Lessons from being a peer tutor

Wednesday, August 9, 2017
by Abigail Tait

Since starting at the Writing and Communication Centre in May, I have learned numerous things about myself as a teacher and a student. Despite having a background in teaching, this was an entirely new style of teaching. In the past I had been a dance teacher, crew trainer and a choreographer, and while these all entailed certain skills in patience, communication, leadership and collaboration, having the opportunity to work in this position has only furthered these skills. I have had the invaluable opportunity to work with a diverse pool of students, coming from different disciplines, programs, levels of study, languages, ages and ethnicities. All of these students have contributed to my personal, academic and professional growth in different ways, especially when it comes to patience.

Although I saw myself as a patient person prior to this work experience, I became patient in a much different way. I was fortunate enough to work with many ESL students in my appointments or at the English Conversation Cafés. ESL students are constantly exposed to different writing techniques, expectations and standards, and often came to me with a range of challenges and abilities. Being a native English speaker, I was able to witness the difficulty in learning English while adapting to Canada at the same time. A lot of my students consistently worked on their English writing and speaking skills over multiple sessions and worked on specific mistakes. It was so valuable for me to watch the effort and time that goes into learning English and become better writers and speakers. Whether I was in drop-ins, appointments or at the Conversation Cafés, each experience further proved how important patience is to teaching and tutoring.

Patience is the key, whether it’s in improving writing skills, learning a language, or teaching someone or myself something new. I have a newfound appreciation in myself for practice, effort and dedication. When I examine the experience from a personal growth perspective, I can vividly see how much more patient I have become with others and myself. The most productive, collaborative writing sessions were when the students took learning in their own hands and at their own pace, while I acted as the guide. Realizing this helped me become a better tutor, as I was able to really help them. Instead of throwing information in their direction, it became a slower process of explaining the thought process behind any changes we made (“we make this plural because…” or “why would we use the article ‘the’ here?”). I would end every session with the things they need to practice themselves and the common mistakes throughout their writing.

With patience comes a change in expectations. I learned that a student wouldn’t learn anything if they expect to master the skill quickly or if they felt pressured to do so. From previous experiences my patience was often tested in terms of teaching young kids to dance, but this kind of patience came with an understanding and appreciation for effort and practice. When I began this job, sometimes I would have students who simply didn't understand me and in my mind I would think, “why can’t I get them to understand?” and turn it into “I must be a bad teacher”. Eventually I learned that they can’t expect me to teach them how to write in 30 minutes and I can’t expect them to learn how to write in 30 minutes. It takes time, practice and real patience: a patience where you appreciate both the mistakes and successes; a patience where you know that you will eventually get it; and a patience that doesn't expect anything.

If you're one of the students I’ve worked with, thank you. You have all contributed to my own learning in so many ways and working with you has been a pleasure. Keep up your excellent work and continue improving to the best of your abilities.