April 22, 2021
This could not have been how I envisioned the end of my tutoring time at Trinity Western University. This should not be mistaken for a complaint: if anything I believe that the past year has grown me more than any other in terms of developing my pedagogical praxis.
What struck me most was the increased degree of comfort with my students. Part of this is largely thanks to the move to online sessions. Proximity is often a struggle for me (a combined effect of introversion and neurodivergence). Eye contact and body language, the two primary ways one communicates intent and openness, are something I struggle to maintain naturally without dedicating a lot of conscious thought to it, and as a result I frequently find myself having to choose on whether or not I focus on the student or on what my body language is communicating to the student. It can often lead to a certain degree of discomfort which I think unintentionally flows into the student.
Having adjusted now to the etiquette of Zoom (and with certainty that most of my appointments had as well) this became much less of a concern for me. While I am aware that for many of my colleagues the loss of a lot of nonverbal indicators was a dilemma for communicating with students, for me it was the removal of a stressor and allowed me to focus primarily on verbal written communication. With that dimension removed I was instead able to refocus on establishing a genuine rapport with students, instead of micromanaging. This is a skillset I hope to carry with me into the return to in-person teaching, as I am now more confident in my ability to connect with them.
As I believe I discussed last semester, the word of the year for me has been flexibility. I would like to amend that only slightly with the addition of the word vulnerability. I have spoken to students both within work hours and even some of my own peers attending other universities currently struggling with writing help, and the most frequent anxiety they communicate, whether explicitly or not, is the fear of judgement. Not only are they worried that their writing is not up to par, but they are also worried that their perceived lack of ability will make the coach resent them. I know this is not something any of us are unaware of, and it can often be frustrating simply to communicate to the students that we are not angry with them, that this is simply a normal part of the job. While there is no one size fits all solution, the most consistent thing which I have found that works is simply to make yourself vulnerable to them. Bring up things you struggled with that were similar, or acknowledge the trickiness of the skill.
The most frequent challenge I run into as a teacher is the frustration of knowing I have the solution to a problem and the student, whether because they do not know how to ask or they do not know they need it, will not let me give it to them. Ultimately, though, what I have learned this semester is that people are more willing to accept that help if they do not feel they have to become lesser to ask for it.