Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Heart of a Tutor

If you are a tutor, you can most definitely agree with the statement, "Not much can compare to the heart of a tutor." Yes, it is true that to be an educator you have to have a heart for your students. But the more I connect with various educators around the world, the more I realize that there is something truly unique about the relationships tutors develop with their students, and that cannot go unrecognized any longer.
I've recently had an amazing discussion with a fellow tutor in the UK. It started out as a call for help amongst an educator's group we are both part of. She was at a crossroads with a student and unsure of which way to go. Without explicitly stating her desire, she explained the situation. (It was a real doozie for sure, and one only the strongest, bravest, and patient person could endure). The immediate reaction from our trusted colleagues was to run, throw in the towel, give up on the student.

I have to be honest for a moment, and say my initial response was similar. But I shared an experience I've had with a similar student, and the struggle I had in deciding to let the student go. It was painful, and I felt remorse and like a failure. But, in retrospect, the student/tutor partnership had long dissolved and the time, energy, and money were not being well spent. It is, unfortunately, a decision all tutors face at one point in their career.

I could tell, however, that this tutor wasn't at that point. The way she was defending her student, and giving us more of the story, told me there was more to be said. I invited her to a private conversation about the situation, and it came out that she really wasn't ready to let this student go. Yes there was a problem, and yes she needed to find a solution. But it was not time to let the student go. So we talked about ways she could motivated the student, reward her positive behavior, and work toward a goal.

We spent a good amount of time talking about a reward program I use, that many other tutors I've talked with use as well. It's not a behavior chart like you'd see in a classroom, and it's not a system of pluses and minuses you'd see on a progress report. It's just a simple way to to help our students focus on their positive behavior choices, define a goal and work toward it, and then get a little reward for achieving the goal. I wrote about it a while back, here.

We then talked about what counts as a reward, because let's face it, tutors are not at the top of the earnings chart of the education world. If classroom teachers are poor, tutors are dirt poor! We want to buy little trinkets and toys for our students to motivate their progress, but we simply can't eat away at all of our profits, someone has to pay the bills. We came up with several activities that could count as a reward: playing a game on the iPad, drawing, having a lesson outside, or a "fun" lesson of the student's choice.
The one take away from that discussion is this: it doesn't matter if you're a teacher, a counselor, a parent, or a student yourself, no one can really understand the heart of a tutor. As tutors, we live/work in isolation, it's nice to be able to talk with someone who shares our world. That conversation with a tutor halfway around the world made me feel like there was someone out there who shares the heart I have for my students.
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Thursday, April 7, 2016

The honeymoon is over!

I just noticed an interesting thing today. My new students just about always have the same time table. Apparently it's about 3-5 sessions, usually smack on 4 sessions. The time table usually looks something like this:

Session 1: Parents explain all of the negative things about their child, they give me an impression of the child that is often exact opposite of the student that sits in front of me. The student sitting across from me is typically excited to get to know me and show off all the things they can do.
Session 2: Parents ask how the trouble child is doing, to which I emphatically reply, "Excellent! He's ready to learn. She's cooperative."
Session 3: Parents bring homework to show how badly the student is doing, and express their concern over some sort of issue. The student I work with that day could be one of 2. 1)She's eager to learn, or show off what she's learned, showing me what they are working on in class, or expressing some problem she's overcome. . . 2) She is downright moody, complains of being bored, not wanting to tutor anymore, and/or expresses her concern over the "easy" work we're doing.
Session 4: This one's a doozy, typically, it's either #2 from session 3, or even worse. I've had students completely shut down, put their heads on the table and check out of our session. I've had the other extreme where it seemed the child would literally bounce off the wall. And then I've had those, these are really rare, who actually get nasty, just plain and simple, bad attitude.

When the honeymoon ends, I have mixed feelings. Even though I know it's coming, I'm never prepared. These kids are so good at fooling me for those first few beautiful sessions. I'm caught off guard. Then I start to wonder, is it me? Did I change something? Did I get to comfortable? What did I miss? With older students, sometimes I have to fight back a little resentment. I think, How dare he! I thought this kid really wanted to learn. I wonder if he's pulling these same tricks with his teachers at school, or with his basketball coach.

The good news in all of this, by session 6 or 7, we've found a middle ground. I'm not sure what keeps me going back to these kids, but something does. And I'm always happy I did. The end of the honeymoon almost always causes me to grow, as a human with patience for other humans, as an educator working with troubled students, and as a parent as I reflect on my own children. So, even though the end of the honeymoon is troubling and stressful, it still serves a purpose.

I'm really sorry if you came here looking for ways to avoid this conundrum. I truly don't believe they exist. But at least you know you are not alone! I'd really like to know if classroom teacher experience a similar thing. If you're a classroom teacher and notice a honeymoon period with your students, would you share about it in the comments section below?

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