This past week our class was asked to think of ways to build relationships with peers that we tutor. We were instructed to consciously think about making an effort to build relationships rather than act in a transactional relationship.
So how do we build relationships with people we tutor? One way I think we can try to get better at building relationships with tutoring is relating to students though simply talking to them. There are usually quiet a few moments in any tutorial when you have to wait for something to load. Sometimes it’s a program or a WordPress install, regardless these moments are down times that you can either lapse into uncomfortable silence or chatting. Whenever these moments come up I try to make conversation about the students project or class. The easiest thing to talk about in these situations is about the students class, their professor, what they like about that class, or their major. School small talk exists for a reason, by talking about what they are going through in a class students often feel more comfortable to ask more questions and talk more freely. Talking through what they are doing in acts as a sort of icebreaker and can help students feel comfortable about speaking freely.
Something I know I need to get better at doing in tutorials is actually introducing myself and the student at the start of a tutorial. I most frequently get walk ins, so when they come in usually they tell the group of tutors present their problem and then one of us will help them, or they just wander in and ask “is this the place I can get help for____.” Since a lot of the tutorials I end up doing start this way I have the tendency to jump in and want to solve the students problem quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately I have realized that in my hurry to help students with their problem I have neglected to introduce myself to them and learn their name. Never introducing yourself to a student means they usually can not feel like they make any kind of connection with you. For my part I think this is where I think I need to start the practice of getting students more comfortable with returning by actually letting them know who I am.
Another part of the prompt for this weeks blogging questioned how can we help students see value in their work with technologies that we assist them with.
It can be really difficult sometimes to help a student understand when the skills they need for a class is useful for the long term. Usually I try to spout out some examples of when a technology could be useful or stick to the vague “you never know how this could be useful.” Usually students tend to not see value if they are already frustrated about the assignment or with the professor. Sometimes talking about potential uses for technology can help students see the value but other times it doesn’t. I am still trying to find ways to come up with better reasons or responses when other students question the need for technology.
Before I started work as a tutor I thought that tutoring was primarily memorizing problems and the solutions on how to solve those problems. As someone who had a lot of experience being tutored I still had an idealized idea that tutors in general knew most everything about whatever they tutored.
In actuality tutoring involves a lot of practice, researching, and reassuring. Thinking back on it the most helpful tutors I have had or interacted with were the tutors who were patient and encouraged me to ask questions. Keeping that in mind as a tutor it is key to help students remember that not knowing something is an opportunity to learn and that is never something to be embarrassed about. It is also important to realize that tutors do not have all the answers and learning is a continual process. Sometimes this means telling students you can not help with all of their problems. As tutors we try to help best we can but we can not know everything so it is important to know when to direct the student to others who can help.
A way to look at what tutoring entails is look at a scenario that tutors at the Digital Knowledge Center face frequently. A vast majority of students who come into the DKC all try to tell us tutors that they are just bad at technology. However this really is not the case, usually students have just reached the point where they are so frustrated that it is easy to discredit their own skills. When they are worried they will be out of their element or feel they do not know enough about a particular topic, to shield being embarrassed about that people tend to play the technology is confusing card. This is the moment were as a tutor you have to encourage students to think about a problem in a different way or ask questions until they understand. Whenever a student tells me they do not understand a concept, I try to remind them that starting something new is always a little confusing. This is simply because it is new, however by asking questions and practicing using the technology it gets easier.
Another aspect of tutoring that I was unaware of before I started tutoring was a tutors role as a student leader. Instinctually tutors as leaders was not a concept I had really ever thought about until I started tutoring. After helping others sort through problems where they took my advice I realized tutoring strongly involves leadership and having leadership skills. As tutors at the DKC what we say influences students and the ways that they try to tackle their projects.
An example of how leadership comes up is that often students ask me how I learned the skills that I tutor. This is when I tell them about tutoring the DKC offers, external resources, and UMW courses related to topics. In some cases students have returned for tutorials from my suggestion or looked into certain classes because of what we discussed. Realizing that your advice or assistance can change the way a student tackles a project reminds you that tutors need to be responsible and smart about the choices they make. As leaders in the UMW community we need to be aware that our advice to students has an impact and work accordingly to connect students with resources we offer and that the university offers.
Before I started working as a tutor for the DKC my expectation for tutors was an idealization of a good tutor, through work as a tutor I have realized the reality of how tutoring operates. Tutoring requires continually learning and lots of question asking and answering. Since I started tutoring I find that I ask four times the amount of questions then I did before. I ask questions during tutoring and outside frequently because tutoring made me realize that it really does not hurt to ask. The way tutoring works in actuality is a lot more engaging and entertaining then having all the knowledge. Learning new skills and helping students solve problems is honestly my favorite part of everyday. Helping a student solve a problem they struggled with and seeing their confidence in their work is motivation for me to improve my skills as a tutor so that I can help even more.