John Howell

2008 Tutor of the Year

Picture of John HowellI became a tutor for the Center for Student Excellence in June 2007.  I was looking for an on-campus job, and tutoring seemed to be something I thought I could do well with.  When I took the job, I really didn't know what to expect.  I knew that a tutor helps students with their classes, but I didn't know exactly how to do so.  For that matter, I'm still learning what being a tutor means.  To describe the many roles of a tutor is  difficult.  I've met many other tutors who vary in strengths and personality from me and one another.  Some tutors are outgoing and very energetic in their approaches, while others are more reserved; each tutor is unique. This leads me to one of the common points of tutoring: helping.  A tutor is willing to work with course material that they sometimes don't care for, to deal with their own occasional mistakes, and to work with students with individual needs all for the simple idea of helping peers in their academic pursuit.


One of the hardest things for me was helping a student in areas where I knew I had made mistakes in the past, and where I thought I could make mistakes again.  What I learned, though, was that the mistakes I make aren't always the same mistakes that a student makes; I even learned from them in areas where I had problems.  The end result was that the student would learn the material better for their class, and I would learn the material better for myself.  Even when I make mistakes now, I've learned how to identify and avoid future mistakes--a skill that is most appreciated by students who don't see their own mistakes.  The students that I have tutored have helped me just as much as I have helped them, and, consequently, previous students help me to help future students.  The key is that tutoring is not a “re-teaching” structure but is a system where students can learn from one another and a tutor can guide the students along, while learning with them.


Another staple of a tutor is integrity. Tutors have an expectation on them that they should be punctual, approachable, knowledgeable, and professional.  While almost every job requires most of these traits, tutoring is a job that requires it on more levels than just evidenced by immediate results.  By that I mean, I wasn't just helping a student learn their assignments--I was becoming a role-model on how to approach academic pursuits, and, in my opinion, the traits and skills learned in completing schoolwork will transfer later into a career.  With that type of influence in mind, a tutor really needs to be presentable in appearance and actions.  I'll admit, I feel like it is a lot of pressure on me not to mess up, but I remember that, as I've mentioned before, tutors aren't perfect.  The big thing is that tutors do the best we can to set a good example.


There are a lot of days when being a tutor is overwhelming.  It's gotten to me many times, especially in the beginning.  Being a tutor requires that you give of yourself, but I've found that it's not because someone asked you to give too much.  You give all that you can because you feel a need to help.  It's a lot of hard work, involving critical thinking, tight time schedules, and sometimes students who lack background knowledge or motivation.  The way I've decided to look at it though is this: the critical thinking keeps me sharp; I get to learn effective time management; and I have a chance to motivate other students and increase their background knowledge while helping them succeed.  Like most things in life, being a tutor is all about attitude.


Honestly, what it really means to be a tutor is to witness the impact that you've made on someone's life and say to yourself that you would do it again to know that you had helped.  At the end of each semester, I see students who are greatly appreciative over the progress that they've made.  More than that, I see students who moved into an academic setting where they could truly learn and grow and then ended up being successful in their classes.  Tutors and students may harbor friendships. When I see them on campus, I see peers with more academic confidence on the same path of scholastic interest.  These new friends view tutoring as an experience to learn with someone; these friends have shown me what it means to be a tutor.