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Overcoming Differences in Tutoring Relationships: Common Concerns and Solutions


Overcoming Differences in Tutoring Relationships: Common Concerns and Solutions

Tutoring is a challenging, rewarding task. Tutors equip people with knowledge, support them in efforts to learn new skills, and invest time in developing relationships of trust with their tutees. Sometimes racial, economic, cultural or other kinds of differences between the tutor and the tutee can discourage tutors from developing the tutoring relationship to a productive level. Here are six common concerns and coping methods about difference between tutors and tutees.

I'm tutoring someone from a different background than mine. It makes me uncomfortable, but I'm embarrassed to admit it.

First, acknowledge that your fears are legitimate. Suppressing your fears about a tutee will slow down your progress in overcoming them. Second, realize that you will need to overcome those fears eventually if you intend to be an effective tutor.

Everyone is capable of harboring unexpected or unwanted prejudices. Coming to your tutoring sessions with an open mind and no expectations will help you to move beyond those prejudices into a strong, bias-free relationship with your tutee.  Your tutee is human, just as you are. Look beyond culture, economy and environment and concentrate on the sameness you share with your tutee.

One way to battle your fear is to inform yourself. If the difference is cultural, educate yourself about your tutee's culture, and find things you can share about your own culture. If the difference causes you to be concerned for your safety-if, for example, you know that your tutee has been associated with gangs in the past-prepare a neutral, populated location, such as a library, for your tutoring sessions, and arrange for someone to accompany you when you arrive at or leave the location. If you ever feel threatened by your tutee, leave the area and call for help immediately.

I just met my tutee this afternoon, and I can already tell that we're not going to get along.

First impressions can be deceptive. Think about your feelings as you approached the meeting place. Were you fearful? Uneasy? Your tutee might have felt the same way. What you perceive as a hostile attitude or a cold personality may simply be your tutee's response to fear.

Take some time to develop your tutoring relationship. Until you have invested in several tutoring sessions and have built up a level of trust, your tutee might not feel confident or safe enough to open up and be himself. Be patient with your tutee and with yourself during this process.

My tutee and I don't share the same language or culture. We're having a hard time connecting.

Getting to know someone, even someone who shares your language and culture, takes effort. Instead of focusing on your differences, try to find things in common with your tutee: your religious beliefs, a special hobby, favorite pet, or even a favorite food can be a starting point to connecting with your tutee. Avoid using trendy or colloquial words that your tutee may have trouble translating or comprehending, or that otherwise emphasize your language barriers.

Tutoring at its most basic is about difference-specifically, the difference between what each of you knows about your tutoring subject-otherwise you would have nothing to offer as a tutor. But it's also about sharing what you know and closing the gap of difference between you.

My tutee comes from a lower socioeconomic background than I do, and doesn't have very much. I'm not rich, but I still feel guilty for and self-conscious about everything I have that my tutee can't have.

You can't change your tutee's economic circumstances, but you can minimize the appearance of financial inequality between you and your tutee. Leave expensive or trendy clothing, accessories and high-tech gadgets at home. Avoid talking about things you own or places you've visited if you believe that your tutee is unlikely to have similar experiences. The less attention you draw to your economic differences, the more you'll help your tutee focus on your time together.

Our tutoring sessions take place in a location that caters to people of my tutee's cultural background. I feel very out of place there, and it's hard to concentrate on tutoring.

If you can, relocate your tutoring sessions to a neutral environment. If this isn't possible, or if you think the change will make your tutee uncomfortable, do the best you can in your present location until you perceive that your tutee might be willing to change. Your tutee may notice and appreciate your willingness to accommodate her, which will increase the level of comfort and trust in your tutoring relationship.

Encourage your tutee to tell you about the location-its significance in the community, the people who meet there, any artifacts displayed. Welcome the opportunity to learn about your tutee's culture, and use the time to share something about your own culture.

Recently, my tutee shared a disturbing personal experience with me. I have never known anyone who had the same kind of experience, and I had no idea how I should act or what I should say.

Your reaction in this circumstance is critical to your tutoring relationship. Don't act shocked, whatever you may secretly feel. What may be a troubling experience for you may be routine for your tutee. Your tutee may trust you enough to share information that he's never shared with anyone. If your tutee detects judgment of any kind from you, you run the risk of alienating him.

Listen to your tutee. If he asks for advice, give it freely and wisely, without critical or judgmental comments. Don't feel responsible for coming up with a solution. If the situation your tutee describes is beyond your experience or your ability to handle the problem, get counsel from someone who has handled similar situations before. Act in such a way that your relationship with your tutee and your ability to tutor him will not be negatively affected by your awareness of his experience.

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