Feature: Tears & Opportunities: Reflections Of A Tutor

By Harvinder Kaur Dharam Singh (harvinder@oum.edu.my)

It was another semester and another tutorial class that I had led as a tutor. It was business as usual during one of the tutorials, when I tried to engage my tutees to articulate their thoughts and views on a topic we were covering in class.

Randomly I invited a few learners to pitch in. Some had something to say; a few did not, seemingly unprepared for class.

As usual, I continued to intersperse questions with mini lectures to explain certain concepts.

As the class was focusing on me, I noticed that one of the learners to whom I had posed a question was starting to cry, silently, to my surprise.

None of her peers noticed the tears streaming down her cheeks, even as she tried to follow the lesson, which I continued until we took a midway break.

During the break, I went up and spoke to the tutee who was in tears, concerned about her. Gently and compassionately, as I asked if she was alright, she began to shed even more tears, looking sad and lost.

Nevertheless, the tutee managed to open up to me, explaining that she was under a lot of pressure.

Her husband was away, working offshore, and she was having problems trying to understand and complete an assignment for another course that she was taking in the same semester.

The break was short and we resumed class soon after but this particular learner and I managed to talk some more after tutorial. It was then, as I tried to motivate her, and help her to see that, sometimes, our problems are not as huge as we imagine them to be.

As I explained to her the requirements of the assignment she had to complete for another course, she began to cheer up somewhat, realizing that what the assignment required of her was not beyond her ability to complete.

This episode gave me an opportunity to critically reflect on my role as a tutor, a role I have been playing for five years now.

It made me realise that it is often all too easy for tutors to think of some learners (who seem unprepared for tutorials) as lazy, uninterested or deficient.

It made me realise also that behind every convenient label lies a flesh-and-blood learner who is facing what is possibly one of his/her greatest challenges in life – the challenge of moving ahead in life, or even staying afloat amidst pressures from all directions.

The challenge for me as a tutor, then, is never to be too presumptuous when engaging with learners. The moral, on the other hand, is even more enlightening: it is to bear in mind that a little compassion and demonstration of genuine concern go a long way in helping learners to clear the fog of life so that they stand the best chance of staying on course in their studies.

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As a tutor, I believe that I can help learners to create learning spaces by:

Encouraging them to think independently by giving them short essay tests
Encouraging them to work as a group
Adding variety to the assignments and encouraging them to think from a different perspective
Ensuring that the tutorial room is always conducive for the learners
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