I have been working with Learning Support Services for about three years. I have held multiple positions as a Subject Tutor, MSI, and Sophomore Academy Mentor. I have tutored primarily for Sociology, Latin American and Latino Studies, and Literature. These are very reading and writing intensive courses. From what I have learned on the first day it is nice to have a small icebreaker. I go for the usual state your name, college affiliation, major, and hometown. I find that a lot of students find out they are either in the same class, college, or are from the same hometown because of this and make small connections which make them feel more comfortable coming into the session. The first day I usually like to ask why they are interested in the courses they are in and how they are enjoying school (for the most part students are first years). This usually allows for everyone to slowly start feeling comfortable since tutoring session is small and it’s easier to get to know each other a bit more.
In terms of overall advice for leading a session, these are my words of wisdom. Try not to let anyone be quiet; what I usually do is try to make eye contact with everyone in the room. I usually ask, “what do you think?” or “what do you have on your notes”. Whenever I ask what the student knows about lecture or notes taken that usually gets someone to talk. There are some shy quiet students but it’s also nice to remind the students to treat the session like a very small discussion in which they do not have to necessarily know everything but should feel comfortable saying anything; there are no wrong answers we are all in the session to learn and to talk about our ideas and connections we are making with lecture and the real world. This is particularly helpful for me as a Sociology and Latin American and Latino Studies tutor because the classes want students to begin thinking critically about history, society, and the world. I usually ask students, depending on the topic, if they can think of any examples they have seen or experienced and this makes it easier for students to make connections and gain a deeper understanding of theory, which can tend to be dry. For example, recently we have begun talking about education in Sociology. In particular we have been discussing redlining and social mobility. We are discussing the book’s discussion on social inequalities. I asked the students to think about how education is viewed overall and how they see it. I asked them “why are you in college?” most of them said to get educated to get a good job. From that point I went on to discuss how education is viewed as the ultimate equalizer in which everyone starts out in a level playing and anyone can go to college and move up in society (social mobility). I asked them if they believed this to be true, a lot of them said yes, but to an extent. Then I asked them why they believed this, they gave me their personal experiences with education and I connected this with the text and theories, in particular neo-Marxists and other sociological theorists. This allowed them to understand the chapter on education in a way that would be easier for them to understand. My advice is that you do the same. As a tutor, for the most part, you will have a deeper understanding than the student on certain topics and think about how you learn and what made it easier for you to understand certain theories, themes, topics, etc. and apply it to your pedagogy.
Another thing about the first day is set your rules. Let them know that you will not tolerate X,Y,and Z. Also, if they know in advance they will not be able to make a tutoring session with you to email you so that you do not waste your time. Set your courtesy rules and make them understand that you are also a student and it your “our” time not “your” time only. I usually give my students my phone number so they can text me since not everyone checks their email on time, etc. If you build this kind of relationship with your student they tend to be very understanding although I warn you that not everyone will email you ahead of time, however, doing this does make it a lot less likely. You can even set a rule “do not text or email me after this time or I will not see/respond”.
Since these classes are very writing intensive another thing I have students do is when they know they have a very important paper due, to bring in a draft of their work. I have students discuss their thesis/topic out loud around in a circle. Based on what they say I would say “well it looks like X and Y are writing about very similar topics, where did you find your information” or something along those lines. This activity allows for students to get ideas form one another. After they discuss their papers and resources out loud I like to pair students with similar topics together so they can work together, look at each other’s drafts, etc. During this time I go around each different group and ask to take a look at their papers while they discuss the topics. I try to be helpful in the writing process and always remind them to go to Drop-In Writing Tutoring at LSS and if they have further questions to talk to their professors and T.A.’s (basically remind them they have other resources aside from you as a tutor). If you only have one student in a session, this process can be more one-on-one which is also helpful.
You may face some challenges. Sometimes a student might not bring the book or come prepared to ask questions. If this happens try asking what they learned in lecture or what they have in notes, I have found this to be very helpful. If that does not work as what the students think about the class so far and where they are struggling, what they are enjoying, etc. This can also lead to a discussion about the topics and themes of class.
Do not be shy. Get out of your comfort zone and be ready to talk to a class full of students. They are not judging you; the students actually see you as someone to ask for help. Don’t be nervous, be personable because remember that the T.A.’s we like the most are the ones who make us feel comfortable and like we can actually go talk to them. Think, “who would I like to talk to/ask questions to?”. With that in mind, leave your problems at the door. Whatever is going on in your life as a student (or personal life) be prepared to be positive and energetic at your session, it will show if you are not in a good mood. If you absolutely feel like you cannot do this, let your students know. State, “sorry I want to let you know that I am not having a very good day so do not take my current behavior/energy personally”. They will appreciate this much more than if you just come in with an off-putting attitude.