I became a tutor in February 2006, at the suggestion of my then-Chemistry professor. He referred me to the tutor coordinator and before I knew it, I had students coming to me for help with chemistry. It was very overwhelming to me when I first started. I was not used to having to figure out a way to explain chemistry to someone that did not necessarily understand it on the same level that I did. There were also many things that I was expected to tutor that my professor had not gone over when I had taken the class, so there were many days where I felt very inexperienced and in over my head. I learned that it was okay for me to say that I did not know the answer to something, even though I still don't like saying that to students requesting my help.
I breathed a sigh of relief when my first semester of tutoring was over. Finally, I had gotten through it, so when the next semester started, I would be beginning all over again with material that I was familiar with. I decided that when we reached the areas that I did not know, I would find the answers from my professors so that I could explain it to my students. When I began tutoring in the summer of 2006, I felt a little more confident, even though I was tutoring an additional subject.
As I became more familiar with my material, as well as asking for help from the more experienced tutors that I worked with, I began to feel much more comfortable with what I was doing. I had the answers to most of the questions I was asked; I could give advice on taking notes and studying for tests; and I felt much more confident with the material. I also began to feel more confident in my own classes, as I was constantly getting a refresher course, as it were, in the beginner's material. When students began to request me or to come back to me after a previous semester's tutoring and tell me how much those sessions had helped, I began to truly understand why tutoring is more of a calling rather than a job. If you honestly want to help the students get through what can be difficult material, as well as possibly pass along, if not a love for the material presented, then at least an understanding of it, being a tutor is the most wonderful job that you can possibly hold. Many people have said that tutoring is a thankless job, where you get paid small amounts of money for large amounts of work, but for me, there was no greater reward than to have the students understand the material. When they came back to me with their test in hand, crowing about the grade they had made, saying that it was all due to me, it was worth all of the aggravation I sometimes experienced to see the look on their faces when I reminded them that without the effort they had put forth, no amount of my talking could have changed anything. Seeing how people can change their habits through a semester's time is a very fulfilling experience. It also gave me more resolve in working towards my ultimate career goal of being a college professor. I decided that since I enjoyed being a tutor, then perhaps there was something there, and I just might be good at this.
The fall of 2006 marked my second full semester of being a tutor. The beginning of the semester was just as confusing as the others had been as we tried to sort out exactly what kind of help each student needed, trying to group some of them together while setting aside time blocks for specific classes and dealing with individual students' frustrations with the material. I also began a new job that semester, so my time was split between tutoring and this new job. However, I was lucky enough to be able to sit through an intro-level chemistry class, so I was able to have a refresher course in the material before my students ran into problems. I found that my confidence was growing with each successive week that passed. My students were all helpful and motivated, willing to work and ask questions. I had the usual mix of above average students, average students, and those who were obviously there because someone was forcing them. With each day that passed, I found more and more satisfaction in my job. Granted, I did have days where I wondered why I had chosen to tutor others. It's to be expected that a tutor will have frustrating days where your own life is not going so well or maybe your students have the same questions over and over again, without seeming to remember the answers. It can also be frustrating to have to lead students to the correct answers, rather than just giving them the answers that they need. The only thing that can be done at this point is to take a step back, take a breath, and tackle it again.
Being a tutor has helped me in so many different ways. I have more patience with others. I have learned how to lead others to the correct answer, usually in a way so that they remember what they learned. I learned that it's okay if I don't know the answer, and it's okay to refer the student to their textbook or their teacher. I've learned how to look up information that I need, which has helped me in my own classes as well. My intro-level knowledge is constantly reinforced as I help others make it through their classes. I've learned that there are few things that can rival the satisfaction I get when I see a hard-working student finally make the connection and learn something new, especially when they sit back and say, “Hey, that really wasn't that hard”. Becoming a tutor was possibly one of the best decisions that I have made while an undergraduate student, and my only regret is that I'm unable to continue with it as long as I would like to.