Congratulations on your new position! In my opinion, being a part of LSS and working as the MATH 22 subject tutor is an entire experience that is daunting, challenging, and very rewarding. At first, things may seem strange–but only because the whole experience is probably new to you. From my personal experience as a current employee and previous MATH 22 subject tutor, I have several recommendations and pieces of advice when it comes to being an employee and a subject tutor.
When it comes to solely being an employee, things are fairly straightforward. The staff members will usually tell you most of what you need to know in the beginning, and if you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to ask one of them. This means that whether you want to walk in physically and ask, or send a quick e-mail, you should clear up any doubts, questions, and concerns that you might have. In addition to this, you’ll find that checking your school e-mail very, very frequently will be almost mandatory. This is the main way that the staff members will contact you for any reason, as well as your students. The main way I communicate with students outside of tutoring sessions is through e-mail also. I estimate that I check my e-mail about 5-10 times on any regular day, and so any important message from the staff members that are time-sensitive may be dealt with right away. In short, it is important to constantly stay in contact with the LSS staff and bring all your questions and concerns to them.
There are a wide variety of aspects when it comes to actually doing the job as a tutor. When students come to sessions, I believe that they do so to seek help at the individual level–the reason being that lectures for this class hold 200+ students, so that all of their individual concerns and questions cannot be answered by the professor or TA’s. Whether it is due to the limited resource in time and attention for those teachers, or for any other reason such as being uncomfortable visiting their office hours, it will be your job to do your best to do the best for every student. This is where peer tutoring and your job as a tutor will come in to play. One of the biggest misconceptions they may have of you is that you will be exactly like the professor–completely knowledgeable on all aspects of the subject and ready to lecture about it at a moment’s notice. However, this is not your job. To pose a question: what if all the students in the session have different concepts and areas of focus that they wish to learn? It would be impossible to address every single concept within that one hour of tutoring, and to only address some of them for some students would be unfair to others, which brings up another important concept– you must treat every student equally fair for the sake of not only learning, but justice and overall goodness. But at the same time, you should cater to everyone’s specific needs. Thus, in a way, one could think about treating the students in an equal manner, but servicing to them differently. In theory, I think there is no best teaching method. The best teaching method, in my opinion, would be one that the students feel help them the most, but is also comfortable for you to do. Therefore it is also important to constantly ask students for their feedback and how they are feeling about various aspects. One strategy of peer tutoring that may help tremendously is one that I think is undervalued by students themselves. There is a large chance that one of the areas one student wants to learn about is well understood by another student. Furthermore, it would be possible then to pair students up into specific groups such that there is a symbiotic, mutual, beneficial relationship such that there is time allocated for student A to speak to student B as a sort of teacher about something they know, and then a reversal happens where essentially student B then becomes the teacher for A. This then opens the opportunity of forming friendships, exchanging contact information, and the students themselves deciding to meet up outside of the classroom to engage in further learning. As a tutor given one hour with students in a group per week, there is only so much you can do. No two groups will ever be the same. The most challenging part is to figure out what helps everyone the most, because the optimal tutoring technique will always change from group to group. Although there will be times where you will be faced with the expectation of being as knowledgeable as TA’s and professors for the class, just know that that is not the case. If there was a problem that neither the students in the session or myself could solve, I would do my best to eventually come to the solution and try to explain it to them through an e-mail or at next week’s session. I figure it is best to admit your honest capabilities, but then also show your efforts to help the students through their struggles. As subject tutors, we are not required to attend section, so being on top of all the material can be challenging if you do not already possess a mastery of concepts in MATH 22. That being said, I encountered several topics not covered when I had taken the class, so I had a bit of learning to do myself in order to help students. Luckily, the professor teaching the class for the quarter I tutored, Mark Eastman, posted all his lecture notes and lessons online so I could see what he taught without an overbearing dedication. To have this sort of dedication seems good, but as every student knows, they must allocate their time wisely, and being a student ourselves is a job in itself. Although there are countless other topics to continue about in regards to tutoring and what I’ve come to observe through working with fellow students, I trust that you will embark on your own personal journey and create several of your own observations as you navigate through these adventurous waters.
From just recently finishing one quarter’s tutoring for MATH 22, I can say that I’ve acquired a greater understanding and appreciation for multivariable calculus, become a better tutor than when I first started out, learned about several individual students not only students but as peers and people, and last but not least, appreciate and further invigorate my passion and efforts of being a learning assistant/tutor–I hope this experience does the same and more for you.