“Thinking back to literature tutoring days, there’s a fine line between helping students, and doing the work for them. Students and parents are happiest only if the tutor crosses it. How do you handle such situations?” a fellow tutor asked me.
This is the tutor’s most crucial dilemma, in a nutshell.
Most successful long-term tutors have also been teachers. As teachers, we want students to benefit from doing their own work. However, as tutors, we have to remember who we are working for, if we wish to stay employed.
Most students who choose to use a tutor are not reading the required books in school anyway. Few students are. These days, tutors or not, I’m finding that upwards of 90 percent of students are just watching the movie, and a few students are going to Spark Notes and reading those notes, or taking those quizzes. (Few actually read the Spark Notes well, and even fewer bother to take their quizzes.)
As a tutor, what I’m really being paid for is to make sure my students get good grades. Parents are willing to shell out money for this, but not so much for someone who tells students that they must read on their own and who does not coach non-reading students for their tests. So, what is a tutor to do?
Formerly as a teacher, I prided myself on getting all of my students to LOVE reading for pleasure, and to become truly interested in whatever subject we were studying. Presently as a tutor, I pride myself on getting my non-reading students to read SOME, and to APPRECIATE what we are reading or studying.
I use all sorts of techniques to achieve these aims. I sometimes rewrite books that use difficult language, to tell the story in simpler language. I read these simpler rewrites with my students, and once they understand, they are sometimes motivated to read the original. Sometimes they are unable to read the original, but at least they read SOMETHING, and learned about the story, and are able to pass a test asking them about the story. We discuss the story and how we feel about it as we read it (even if it is in its easier version), and the students gain an appreciation for the piece of literature.
Is this acceptable?
As a tutor, I cannot take the same attitude I would take as a teacher. As a tutor, I am coming from the perspective that students are not reading, and are not going to read. If I can get them to read ANYTHING (even if I have to “spoon-feed” it to them), they are reading more than they would if they were not coming to me. If I can get them to APPRECIATE the story, they are appreciating it far more that if they were not coming to me. If they are PASSING THE TEST, they are learning far more than if they were not coming to me.
So yes, I DO cross that “line” as a tutor, but I try to do it stealthily, where I sneakily make the student work and understand more than he planned to do before he came to me!
This same dilemma exists in helping with writing assignments, with math homework, and with everything else that a tutor does As a tutor, I try to help lighten the students’ burden, while at the same time actually teaching the student on a one-to-one basis, in a way which would be impossible in a full classroom. For example, I often do math homework problems on individual white board along with the student. Then we compare answers. If they are the same, we move ahead. If they are different, we go back through the problems step-by-step to see where we diverged. I feel students learn more this way.
I would like to hear about how others deal with this dilemma. If you are a tutor, where do you draw the line? If you are a teacher, what are your thoughts? If you are a parent, what are your feelings?