Tutor Tales

Everyone has their own stories when it comes to the tutors who help us, or hinder us, as we work toward our goals. My goal is to graduate with a BA in English, and, in my pursuit, I have had my share of tutors. Some have been amazing, some have left much to be desired, and some I contacted very little. I think some of my frustration toward tutors stems from myself; they are simply an outlet for my frustrations. Some.

While some of my tutor-woes are due to a sense of not getting the help I need, sometimes I feel like I understand the course requirements more than the tutor does. In one case this was undoubtedly true. My first assignment was an ?F?, and I was devastated. Not only were the comments unclear, leaving me unsure about why I had failed, but this course required a minimum grade of a D on each assignment and exam (rather than an overall composite grade) in order to receive credit for the course. When I requested a rewrite, and was denied, I pointed out that if I did not rewrite I would fail the course, and surely, as this is the first assignment, I could get a second chance. I was assured, however, that I only needed a composite pass, not a pass on each assignment, and because this was the first assignment I had plenty of time to bring my mark up.

After completing the course I waited for my disappointing final grade to come through. When it finally came in and I saw that I was not going to receive credit for the course, I was shocked. I called the tutor to discuss the issue that my composite grade was a pass, but I had still failed the course: as advised, I had used my remaining assignments and final exam to bring my grade up. I found my old emails where we had discussed the issue and was prepared to take the matter as high as it needed to go, however, the tutor realized the error and adjusted the grade on initial paper. This experience highlighted the importance of saving emails; as I was mis-advised the final grade was adjusted for me. My GPA was destroyed, but I received credit for the course, and any credit is always better than an ?F? on transcripts. Beyond this experience, most of my tutor-issues stem from other communication errors such as unhelpful emails or comments on assignments. Most tutors have, at least for me, made every effort to work with me to solve a problem, as long as I communicate to them that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

I have had amazing tutors, tutors who have encouraged me, written lengthy emails back in response to my questions, and made me feel that my lack of understanding of the material actually demonstrated a great understanding (Philosophy, of course?I am pretty sure this is the only course where great confusion can be a good thing.) My courses have all been in this area, all subjective, and none have been science, yet, thankfully. The subjective courses depend on understanding what it is the tutor is looking for, as there is no right answer. I have had tutors that, when I call to discuss a book, it feels like I am talking to a friend who is enjoying the conversation as much as I am. Typically in these cases I come out of the conversation feeling like I can tackle the world?the world in that moment being my current assignment. I have also had tutors where I have contacted them for help and gotten responses that I found less than helpful. I stare at the email and wonder how they think that can possibly answer my question. It seems to me to be asking me the exact same questions I asked them. Now I know that we should be able to find the answers ourselves, and sometimes looking at a question from another angle will allow us to do this. However, usually in these cases I am left feeling frustrated, I obviously do not understand something and need help with it, I have just waited two days to get an email response back, and the email just leaves me feeling more alone and isolated than ever before.

Sometimes I find myself wondering if I am expecting too much, too detailed of a response in emails, or too much detail in comments on assignments. It is true that I can get too personally attached to my papers, but I surely cannot be the only one this happens to. And having negative comments can cause me to become defensive of my child/paper. However, I like to think that when a comment is clear I will be (and have been) receptive to it, and my work will improve. I understand that I did something wrong, however, rather than making me feel like a fool because I have comma splices scattered throughout my paper, an indication of how I would be able to correct it would be helpful.

What I find even worse is each time they find an error the comments get more and more rude. With comments like these I usually end up feeling inadequate. I think, “Maybe I should already know this.” I begin to doubt myself and if I belong in these courses: help to resolve the issue would be constructive and not make me feel completely out of place, so what do these comments mean? Should I already know these simple issues? Should I rethink my program choice and my major altogether? Tutors may not realize the impact they have on students, but comments that come across as condescending can cause students to rethink their educational paths.

I have gotten comments on a paper that consisted of “?????” and that is all. My reaction to that was, initially, disgust. Really that tells me nothing. However, it was this particular paper that made me take a step back and revaluate the comments I get on papers, and how I take the feedback. Maybe they did not give me an example of how to fix a problem, but the problem is apparently a problem, which, in most cases, has a name. Naming the problem allows me to find a solution to the issue from outside sources. While the tutors are there to help students, they likely have more on their plate than we may realize, and sometimes with a simple issue like a comma splice, it is up to us to resolve the problem on our own. As for the paper with the “?????” comments, it was the next paper that tutor marked that actually made it clear what the question marks meant, and made me feel somewhat ashamed of my reaction. This paper was much more clear and concise, and I realized that all she meant was that the sentence was not clear, it was not only the punctuation that was highlighted, but the sentence as a whole. I still think that this could have been made clearer, but had I been more receptive to the “comment” perhaps I would have understood what she was referring too. Though I find it a bit ironic that the comment on an unclear statement was unclear in itself.

While sometimes I think I may feel frustrated with tutors because they take too long to respond to an email, their responses are unclear, or the comments on papers may not give me a clear understanding of what it is I am doing wrong, generally, if I am persistent enough, I am able to get the information I need; whether I am nagging them with emails, calling, or taking to outside sources to find my answers, I do eventually find them. This detective work may be giving me more skills beyond the course work, skills which may be beneficial to me in the future. Maybe this is why the responses from tutors sometimes seem vague or unhelpful. Perhaps they are teaching us skills beyond this virtual classroom, skills we can fall back on when we no longer have experts to email or call for help.

Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature.