For the past year I have been working as an LSS Writing Tutor for both Writing 2 and Writing 21. A new position can at first seem very terrifying, and one wishes that someone with experience will lend them a helping hand and offer some advice. This letter attempts to do this by outlining several tips that I wish I knew before I started this position. I also hope that this letter at least helps to make you feel less nervous about starting a new position. Learning how to become an effective writing tutor required me to use a trial and error method in my sessions, and this required analysis of what was and was not actually helping students improve their writing. I never knew that being a tutor required so much reflection, but part of learning how to be an effective tutor is figuring out what works best for each student in each session.
As a new tutor I did not realize my preconceived notions or my expectations of the sessions until I actually started tutoring. I overanalyzed the job and put unnecessary pressure on myself as a tutor, which created pre-job anxiety that could only be cured with experience. All of my expectations and assumptions about tutoring were somewhat false. For example, I thought that tutoring writing would be similar to or somewhat like coaching, but it is quite different when trying to tutor students on different aspects of writing. I also thought that writing tutors had to pretend to be “all knowing” in front of their tutees or else they would appear incompetent. I had so many preconceived notions about what it means to be a tutor and about how tutoring sessions are supposed to go, but my actual sessions were nothing like how I pictured them to be. These preconceived notions of tutoring were what I based my tutoring approach on, but once I started tutoring I quickly dismissed everything I previously thought tutoring would like. Preconceived notions do not work to the advantage of a tutor, at least in my experience.
A practical tutor knows how to use the time given effectively. One of the best things about being an LSS Writing Tutor is that your sessions with students are an hour long, and this allows you to really get to know the student’s writing. On average, I usually go the full hour with students. One of my biggest concerns as a tutor was making sure that I was able to accomplish something during my sessions. Stress to students the importance of being on time, because fifteen minutes late is fifteen minutes lost. Trying to do too much in a session can have detrimental effects. Tutoring sessions have to be as succinct as possible, and trying to cover too many things at once is not the most effective means of tutoring students. My tutoring sessions were moving at a pace that I was uncomfortable with, but in order to correct and address this problem I had to reflect on the effectiveness of my sessions.
As a new writing tutor, I actually had to learn how to be comfortable with not knowing. A good tutor knows when to say, “I don’t know, let me check and get back to you.” Sometimes as a tutor one feels pressured into believing that tutors have all the answers, but they do not. There have been several instances when a tutee will ask me a question that I have no idea how to answer. Not knowing the answer does not make one less of a tutor. I would rather tell the student honestly that I do not know the answer to their question, than give them a wrong answer that I scrambled to make up on the spot. Tutors are not all knowing, and they should not pretend that they are. I wanted to present myself as someone that my students could learn from, and I thought that meant that I had to have all the answers to their questions. I soon learned that this was an impossible goal to have as a tutor, because I never know what kind of questions my tutees will ask me. A practical tutor knows when to let a student know that they do not know the answer to the question being posed, and feels comfortable not knowing.
Tutors should learn how to think quickly on their feet. Being a tutor means being able to quickly think on ones feet; it means being able to give quick answers to surprising questions. There have been a couple of instances when a tutee will surprise me with a question that requires thought, but the tutee expects an instant answer. I would just advise new tutors to expect the unexpected. Tutoring requires one to either anticipate tutee questions or be prepared to answer unexpected or surprising questions.
The one thing that all tutors eventually deal with is no shows. For a variety of reasons students fail to appear to sessions and it can become difficult to work with a student who is consistently late or who consistently does not show up. This is the main reason why it is important for a tutor to not take no shows personal. If personal feelings of resentment come out, it may be difficult to help a no show, when they finally do show up to a tutoring session. The great thing about LSS is that we get paid for no shows. No shows are the result of negligence or forgetfulness and as a result should not be taken personal or thought of as a reflection of one’s tutoring ability.
The best advice I can give new tutors is to learn from experience. It really helps to take note of what works and what does not. It also takes time to adjust to tutoring, but by the third week of tutoring, I really began to enjoy the job. I think it varies based on one’s commitment to the job. If you find that you do not enjoy the work, at least you can enjoy the paycheck. One of the best parts of the job is the paycheck. Tutoring is one of the highest paying hourly jobs on campus for a reason. Tutors who are struggling with motivation for wanting to continue the job, I think money can motivate like nothing else. Tutoring can be fun, but tutors have to put in sufficient effort to make the job worth something.