For a while I saw my career as taking a step backward after I left teaching to return to the more flexible arena of private tutoring. Now, however, as I tutor more and work with kids from different walks of life in a variety of subjects, I realize how valuable tutoring can be. I still believe that full-time teachers deserve exponentially more credit (and compensation) than they currently receive, but I’ve also come to believe that tutors can play key roles in the learning and lives of students.
I have many reasons for loving what I do. Helping students achieve their potential, adapting to kids’ individual needs, building lasting relationships based on shared goals—these are all good reasons to become a tutor. But I’ve recently become aware of another incredible quality of tutoring: it blends several compelling endeavors into something bigger and more rewarding.Tutoring merges education and what is usually called “enrichment.” For some reason, enrichment activities are increasingly seen as trivial or excessive. Our culture’s efforts to improve education through more rigorous standards and efficiency have detracted from the richness of our students’ education. A good tutor can help counteract these forces by infusing lessons with a wider sense of context and humanity. A tutor can combine subjects in interdisciplinary projects, incorporate the student’s interests and creativity, stay constantly attuned to the student’s self-image, and model a broader conception of learning that involves all of our senses, exploration, tolerance, and dialogue. The proximate goal may still be to raise the student’s grade from a B to an A, but the process can be richly constructed to get at something deeper.
A tutor is also a curious amalgam of teacher, parent, friend, student, and guru. We teach, obviously, but some students don’t need another teacher as much as they need another authority figure whom they are not so hard-wired to defy as they are a parent. Other students are more motivated by a tutor who can empathize and make them laugh, a buddy who happens to be helping them with their school work. Good tutors (like good teachers) have to be students, too, constantly staying ahead, keeping current, and expanding their grasp of the concepts. And then there’s the sense of being a leader or guru that comes from influencing a young person in some tangible, positive way, helping them make essential connections, or developing their character. Each of us is an expert in our subject, yes, but we may also know something about growing up, making choices, and shaping a life.
In short, I see tutoring not just as a way to fill in the holes that are left at the end of the school day, but as infinitely fulfilling, important work that bridges worlds and builds a stronger future for children, one at a time. Now if we could just make access to quality tutoring—as with quality education in general—more equitable, this generation’s future would be that much stronger.