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Tutor Tip: The Reluctant Math Tutor

This tip originally appeared in the November issue of Tutor News from Dr. Carmine Stewart, VP Programming


“But I Don’t Do Math.”

During every tutor training I have attended, someone says “I would love to tutor, but I don’t do math.” For most tutors, and even the staff, it’s been a while since we have been in a math class ourselves, or since we have used the math that we have learned. Math is one of those things that you lose if you don’t use it.

Here are a few things we would like you to know, ESPECIALLY if you are reluctant to tutor math.

USE THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE

There are several resources that you can use to brush up on math so that you can step in when we need someone to tutor math.

  • First, you can ask for copies of the math materials and work your way through the packets yourself on your own time.
  • Second, you can go to our website under the “Current Students” tab and access the “Lessons and Online Study Tools for Students. Not only will these resources help you learn math, but as you explore the resources you may find some things that help the students you are helping.
  • Last, you can ask to observe other tutors as they tutor math to see how it is done, and to get a better grasp of the material.

THE MAJORITY ARE WORKING ON BASIC MATH, NOT TRIG.

Know that most of our students are doing basic math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals. If you aren’t comfortable with algebra, you can completely avoid tutoring that. The Site Coordinators want you to enjoy tutoring, and will not ask you to do anything that you are not comfortable doing.

NOT BEING GREAT AT MATH CAN BE YOUR BIGGEST ASSET AS A TUTOR.

Often we find that the tutors who feel the least amount of comfort with math are the BEST at tutoring.

Why is this?

Well first, those tutors for whom math did not come easily have incredible empathy for the students who have had the same experience. This often translates to having greater patience, and offering more detailed explanations.


Second, those tutors tend to think about math differently as they re-learn it in preparation for teaching it. they tend to have the same questions the students will have and are prepared with those answers.

LEARNING MATH TOGETHER IS GOOD!

It is perfectly acceptable to say to a student, “I don’t know, let’s figure this out together.” Students come to us for support. No one is expecting you to be a math genius. Students are sometimes comforted by knowing that we don’t have all of the answers; it validates their experiences.

MY EXPERIENCE

I found that once I spent some time with math as I prepared to work with students, I began to love math learning again for myself. It is just as much fun as the Sudoku puzzles I enjoy. I also found that when I began to enjoy math, that fun carried over to my tutoring, and the students’ attitudes toward math improved as well.

I hope that these tips will encourage and motivate you to push past any hesitance or fear. Our students need to know that math can be fun (and useful), and you have the power to change that narrative for them.

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