Andrew Johnson

Beneficial Chaos

Andrew Johnson

November 25, 2020 

While the start of a new semester is always jarring for incoming students, these past few months have been a time of unparalleled change even for those of us who are experienced with academia. The shift to online learning upset experienced and naïve students alike and introduced chaos and uncertainty in ways no one anticipated. New students faced an unfamiliar environment with foreign expectations; experienced students faced new technological requirements with unexpected limitations. However, in all this chaos, every student and tutor, whether consciously or unconsciously, encountered the opportunity to grow. Chaos, though uncomfortable, prompted adaptation. 

Aside from the pandemic, the greatest upset to my own tutoring experience involved the shift to embedded tutoring, which required me to expand my tutoring repertoire from consisting of a few higher-order talking points to covering every step of the writing process. Instead of spending half an hour with a student I might not see again, I had to learn to pay attention to their specific needs because I shared a larger amount of the responsibility for their development as a writer. This required a bit more dedication, which made my job a bit more difficult, but it also meant that I formed relationships with recurring students and watched them grow and develop as writers.  

The increased demands of embedded tutoring returned increased rewards as a tutor even beyond watching the students grow. I also received implicit (and sometimes explicit) feedback from students, so I learned more quickly which techniques, ideas, tools, and strategies worked for students with different backgrounds. Furthermore, developing some tools that worked for multiple students, like a thesis guide or a paragraph structure template, helped me to think through processes in a step-by-step fashion. Since I typically construct theses and paragraphs intuitively, stepping through the process improved my ability to communicate the steps to a non-intuitive student. This also enabled me to identify shortcomings in students’ paragraph structure I had not been able to identify previously, especially with non-native English speakers who had difficulty structuring English paragraphs concisely. In previous semesters, I had not felt a push to construct these tools because, if I encountered a student with whom I could not communicate easily, I could send them to another tutor and think little of it. This does not work as well with embedded students, and this fact revealed that my inability to communicate with non-intuitive students was a weakness in need of correcting. In order for me to resist the chaotic force of consistency, I had to become more flexible and develop as a tutor. 

Even for someone like myself who thrives on change, the chaos of new expectations, in my case structure and consistency, poses a threat to status quoThis chaos presents an ultimatum: adapt and overcome or stagnate and fail. In past semesters, a lack of failure did not motivate me to improve as a tutor; this semester, stagnation was not an option. In order to adapt and overcome, I learned the importance of tackling my own tutoring weaknesses, and this was due in large part to the beneficial threat of disruption mandated by a year of unrelenting chaos.