I work as a Organic Chemistry tutor for my university. I recently had an observation by my boss, which I was extremely nervous about. I get anxious about everything in life (that’s an entirely different post), so nothing unusual.
I was tutoring a girl that had been coming back the entire semester, and we were going over material that I had seen before in other sessions and in the drop-in lab. So all the odds were already stacked in my favor 🙂
We had a great session, but nothing out of the ordinary. So I was pretty satisfied that I had given a good idea of how most of my sessions usually go. My boss had some comments that I realized I really appreciated. Being the tutor, I can never really separate myself from the situation enough to see if I am being truly effective, or if I’m putting too much pressure on someone, or etc etc. These comments not only assured me that I was doing some good, but also reminded me of important parts of a tutoring session that I should always be trying to incorporate into all of my sessions.
Some things I consciously have been working on:
1.) I knew my tutee’s name, so of course I greeted her by it.
2.) If there is a mechanism-based problem, I always ask the tutee to draw the mechanism. I think that it helps me see where the tutee has a problem (usually it’s just starting a mechanism…almost everyone realizes it’s not that bad then and can finish it perfectly!). So it saves me a lot of frustration from trying to guess where the tutee doesn’t understand something. That’s the worst- if a tutee doesn’t ask questions!!
3.) After finishing a problem, I also always ask the tutee to recap. Ie, if this question is asked again, what is the first thing you want to do? What is the first broad question you will ask yourself before narrowing down to specific questions and answers?
Some things my boss mentioned that surprised me, but I find very helpful:
1.) My demeanor was calm and supportive, which creates a comfortable atmosphere. — This was a pleasant surprise! I never considered myself as a calm person, because I am for sure always freaking out on the inside (and sometimes the outside too). I hope I can create that kind of atmosphere for everyone.
2.) “Loved when you used your arms to demonstrate a point.” hahahaa I was trying to show the steric strain of a 90 degree ring vs. the usual 120 degrees between 2 C-C bonds. I like visualizing things. I’m very much a “write everything down” kind of person.
3.) Recognizing nonverbal cues- not really applicable for this session since the tutee and I know each other fairly well at this point, and she doesn’t really hesitate to ask questions. However, this is the worst, because if I feel like someone doesn’t get something, I want to sit on it. For example, formal charge has been a big one. I’ve seen a lot of people just guessing about formal charge, and I want to nag about this seemingly insignificant point because it points to the larger picture of understanding electrons, and exactly what we’re doing in mechanisms.
Also, I feel like this is important because sometimes people don’t know that they don’t know something.
4.) “Lab final is straight-forward, not easy not hard.” Hmm, I’m glad to know I’m not minimizing or maximizing the task 😀 But it’s true. Everything is relative. If you study really hard and know everything, you’ll probably find it fairly simple because they don’t try to throw curveballs during the lab final. If you don’t study at all, you won’t know the material, and thus it will be hard. So the exam is straight-forward, and the rest depends on you!
5.) “Very organized approach.” It’s because I’m mildly OCD, and I must force my tutees to think the way I do 😉 I think it’s just best to see the big picture, and then worry about the nit picky details.
My boss also said it was “enlightening to see how much is expected of O-chem tutors.” Well that’s a relief. I truly thought for the longest time that I just sucked as a tutor because I did not know everything. I sometimes can’t explain WHY we do a mechanism, just that it was experimentally found, or a theory, or one possibility in a million. Plus the theory that comes for GenChem (which I do not tutor because I absolutely hated it).
Anyways, it was nice to have the observation done. I really hope I can be an effective tutor! I am really loving this job because it’s not super demanding in terms of flexibility of scheduling, it forces me to think about these concepts over and over again (and thus, it’s challenging), and I love love love when someone can explain back to me why they just did what they did. Some of the concepts are so challenging, that even now I’m only starting to “get” them. So I love that I can make it easier for someone else to find that path, and not shy away from understanding something thoroughly.