Friday, September 23, 2011

Two Main Ideas From the Blog

Don’t Stress About What you Don’t Know
                Nearly every tutor mentioned feeling overwhelmed and inadequate when they first began tutoring. While this feeling of inferiority had various sources (never having taught before, not knowing how to explain concepts, etc.), it typically centered around a lack of grammar knowledge. Danae’s comment illustrates this feeling perfectly: “One piece of advice I would share with future tutors is DON’T FREAK OUT! Being a tutor is great, and once you realize that you know more than you give yourself credit for you will start having more productive tutoring sessions.Cheyney echoes the sentiment by saying “I was the great impostor, taking up space in the WC.”
It is only natural to feel unprepared when starting out as a tutor. Not only is the fledgling tutor thrust into a situation he or she may not have been in before (teaching someone else), but suddenly they find their knowledge of grammar and writing on display. For many tutors—who may have majors varying from visual art to chemical engineering and haven’t been in a formal grammar course for years—this is an intimidating prospect. The student is judging them. Their feeble explanations of concepts they understand intuitively but have difficulty explaining are out in the open. The student judges them. More seasoned tutors can overhear. Perhaps worst of all, Claire is always lurking out of sight. I understand the feeling well, for it is the same way I felt when I began tutoring (and still feel to a degree.) To hear that nearly all tutors go through this same thing is comforting to me.
How does a beginning tutor overcome this feeling? The advice they give is very basic. “Don’t worry about it.” On the surface this doesn’t seem very helpful. Telling a new tutor “don’t worry about it” is like telling a toddler who is convinced a monster is about to come out of their closet and eat them to “just relax.” But if the new tutor examines that advice closer, he or she learns that it is simply a matter of lowering expectations. Claire doesn’t expect the new tutor to know everything. The other tutors don’t expect it either—they’re going through the same learning process themselves. Even the tutee doesn’t expect the tutor to know everything. The only person who does is the tutee.
By understanding that feelings of anxiety and inadequacy are natural, as well as realizing that perfection isn’t expected at the beginning stage of tutorship (or, indeed, at any stage), the new tutor can relax and focus instead on helping the student. As Danae wrote: “Instead of freaking out for weeks because I didn’t remember every writing rule, I wish that I would have taken two deep breaths and enjoyed my first days more.”
Embrace the Learning Process
                This leads to the second major theme found in the tutors’ advice: don’t be afraid of the learning process.  The natural antidote to a lack of knowledge and feelings of inadequacy is learning. Learning is an ongoing process for a tutor. Like Chris B. said, “though I started this semester feeling pretty confident in my writing and tutoring skills, I have now decided that I know close to nothing of any real consequence.” Not only do we need to know grammar concepts and principles of good writing, we also need to know how to teach those things. There are many resources available to help in this effort: reference manuals, the MLA and APA handouts, Purdue Online, Strunk and White, Claire herself, and even that omnipotent dispenser of all worldly knowledge, Google.
Many tutors wished they had spent more time in the manuals, familiarizing themselves with the concepts they would share. Others pointed out how helpful it was to refer to past notes or go to Claire with questions. Nearly all of them stated that they learned just as much from being a tutor as the people they tutored learned from them.
Perhaps most interesting, the tutors didn’t just say they needed to learn, they talked about actually enjoying the process. Kyle Robbins had this to say: “Of course it would have been nice if I knew everything when I started tutoring. That would certainly alleviate a lot of stress in my life. It would, however, also have been very very boring. Learning is one of the most exciting parts about tutoring and going to school.” Many of the others echoed his sentiment. They enjoyed the process. They had fun with it. When they didn’t have an answer, they looked it up. Like Michelle said, “the most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t know everything, nor am I expected to. I can open a manual; I can ask a fellow tutor; I can say I don’t know, how about we find out?”
When the tutor lets go of the expectation that he or she needs to know everything, true learning can take place. Learning can actually be a fun process. In fact, many of the tutors state that it was the most enjoyable aspect of their tutoring experience.


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