What’s Not Your Job

Just read an interesting post at FreelanceSwitch here: http://freelanceswitch.com/freelance-freedom/whats-not-your-job/

I’m talking about when you limit yourself because you’re not clear on what’s part of your responsibility to a client.

The post made me think about how this applies to tutors and teachers. Often we can get frustrated at many things:

  • Students not putting effort into learning
  • Students not doing their homework
  • Students not getting better marks

And yes, it can get really frustrating, especially when you put maybe 1hr of unpaid time into preparing for a 1 hr tutoring session per week. You spend a lot of time writing up worksheets or questions, photocopying stuff about of books – then your student doesn’t do the homework or read what you’ve photocopied for them.

What this article highlights is that it is NOT the tutor’s or teacher’s job to do anything extraordinary.

When I first started tutoring a few years back, one of my first students would want me to help her write her essays IN the tutoring sessions. This was rather awkward given that she would seemingly write down what I was dictating, even though I was just rambling about ideas/techniques that she COULD talk about.

Then when she got a not-so-great mark, obviously I felt bad. I mean, I had practically written the essay for her and I felt a direct responsibility for that.

But what I’ve learnt from that 1st student is to really put limitations on how much you can do. This is really up to you as a tutor or teacher, but here are some guidelines that I follow:

1. It is NOT your job to make sure the student does their homework.

This is probably more of a parenting or discipline issue. If they want you to ensure that their kid does their homework, then they should get a babysitter. Or send their kid to bootcamp.

BUT you should notify them that their kid is NOT doing the homework. Usually, if the kid doesn’t do the homework 2 weeks in a row, I’ll tell the parents. I also write mini term reports, in which I note down whether or not they have been completing the tutoring work.

2. It is NOT your job to write your student’s essays or assignments for them.

There’s a fine line between helping your student and doing their work for them. I think, to an extent, you can only learn the different through experience.

I tend to give detailed comments, as well as edit student’s work. But honestly, you will not have time to heavily edit your student’s work anyway. Usually, I will squiggle underline things and write “grammar issues” or “condense” or “no techniques” to parts they need to work on. But I do not rewrite whole sentences for them.

To avoid being put in the situation of writing your student’s essay:

  1. Help them get started with say the introduction or topic sentences in class.
  2. Get them to complete the WHOLE essay for homework.
  3. Do this all WELL before the assessment/exam date – otherwise you’ll feel obliged to help them do it right there and then on the day before the exam.

3. It is NOT your job to ensure that your students get brilliant marks.

The reality is that, besides you, there are many factors in your student’s performance that you CANNOT control. For example, the student’s aptitude or innate ability to learn, their school teacher, their work ethic, their family/personal life, their learning attitude.

It is simply beyond you to use ONE HOUR per week to miraculously change your student. Consider the fact that you only see them 1 hour out of…24×7 hrs!

Some tutors, and in particular tutoring centres, promise students and parents a percentage % increase. Do you think this is feasible for private tutors?

So what do you do? What is part of your job?

7 comments for “What’s Not Your Job

  1. Karen
    June 3, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Wow! I have been tutoring for years and have often felt pressured by parents to a) guarantee a mark about 90% (not very achievable in one hour a week!) b) do all assignments for them.

    What do you do when you ask a student to write a paragraph for homework and they don’t do it? What do you do for the hour you have them if you can’t work through what they’ve done? I’d love some advice. Some of my students simply do not have the ability to get through the course work much less do extra work with me.


    • tutortales
      June 4, 2010 at 12:19 am

      If the student doesn’t do the homework, I get them to do it during the hour (which makes it somewhat boring for you and the student, but at least it’s productive!). I mean, if they can write 1 body paragraph in the hour (and they should be able to write more), then that’s about half the substance of their essay done!

      If the student genuinely just doesn’t have any time to take on extra (tuition) homework, then I stop giving it to them. And I just help them out on the ad hoc basis each week with whatever they’ve done in school. In that case, it’s a lot less investment by both you and the student. But sometimes all the student wants out of tutoring is the opportunity to sit down 1-on-1 with someone and ask questions (rather than have set tutoring work etc).


  2. Anachronist
    June 30, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I too have been tutoring HSC English for several years and have encountered the very same problems; more recently however, I have found that tutors are increasingly having to teach texts rather than consolidate on-going class work. Sometimes it is almost starting from scratch (I suspect that this is in part due to desultory note-taking in class but there seems to be a trend toward giving students photocopied handouts with little explanation and assuming that they will be read).
    This seems exactly the kind of problem that complicates our role that you have discussed. I tend to be hesitant in providing pre-prepared handouts of analysis, largely due to time constraints as you mentioned and also because it seems to sometimes discourage student input. I must admit to being a regular of your blog and have found it extremely helpful, so if I may, do you have any tactics for coaxing students to become more active during tutoring? It is so much easier when they contribute and you can get a discussion going rather than talking at them for an hour, hoping you have addressed their problems and I should think it more productive for them also.

    Thank you for such a useful and thoughtful site, I do hope that you can keep it up!

    • tutortales
      July 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm

      I can definitely relate to your experiences of “starting from scratch”. I have gotten new students in the past, who seem to have learnt NOTHING from school so it’s like I’m teaching them for the first time. Sometimes I don’t know whether this is because the teachers are failing to teach the student or whether the student is failing to learn in school. The worst case scenario I’ve had is where a Yr 9 Maths student’s maths level was at Yr 5-6 (they didn’t know their times tables, order of operations etc). I was horrified, but soon told myself that there was no way I was going to teach him 3 grades of maths in a 1 hr/week situation, so I didn’t stress too much about it and did the best that I could.

      In terms of tactics of encouraging students to be more active rather than a sponge for your knowledge:
      – giving them a sheet of questions for homework to answer, you then mark their answers AND discuss what they’ve written (this way they’ve thought about the questions beforehand)
      – mentally stopping myself from saying “Ok, so this means blah…” and rephrasing it as a question to the student instead
      – getting them to write down ideas/thoughts and then telling you about them (some students can’t answers questions on the spot, which might hinder discussion)


  3. petery
    July 3, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    As a highly experienced teacher and HSC tutor I would like to add my comments on Whats not your Job.I agree with your comments about limiting yourself to editing student work and not writing essays for them. Some students such as ESL students need more help than others and will benefit from having sentences rewritten for them.These students must follow this up by rewriting handwritten comments themselves in a new draft of their essay. easily done now with access to laptops.
    One thing that annoys me about some requests for writing help is the complete disregard from some parents about issues related to plagiarism and the ethics of having work done for them by tutors.It would appear that some parents paying high fees to tutoring agencies expect that the tutor will do the work for the students regardless of Board rules or ethics.They don’t see it as cheating. Money is supposed to fix everything, a sad message to give to their sons and daughters
    I try to point out that the only way a student can learn to write essays is by practice, and that these students, aspiring to enter university,ultimately will reach a stage, where they will have to write for themselves.They are better off knowing how before they get to that stage.Some of them need to understand that for most people there are no shortcuts to success.

    • tutortales
      July 4, 2010 at 6:29 pm

      Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever had a parent expect me to DO their child’s work for them. Though, shockingly, I’ve had a university student call me once, NOT for tutoring, but to ask me to do their university assignment for them! This was outrageous and I simply said no. I think, one of the great things about being a private tutor is that you can set those limitations with the parents/students about “This is what I will do and not do”, and quit if it gets to an uncomfortable stage. Sadly though, those types of people (who think they can pay others to do their homework/assignments) will probably just shop around until they find a tutor willing to do it for the right price.


  4. Juice
    July 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    I’ve found this website so incredibly useful, particularly the past exam questions! It was such a relief to find this post however because lately I’ve been questioning my own tutoring style and method and wondering if it is really in the best interests of the student.

    Ive tutored English, ESL and history for the last 3 years, but this year Ive found much more demanding as students expect you to know and be able to deconstruct most of their English texts. Whilst I think it differs between what tutors themselves studied at school or in their own time, I think students need to understand that we simply do not have time to learn each and EVERY one of their texts (plus related) and be able to know every technique or theme attached to it. This can be really tricky when you are tutoring multiple people in different classes! Whilst I try to have background knowledge in any text I did not study, its sometimes difficult when students seem to expect that you have read Frankenstein, AND Hamlet, AND Heat and Dust, AND watched Bladerunner, AND Strictly Ballroom, AND still have time to read + recommend related texts!

    I think it is a very fine line between giving constructive and useful feedback to a student and then providing them with essays or thesis ideas that they would not have thought of themselves. I also think it is a fine line with agreeing to edit essays, as sometimes with the more ‘laidback’ students shall we say, I feel increasingly pressured to mark work in my own time because they have left it to the last minute, and edit it to a standard where it will get a decent mark. I think it is tricky when you are dealing with students whose teachers do not give them extensive feedback on their essays, so you feel that you should give a more indepth analysis of where the student went wrong or what needs to happen to make an essay work.

    I completely agree that plagiarism a massive issue which students and parents seem to have either little knowledge about or regard for. I had a year 10 ESL student, whose English skills were fairly basic, copying huge slabs of information in a Commerce assignment, which she ended up failing. I told her that whilst she could use other people’s ideas, they had to be in her own words and with references to the source, to which I got the response ‘Oh, is that important? Will I have to do that in University?’ !! Sadly I think that many students are going to get a massive shock when they enter uni or the workforce and find that this behaviour is simply unacceptable, and that original thinking is far more valuable than anything that can be googled.


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