Tutor program gives students taste of teacher’s life
November 24, 2007
Craig — At first glance, Moffat County High School students Millie Blackstun, Clare Sorrentino and Alex Selan appear typical high school students.
But during third period, something changes. During this time, they are students. Yet, as tutors in a high school program, they also become teachers.
The experience adds up to a hands-on lesson in teaching in which they’ve felt the thrill of success and the disappointment warranted by their students’ disinterest – feelings familiar to many a teacher.
Despite being tutors, the three say they are normal students making their way through their studies.
Blackstun and Sorrentino often helped each other with schoolwork. When a school counselor asked them to participate in the tutoring program, they agreed.
Selan arrived at the program another way.
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After missing too many school hours, Selan was required to perform community service – to “pay back my debt to society,” she said.
She had a choice of what to do to fulfill that requirement. Seeing her Spanish teacher “swamped” with students needing after-school tutoring, she knew what to do.
“I decided to help,” she said.
She began tutoring Spanish students and has since fulfilled her community service requirement. She has chosen to remain with the program.
They may be tutors, but they share experiences common to many students.
They know about the teachers.
“We’ve all had teachers that help keep us going,” Sorrentino said. “We’ve also had horrible teachers.”
The tutors are informed of the subject matter in the classes.
“We’ve been through those classes,” Blackstun said. “We know the shortcuts.”
And they know what it feels like to be a student.
“We know how they feel,” Blackstun said. “We know how it feels to be frustrated.”
The three bring their experiences in their tutoring. Teachers refer students to Blackstun, Sorrentino and Selan when their teaching methods don’t reach home.
“A lot of times, these kids are here because (they) can’t understand the teacher,” Selan said.
Trying to succeed where a teacher’s efforts have not is often a difficult task, demanding the tutors hone their communication skills.
“You have to explain differently” from the teacher, Sorrentino said. “Otherwise, it’s like running into a brick wall.”
The rewards are worth it.
Blackstun said one student she tutored improved her grade from a C to an A. The student later credited the achievement to her tutor’s aid.
When that happens, “It’s a sense of accomplishment,” Blackstun said.
The moment a student grasps a concept – when it suddenly makes sense – is an event each tutor recognizes and remembers.
“When something clicks, you can tell,” Sorrentino said. “It makes you feel good. You can see it on their face.”
“You know it makes them feel good,” Blackstun added.
Not every tutoring experience is a success story, especially if the student has no interest in succeeding. Sometimes students report to the tutoring program on their teacher’s request alone and not their own initiative.
Then, like teachers before them, the tutors face a significant challenge: the unmotivated student.
“It’s kind of disappointing to me,” Selan said. “I’ve been trying to help them when they won’t help themselves.”
In the end, it all comes down to helping students succeed in any way they can. Here, the three find common ground: They believe every student has the potential to do well in school, even if doing well doesn’t mean earning all A’s.
The tutoring program has yet to reach every student who needs academic help.
“I think a lot of kids don’t know (tutoring) is available,” Sorrentino said.
Still, despite their experience as tutors and students, the three don’t intend to replace their instructors.
If the tutors can’t help a student, Sorrentino added, they’ll find a teacher who can.