The tutor and the stressed student

I have been a tutor for many years.
I have been an advocate for bullied kids for several years as well.
But only recently did I begin to see that even tutors can offer relief to kids who are bullied, and point bystanders in a proper direction as well.

The tutor's secret is really simple: we don't even have to know whether or if the students we work with are having bullying problems. All we have to know is that they sometimes exhibit the same symptoms as a bullied kid, and those symptoms can be brought on by stress.

The student who needs a tutor is often dealing with stress already, because the homework isn't done, he doesn't know how to do it - not the first thing, time is running out and there's nobody to help.
When I was younger, you know how I handled that kind of stress? By hoping the problem would go away. I would go into class the next day, the teacher would relent and say "hey, this is too hard for you guys, so let's go over it again," and BOOM! Problem, problem solved!

(Yeah, I guess I AM saying students today are as I was.)

This is (my guess) probably the single biggest reason that no tutor is a match for every student. By the time a student seeks out a tutor, stress is already an issue. If that stress can't be relieved in the context of the student/tutor relationship, the relationship will fail. It may never even begin.

I recently solved a few problems on WyzAnt's "answers" board, each one asked by the same student. She didn't understand my work, and asked me not to try to answer her problems any more - even though there was no guarantee anyone else would help. I offered to coach her through the problems in detail, and explained that it was a bit less than polite to ask me to watch out for her name so I could avoid it. Her response was to cry. That was the stress signal. And I see it too, in bullied kids, when they think no-one is there to help them.

Tutor, you are probably not in a position to chase the bullies away. But you are in a position - indeed, the BEST position - to chase stress away. You already know that once a student seeks you out, an element of stress is already there. Here's how you go from there:
  • It isn't just that she doesn't know how to solve the problem. It's that she doesn't know what she doesn't know. You may have to find out what she doesn't know.
  • There's a time crunch. That student may have sought you out as a last resort. If you "fail" her, it's not going to go well.
  • She must be reminded that she's not stupid. I find this especially true for math: students will be tempted to grab the calculator first, before even knowing how a problem is to be solved. The fact that we can solve problems at all is proof that our brains are superior to the best calculators. All the calculator can do is give us the wrong answers fast. Remind your students of the sheer power of their brains.
  • She must be reminded that she's not the only one who ever faced this. Sure, tomorrow may come too fast, but even that is preferable to the alternative.
  • Make her laugh. Help her breathe. Then go through it step-by-step, until she recognizes the steps.
  • Once she starts to get it, pile on the encouragement. Before, it was a negative situation: "no-one will do it for you." Now, it's positive: "no-one can do it better."

This is very much like the advice No Such Thing as a Bully gives to parents and educators. The only difference is, students are bullying themselves. Once you help them not to, their lives will be better, and you will be a hero.


Ron, that is exactly my "platform" word-for-word.  I'm so glad there are others out there who can see what I see.  Thanks for what you do to help our students!!
Lisa T
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