Reflections on Tutoring

Original Publish Date: October 21, 2016
By Reid Gomez

Tomorrow I receive the first batch of papers from the Insurgency and Solidarity class. The assignment: write three paragraphs. The first: where you currently stand in relationship to the material (previous knowledge). The second: what you hope to get out of the class (expectations). The third: your areas of special interest.

I tell them, up front, the assignment is for me. Can you write a paragraph with sentences? I’m big on study skills. What do I need to change about the course, now?

I learned how to teach from a lot of people: my grandparents, and most explicitly the Writing Program at the Student Learning Center at the University of California at Berkeley. As tutors we worked directly with students, and we also met in a weekly seminar where we discussed the pedagogy of writing. I worked my way up from an individual tutor, to a workshop leader (labor resource for the UC system that is largely diverting teaching to undergraduate, graduate and professional services), and finally to a senior tutor (tutoring others on how to tutor).

At our colloquium I appreciated the focus on “good tutoring.” When I’m lost I go back to the skills I learned and used as a tutor. The one on one delivery and co-exploration of content continues to be the foundation of my classroom practice. I’ve changed. The students have changed. But one thing remains the same: we have to know each other to work well with each other.

I made it through Cal because of my writing tutor. I became a writer, in part, because of him: Augustine Robles. I was taught that writers could spell, pronounce correctly, never used double negatives, and did not write run together sentences. I couldn’t do any of those things—spell check did not exist, and the dictionary was my nemesis (all those words spelled correctly). Augie told me, “hey, I think you could be a tutor.” And, I applied.

The first assignment I give allows me to change, yes, change the course, now. The changes are some times small (drawing examples from their research areas, not mine) and they are sometimes large (letting a student select a book I have not listed on the books to chose from list). They keep me on my toes, and I try to keep them on theirs.

I believe our relationship as learners and leaders in the classroom is what shapes the class and their engagement with the material. I hope the class process (framework) gives them a method (theory) to approach evaluating materials, stretching their minds, and developing analytical abilities for whatever content, in whatever field, they encounter. Co-producing knowledge also makes them better teachers themselves—demystifying the process.