Marj Atkinson shares about her experience as an online tutor with TutorMe, imparting wisdom and tips for other tutors looking to become online tutors.
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Every day, the exceptional subject matter experts on TutorMe positively impact the lives of students everywhere. We're honored to share these tutors' stories in our Behind the Screen series.
In our last feature, we chatted with seasoned psychology and academic writing tutor, Carriann Mulcahy, about her tutoring journey with TutorMe. Now, we're excited to talk to library sciences tutor, Marj Atkinson!
During the interview, Marj shares her passion for library sciences, tutoring, and her approach to helping students learn. She also offers valuable strategies to motivate students, shares her biggest tutoring challenge, and imparts excellent advice to new tutors.
Where did you go to college? And what did you study?
I earned a degree in German at University of North Texas in Denton and then a degree in Library Science at Texas Woman's University.
Why did you decide to become a tutor?
When I first began tutoring, I was helping students at the college library I was working at. I really enjoyed mentoring them and witnessing their growth firsthand. This experience encouraged me to branch out and offer support in several other subject areas and skills, like Excel. It was incredibly rewarding to make a living doing what I loved!
What do you enjoy most about your TutorMe experience?
I like that TutorMe is such a convenient, flexible online platform. I can log in whenever I have the time to tutor and work with students of different backgrounds. I also like being able to chat with the students face-to-face. I've found that it's easier to connect with students on a personal level and really enjoy a bond that wouldn't otherwise be possible through just chatboxes.
What is your most valuable tutoring skill?
Digging deeper! When a student asks their first question, they're usually looking for something more or different than what they initially said. I'm good at getting the student to tell me more about their assignment. I dig into their questions, and then, when I figure out what they actually need help with, I can guide them through the learning process. Often, the student is on the right track, but they need a little hand-holding. They need someone to let them know they're doing the right thing. That type of validation is something I offer in every session and helps build student confidence.
What is your usual approach when you tutor?
First, I read the question. Then, I ask the student to share their screen. I like to communicate through audio because it's easier to talk back and forth. If they're in a situation where they can't do audio, then text chat can also work. I look at their assignment and then walk them through the steps they need to complete their work.
If necessary, I use tools like the whiteboards when I have to explain more complex concepts to students. I'm very accommodating with my tutoring style and tend to base my guidance on each student's needs.
When you meet with new students, how do you make them feel more comfortable?
I try to put them at ease. I'll restate the question and ask them what they're working on. I coach them as they go, providing positive, specific feedback throughout the session. I find that this kind of feedback really boosts students' confidence and makes them more apt to participate in the tutoring session.
Can you describe the most powerful learning experience you've shared with a student?
Anytime I can help a student achieve that "a-ha!" moment in learning how to finish their assignment, write a paper, or even find a resource. They feel accomplished and grateful for the help, and I feel like I've done my job!
What has been a particular challenge that you experienced as a tutor?
I once had a student who didn't like what I had to tell her. She wanted a direct answer to her assignment question, and I wouldn't give her the answer because we're here to tutor them, not provide easy answers. Ultimately, the student understood, and we were able to enjoy a productive session, but instances like this help you keep your resolve as a tutor.
What are your go-to strategies for motivating students?
I give them praise. I assure them that they're on the right track. I tell them that their thought processes are spot-on. I also have a few techniques for teaching them new things to make their research easier. For instance, I show them ways to narrow their search on their database, so they can find the specific information they're looking for.
What advice would you give to a tutor who is just getting started?
I'd tell them that it helps to have worked with students before. It's one thing to understand a subject; it's another to work directly with students.
Be as positive and encouraging as you can be. Validate the student's efforts. Make the student feel heard and seen.
Also, don't pretend to know something that you don't know. Your students turn to you for your expert guidance in a subject they need help with, so it’s critical that you accurately represent your knowledge level.
Dynamic one-on-one interactions are integral to effective, high-impact online tutoring programs. Sharing Marj's tutoring journey provides insights into the engaging face-to-face collaboration your students can enjoy on our platform.
Check back in the weeks for the next articles in this series. And in the meantime, learn more about partnering with TutorMe to empower your students with one-on-one academic support that fosters deeper learning through face-to-face collaboration.