More often than not. And I love them for it.
- Maria from the Sound of Music
- Nynaeve and Matrim Cauthim from the Wheel of Time
- Lightsong from Warbreaker
- Ralph from Wreck-it-Ralph
- Zuko and Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Bartimaeus from the Bartimaeus Trilogy
As an already introspective person, I don’t see the benefit in worrying about being “Rude”. Doing so has been a waste of energy, and has hurt way more than it has helped.
Feel free to disagree with me. Don’t worry, I won’t automatically think you rude.