Classrooms benefit from academic tutors

September 24, 2018 — by Aaria Thomas and Kaitlyn Tsai
Photo by Edwin Chen

Sophomore Wilson Fung works on homework in Ms. Tseng's Chinese 1 class.

Academic tutors allow students to work one-to-one in smaller groups.

Most people have seen teacher’s assistants quietly doing their own work at the back of classrooms, or in the halls running errands for teachers. Being a TA is a popular choice for the applied arts credit, but few have heard of taking on the role of an academic tutor.

Academic tutors are less well known and less numerous than TAs are.  Four students are academic tutors this year as compared to 76 TAs, according to registrar Robert Wise.  

The position was first opened four years ago with the intent of providing students with a more hands-on experience with supporting a class, assistant principal Brian Safine said. While a TA works more for teachers or the office and performs clerical work, an academic tutor operates as someone who ensures all students understand the content.

However, because helping students is more interactive than doing clerical work, students tend to gravitate more toward being TAs in order to have periods of time to catch up with their own academics.

Sophomore Wilson Fung, a TA for Sara Tseng’s Chinese 1 class, seconds this idea, saying that he often has time to do homework during the class. Otherwise, his tasks include retrieving materials from the office, copying paper and occasionally participating in class activities.

“It is a good experience; you build a better connection with the teacher,” Fung said.

On the other hand, senior Leandra Kingsley, an academic tutor for special education teacher Lauren Taylor’s independent academic study class, spends more time working with students.

During class, Kingsley helps students who have questions about their homework. Once, she organized important information for math problems that a student with a migraine had to do.

Kingsley originally started volunteering in the tutoring center but decided to switch to being an academic tutor.

“I like to help people, and being an academic tutor is a good way to help people while also earning credit,” she said.

Math teacher Kelly Frangieh has experience working with both TAs and academic tutors. Since her class is more “teacher-centered instruction,” she is unsure of how she should integrate an academic tutor into her class.

As such, Frangieh prefers having TAs in her class because they can handle clerical work that would otherwise take teachers a long time to do, such as grading homework or making packets.

“As a department, a lot of times we’ll shoot emails back and forth asking, for example, ‘Does someone have a TA third period? I need some help organizing some books,’” she said. “It’s a super helpful time saver for sure.”

However, she still agrees that academic tutors could provide more support to other classrooms.

Taylor said students often learn best from other students, and academic tutors offer that type of support. Since academic tutors are students as well, they are more in-tune to how classes are being taught and can help students by mimicking what their own teachers model in class.

Furthermore, academic tutors provide more face-to-face instruction to students.

“If the tutor is grasping what I’m doing, and the other students aren’t, it allows us to divide the class in half and work with students in smaller groups,” Taylor said. “Having more one-to-one instruction allows students to get the concepts more easily.”

Overall, both roles provide many benefits for students as well as teachers. By providing assistance in the classroom, TAs and academic tutors can develop certain skill sets.

“Being a tutor is going to give me a chance to work with all kinds of people and help them with their schoolwork while also improving my teaching skills,” Kingsley said.

TAs and academic tutors can take advantage of their service opportunities and further their own growth and development, making their efforts in the classroom valuable to everyone.

“Most of our students are old enough to recognize when you give of yourself in support of another person, there is an inherent growth in you as an individual,” Safine said. “It’s successful when our students work in support of others.”