Writing Tutoring: A Special Level of Teaching All Its Own

Teaching is not always glorious or fun.  There is not always a big takeaway or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I have taught piano, voice, cello, and drama, but the hardest thing for me thus far in the land of teaching has been tutoring.  I refer to the tutor position, in my head, as the buffer between professors and students that might quite possibly drive them insane.  I consider tutoring to be a special level of teaching all its own.

Tutees can be categorized into three categories:  those who come because they genuinely want to learn and receive help, those who come because they want the tutor to do their work for them, and those who have no clue.  I had over sixty tutoring appointments last semester.  Of those, probably only a quarter fell into the first category.  The rest landed somewhere into between the other two.  It should be blatantly obvious which of these categories contains my favorite type of tutee.

My first tutoring appointment still reigns as the most special.  I don’t remember his name, so I’ll just call him John.

John showed up late, beginning the appointment on a truly fantastic note.  Because he was my first appointment ever, I stuck as closely as I could to the manual.

“So, John, what are you here for today?”

He shrugged.

All of my previous teaching experience still left me unprepared for his lack of response.  I tried again.  “What class are you here for?”

“Uh…English?” he replied, as if it was the stupidest question he’d ever heard.

If he wouldn’t have been staring at me, I would have rolled my eyes.  I had to fight the impulse.  “Which English?” I pasted a smile on my face.  It probably looked as fake as it felt.

“Uh…the first one.”

I closed my eyes.  There was no hiding my irritation.

“Okay, so what’s the assignment?”

He shrugged again.  Seriously.  Shrugged.

At this point, I wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake him out of annoyance, even though I had only been in his presence for sixty seconds or less.  “Do you have an assignment sheet?”

“I didn’t bring it.”

“Do you have the assignment?”

“No.”

“So…”  I paused and thought for a second.  “What exactly are you looking to do here today?”

“I need to write a paper.”

“On what?” I asked as a last ditch effort.

“I don’t remember.  Can’t you just teach me how to write my paper?”

I wanted to smack myself in the face at the sheer idiocy.  Did he think I was going to magically produce his assignment out of thin air?  I did what I could with him.  I taught him how to structure an outline.  I gave him the main functions of various parts of an essay, the thesis, the introduction, the conclusion…And then sent him on his merry way with instructions to never come to an appointment again without being prepared, and a nicely worded scolding about how he needed to better utilized his tutoring time.  Not to mention mine.

I wondered after that appointment if I was a failure, if tutoring was perhaps not my calling and I should not come back.  But no, I’m told that doesn’t just happen to me.  It actually happens quite frequently, to all the tutors.

In the Tutoring Center, we have a rating system from one to five.  Five is “this tutor was awesome.”  One is “this tutor sucked.”  I had two ones and, I believe, fifty-nine fives for the semester.

I must be doing something right.

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