Tips for Tutors

Tips for tutors

When you first begin tutoring, you may be teaching for the first time. Here are some tips from experienced tutors and teachers.

Organization

  • Arrange a time and place for meetings and exchange contact info (email addresses and phone numbers). Be sure to let the other party (tutor or student) know in advance (as much as possible) if you can’t make a meeting.
  • Before your first meeting, agree on an hourly rate (the usual range for undergraduate tutors is $7- 10 per hour), a method of payment, and a schedule of payment (i.e. by the sesssion, week, month). Keep good records of meetings and payments.
  • Make a note of what course the student is enrolled in and the textbooks or readings that s/he is using.

How to approach tutoring

A tutor is a coach and a teacher who encourages students to achieve informed independence, that is, helping students to read and translate Latin, to identify grammatical construction, and to recognize vocabulary on their own. There is, of course, no one way to do this, but there are things you can do (even inadvertently) that hinder improvement. Good tutors are sympathetic listeners. They make suggestions and ask questions rather than issuing commands, they allow the student to make decisions, and they project a confident and helpful attitude. Among the mistakes a tutor can make are: ignoring the student’s concerns, conveying a bad attitude to the student about his/her work or skills or about his teacher or the course.

In developing your own style, keep in mind that most students come to a tutor when they feel that they are having trouble with Latin and are worried about their grade. They are, to some extent, putting their academic fate in your hands, and for that reason they may feel that they are being judged in some way. So try to put them at ease, look interested, and be firm but gentle, aware of their sense of insecurity.

It is important that you coach and do not fix. Most of us find it easy to talk about what we know, whether it is our favorite use of the ablative or a funny bit from Catullus. A sound knowledge of grammar and vocabulary will help you in tutoring, but remember that you already have these skills and your job is to help the student develop them for him/herself. Students may ask you to fix their translations and may believe that this will help their grade. But the only thing that will improve their grade is if they learn to fix their own translations—to see where they don’t make sense, to figure out the grammar, and to look up the vocabulary and memorize it.

Coaching can be hard. Tutors must keep silent when they are bursting to tell a student what tense a verb is or why it is in the subjunctive. Students learn more when they take responsibility for answering their own questions. To accomplish this, use the Socratic method by asking thoughtful, challenging, and polite questions: “What case is mortalibus? How is the ablative being used in this construction? What kind of clause is introduced here by the ‘ut’? Can you paraphrase this sentence, that is, what is Cicero trying to say here?” Nudge, don’t push—let the student do most of the work.

A tutoring session, one model

There are lots of ways that you and your students may use your sessions. If the student comes with specific questions and skills that s/he wants to ask you, you should take your cue from him/her. You should bring a dictionary and a copy of Allen and Greenough’s Latin Grammar (the department’s official grammar) with you to tutoring sessions. If it is a need for general help with preparing Latin to recite in class, you can try this model.

  • Find out what the student knows about the reading—who is the author? What have they read so far and what was it about?
  • Have them re-read, translating aloud, the last assignment that they prepared before tackling the new assignment.
  • Some students take comfort in writing out a translation and then reading it back. This practice is necessary for first year students, but already by the second year students should be encouraged to move away from this practice. Afterall, once they have a written translation, students are looking at English rather than Latin, and thus not really learning anything new when they re-read the passage or recite in class.
  • Work through the passage with the student. Let him/her translate aloud and listen carefully. It doesn’t hurt to ask him/her to repeat a translation to make sure that you understood. When the student makes a mistake, try to figure out whether the error arises from a problem with grammar or vocabulary. If the student doesn’t know the word or has the wrong one, ask him/her what the dictionary entry for the word is and what it means. If grammar seems to be the problem, ask the student to identify the construction, and ask the question in a different way if the first one doesn’t help the student to see his/her way clear. You can also model for the student how to look up a grammar question in Allen and Greenough. If you come on a question that you can’t answer, the student should write it down and bring it to class to discuss with his/her instructor. The tutor may also consult with the instructor or another faculty member when questions arise.
  • At the end of the session, have the student read again the whole passage that s/he has just translated, and be sure you have time to answer any final questions. Then, sum up what you have done during the session with a quick list of grammar topics that you discussed and areas that the student should work on (suggest 2 or 3 areas). Finally, confirm your next meeting and, if this is your schedule, deal with payment.

It’s a good idea to keep a record of your tutoring sessions, brief notes about what you covered, how things went, what to work on next time. You should also make note of what the student tells you about the instructor’s grading criteria and any special requirements of the course.

Questions?

Please contact Professor Cynthia J. Bannon, director of elementary Latin, with questions or comments.