How tutoring affects teachers

May 27, 2020

Teachers are able to develop personal relationships with students and get to know them throughout the academic year. They are also able to see students struggle and help them, or suggest outside tutoring. 

David Nash, a Redwood physics teacher of 25 years, says he loves seeing growth in his students as they learn and take on challenges together.

“I really enjoy being in the classroom with students of a young adult age who are very capable of high level thinking, especially in science. I enjoy the process of explaining physics and seeing them share enthusiasm and find success,” Nash said.

Having years of experience teaching, Nash has seen subtle changes in his classes regarding their attitudes around tutoring. 

“When I started teaching many years ago, there wasn’t much private tutoring. When I was a high school student myself, I don’t know that I heard of any private tutoring—it was really uncommon. It’s nothing that’s specific to Redwood or Marin, I just think it’s a sign of the times,” Nash said.

 

Nash has been able to see why students have reached out for professional tutoring help and why it has become so much more common for his students.

“I don’t think students are any less capable, intelligent or motivated from when I started teaching to now,” Nash said. “A lot of students in my class take three, four or five really hard classes, and the sum total is a lot, so the need for private tutoring is a consequence of having so much going on.”

Nash recognizes that while school resources such as the Redwood Peer Tutoring program can be helpful, many students prefer professional help.

“In our area in particular, with our socioeconomic status, there’s enough money to pay for tutoring. Not that everyone has the money, but many people do. In a lot of communities that money is just not available,” Nash said.

Because only some have this ability to pay for private tutoring, the achievement divide between students who can and cannot receive tutoring can then become exacerbated, according to Nash.

“I think if you have two students with similar capabilities and motivations but a different financial backing, and one gets tutoring and the other does not, you don’t end up with the same results,” Nash said.

Even though tutoring can yield different results depending on the student, Nash thinks that students should be given resources and tools whenever possible, and in his classroom he strives to make this possible.

“In the past few years, I have tried to facilitate tutoring between students so if I have some honors students and someone asking for help, I’ll try to facilitate the connection,” Nash said. “There are also some names of local teachers and professionals who I know that I will refer [students] to.”

However, Nash recognizes that professional tutoring can go wrong in some cases, and it is not always best for every student.

Illustration by Audrey Hettleman.

“Here’s what can go wrong about [professional] tutoring: a student who is maybe lacking some motivation and not getting the work done in class now has a tutor and has even less motivation to get the work done in class, figuring, ‘Oh, I’ll just ask my tutor later’ or misses class because, ‘Oh, I can just ask my tutor later,’” Nash said.

Comparing peer tutoring and professional tutoring, Nash believes there are benefits and drawbacks to both. For peer tutors, he believes they offer first hand knowledge that professional tutors cannot always offer.

“The peer tutor who is currently taking the class—they know exactly what we are doing every week and really each day. They understand the context, they understand the lab, because they just did it themselves,” Nash said.

According to Nash, professional tutoring does have some advantages as well and can be better for students who need a new perspective. 

“The student doesn’t have the depth of expertise that maybe a professional has, they don’t know the best ways of explaining, where a good teacher or tutor can explain things multiple ways and come up with a new approach and be flexible,” Nash said.

In terms of which is better, Nash does not have a preference, but feels that peer tutors can have benefits that not everyone recognizes.

“Professional tutoring is more consistent and when you’re paying a professional rather than an amateur you might expect better results–sometimes [that happens, but] not necessarily always,” Nash said.

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