I love being a chemistry tutor. Nothing gives me more pleasure than helping a student gain a higher level of understanding in science. It’s the reason I started doing this in the first place, and it’s the reason that I’ve stuck with it for 10 years, despite my quoted rates actually representing a decrease in annual salary once things like prep time and commute time are taken into account. However, there are three student behaviors / habits that pop up from time to time, and when they occur, I just can’t deal with it. Here is my list of the top 3 behaviors I see in students that absolutely get under my skin.
1. “I don’t know what I don’t know”. I see many students who come to me because they’re “doing bad in class”, and when I ask them at the first tutoring session to explain their difficulties, they look at me like a deer caught in the headlights. It immediately tells me that this student has very little chance of passing this course, regardless of what efforts I bring to bear. If you don’t even know where your problem areas are, then my only option is to go through the entirety of the class material all over again – becoming a second lecturer, in effect. This is not what private tutoring is supposed to be all about. It doesn’t matter to me that students come to me with gaps in their understanding – indeed, that’s why they’re coming to me in the first place. But if a student can’t even tell me what they don’t understand, it tells me that they either have no business taking this course or they’ve put forth absolutely no effort up till this point in the semester. Either way, the tutoring relationship is off to a rocky start.
2. “Sorry I’m 30 minutes late”. My time is valuable, and I make sure to confirm appointments with students several days in advance, the day of, and all my students have my email address and private cell phone number. Leaving me to sit and wonder if you’re ever going to show up, as time ticks on and I start to think about all the other (more productive) things I could be doing, is a surefire way to start the tutoring process off on the wrong foot. Emergencies happen; traffic happens; flat tires happen. But in todays world of massively interconnected communications, there’s absolutely no excuse for blindly standing someone up for a prearranged meeting. I’m a professional. Treat me like one, and I’ll treat you with equal respect; together, we can do amazing things.
3. At the end of the session: “How much do you charge again / how much do I owe you?” My rates are probably the lowest in Atlanta, despite my credentials. I tutor because I enjoy it and because I’m a fervent believer in the need for science education. My fees were clearly outlined to you before we even made contact for the first time, and you were reminded of my fees when we setup our tutoring session. You’re getting me for almost nothing, and you’re well aware of what it costs. What do you expect to gain by asking me (after we finish a session) how much you owe me? Are you trying to embarrass me? Are you trying to bargain for a better deal, or open up a line of credit? Discretely hand me the money – no checks, please, it just makes it more difficult for me (I don’t tutor you in Persian and make your life more difficult) – and don’t bring up the subject of money. Especially at the end of a session, when I’m sitting there patiently, waiting to be paid, while you pack up your goods. It’s uncomfortable and impolite.
How do my fellow tutors feel about these things? I can’t be alone in these feelings. To my current and future students: treat me, and more importantly yourself, with the appropriate level of respect. That’s all. Know what you’re having difficulty with, be courteously on time (and give warning if you’re running late), and don’t play the idiot by asking me how much it costs – especially after we just finished a session. We’re not bartering, here. It’s a service you’ve received, a service you sought out and hired after being given all the details. Work with me in these things, and we can do amazing things for your level of science education. Students who break these “rules” quickly find themselves without my assistance as a tutor.