Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tutoring for Fun and Profit

Well do I remember my first tutorial – so many thoughts running through my veins and emotions knocking about my head (or some combination thereof). Primarily, I remember thinking: “I hope that I don’t vomit” and “Why, oh why, did I choose to wear a transparent yellow dress?”.

Now, with a bit of luck your first experience tutoring wasn’t, or will not be, like this. But first tute nerves, that rowdy student, and mental blanks are inevitable parts of tutoring. Fear not, however, gentle reader – it is my firm belief that tutoring can not only make you money but can also be enjoyable (or less unenjoyable)!

So first, let’s cover some ground. If you are thinking of going in to academia you should tutor. Tutoring is a stepping stone to lecturing – and yes, odds are that if you go on in a university YOU WILL be lecturing. Tutoring looks great on your CV (especially if you tutor across a variety of subjects) and gives you invaluable experience for the further teaching that WILL come (until, of course, you score that amazing fellowship that allows you to turn your back on eager young minds).

We are gearing towards the end of January now, and as such, you will be starting to think about what classes to nominate for tutoring, and I hope, reflecting on how you can get through the tutoring semester with the least pain.

So, do a little mental exercise with me if you will. Take yourself back to a tutorial when you were a wee little undergraduate student. There you are – sitting in the back, chewing on the end of your indelible ink pen, and thinking of England. What did you wish for in that tute? If you were anything like me, you were thinking “Please, please, please, please stop boring me”, followed by “I’m hungry”. As a tutor you may not be able to do anything about the second point, but as for the first, well there are a few simple things that you can do to make tutorials less boring for your students, and yes, for yourself!

Students, like animals, will respond to your mood. In short, if you are afraid, they will sense it. Tutors and lecturers who get positive TEVALs uniformly report that their most common positive comment from students regards their enthusiasm. Students want desperately to feel excited about their field of study – and as tutors you are often the only teachers who talk to them personally, and infect them with the psychology bug. Whatever you may be tutoring, think about what you love about psychology, and try to communicate it to the students. Maybe you are tutoring something that is traditionally dry (like stats), or in a course that you are not familiar with. But my money says that you can still find things there that will peak the students’ interest. For me, while teaching stats, I consistently think about the amazing findings that stats unearth. ANOVAs may be boring, but when I, the intrepid explorer, employ an ANOVA to unearth an amazing finding about human existence, suddenly ANOVAs are just that little bit more sexy.

Aside from enthusiasm, I always like to inject a little bit of unrelated fun in to my tutes (and now lectures). Add a picture or two to your slides, begin your tutes with music, and tell an amusing anecdote that relates to the content of the class that you are tutoring. You may feel like a complete dork in doing so, but odds are your students are dorky too, and will appreciate your effort. Students (like romantic partners) love to feel that you are going that extra mile for them.

So, to conclude – I hope that my little pep blog has inspired you to be the tutor that I (and Tony Robbins) know that you can be. I will now end with two of my favourite and most memorable tutoring moments:

1. 1. Leading my PSYC1030 students in an example relaxation exercises, one of my students got a little too comfy and let out the most gargantuan fart. The class erupted in giggles that quite literally lasted for 10 minutes.


2. 2. Feeling overtired, I wrote my meanest comment on a failing PSYC3020 essay that I ever wrote – I said “you and I both know that you can do better than this”. I felt terrible about it for ages – until, that is, I received this student’s second assignment in which they had taken the comment to heart, worked incredibly hard, and scored a 7!

Good luck guys, and happy tutoring!

Love, Fi Barlow

studying Psychology@UQ and want to contribute to theuqpsycblog??
Send Will an email to find out how: will.harrison@uqconnect.edu.au

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