Thursday, September 22, 2011

It Depends

I may have begun searching the blog in the hope of finding some good solid advice, but the most common theme I found was “it depends.”

As I expected, many of the first posts in each semester describe epic failures and embarrassments, but contrary to my expectations, the final posts did too.  The anecdotal evidence in the blog shows that no matter how well a tutor works there will always be unsatisfied students.  It is impossible for a tutor to please everyone, no matter how skilled and adaptable they are.  The blog recommends that the tutor should accept these facts but continue anyway. A tutor should recognize that being a tutor is difficult but doable.

Many of the questions on the blog and in class raise specific questions.  They ask “what would you do in this situation?” or “what is the best way to deal with this type of person?”  The answers, thankfully, are never so direct.  The phrase, “it depends,” comes up over and over again.  Often the discussions focus on hypothetical situations, but the tutors confirm that the reality almost never matches the hypothetical.  There are too many unknowns (both known and unknown).  A hypothetical situation can never account for all these unknowns, so a tutor can never be completely prepared for every situation.  The help a tutor should give will depend on the assignment, the student, and the expectations of the professor, but the assignment can have various options and ambiguities, the student can have various levels of ability and interest, and the professor’s expectations vary with each professor, each student, and each assignment.  It is a tangled web of “it depends.”

The message of the tutors on the blog is to accept the uncertain nature of the tutoring game.  Since sessions are not standard do not treat them as if they were. There is a danger of becoming too practiced if it causes the tutor to become rigid or formulaic.  A tutor should avoid claiming to know, “what professors want,” or “what works best.”  Qualifiers like, “usually,” or “perhaps,” may be frustrating for the tutor and the student but they are necessary. Advice like, “check with your professor,” or, “follow the assignment,” may upset a student, leaving them unsatisfied, but it is often the best advice.
            My first reaction to this mess of uncertainty was to give up.  After all what value can come from analyzing the hypothetical if it never matches reality?  How can I give the student advice on how to make their paper good when, ultimately, I am not the one that will grade it?  The answers came from the blog.  One tutor compared being a tutor to playing a sport.  The drills and scrimmages a team runs in practice may never match the plays in an actual game, but they help a player to be prepared.

A tutor cannot prepare for every situation, but a tutor can handle most situations by being inquisitive and focusing on the needs of the student. 

Shaun Conner


Post a Comment

<< Home