Life as a Student Tutor

You know that saying that goes, “you don’t know how well you know something until you try to teach it to someone else”? Well, after taking a tutoring job here at Whitman, I can confidently say that I have been made aware of the things that I know, but also—and more importantly—the things I do not. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates said; so, through our examination we must examine that which we know and that which we do not. Well, it turns out that tutoring sure gets that job done!

Whitman recently hired me as a “Writing Fellow,” under the supervision of Professor Burgess from the Classics Department. The Written and Oral Communication Initiative (WOCI) hires student Writing Fellows, assigning them to specific courses where they can help an instructor with discipline-specific aspects of writing instruction. This semester, Professor Burgess has assigned me to provide extra guidance through Latin texts for both his 100 and 200 level Latin classes. I meet with students who schedule one-on-one tutoring sessions with me, as well as hold office hours a couple times a week for anyone to drop by with questions or tricky passages that they’d like some guidance on. Tutoring the Latin language in particular has been a blast for me because it essentially involves teaching what we all think we already know: English grammar. However, English grammar is not conventionally taught in school courses, leaving us to flounder in the mysteries of terms like “subjunctives,”  “perfect passive participles,” or “complementary infinitives.” These terms all exist in the English language as well as other languages, but their existence is often overlooked; in Latin, however, negligence of these terms is impossible, requiring a student of Latin to learn the ins and outs of grammar applicable not only to Latin but to all other languages henceforth. Tutoring students on the meanings and applications of these unfamiliar grammatical terms is rewarding for both the students and for me, providing an opportunity for us to practice the grammar that we see and use on a daily basis.

I have additionally been hired by another Professor of Classics, Kate Shea, to provide regular tutoring sessions for her daughter on the subject of learning to read English. Shea’s daughter learns very systematically, so our approach has been to follow a curriculum with incredibly specific instruction involving spelling tiles and a variety of rules that explain why English words are spelled the way they are. This experience has been extremely eye-opening to me—as well as both daunting and comforting—because I am gradually learning the entire explanation behind why English is spelled in a way that previously made absolutely zero sense to me. Apparently, whether a “c” makes an “s” or a “k” sound is not arbitrary; instead, its sound is determined by the “C train rule,” stating that a “c” wants to make a “k” sound if it can, but changes to an “s” sound if it runs into a “watch out vowel” on the train tracks, namely an “e,” “i,” or “y,” at which point the train falls off the tracks and goes “ssssss,” making an “s” sound. This rule explains why “ceiling” is pronounced with an “s” sound (because “e” is a watch out vowel) while “cat” is pronounced with a “k” sound. All this time I thought the explanation of the pronunciation behind “ceiling” and “cat” was merely that “English is funky,” but am now comforted by the fact that we actually have explanations for these wacky spellings.

Tutoring is a win-win experience all around; my students become stronger in the subject I’m teaching, and I simultaneously learn not only more about the information I teach but also the best way of articulating the material. I highly recommend taking a tutoring job should it be presented at any time, especially if Education is a career field of interest. After all, we spend four years at Whitman as students; who says we can’t take some time out to be the teacher once in a while?


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