by Carissa Handrinos
When most people think of the words “coach” or “trainer,” sports, not academics, usually come to mind. In preparation for a big game, athletes work with their coaches and trainers to achieve their highest potential. Trainers challenge the athletes’ weaknesses and build their strengths through strenuous drills and practices, all in hopes of winning the game. They may train for days and weeks, hours at a time, all for one game. The team may win or lose. Regardless of the outcome, though, athletes often learn something about themselves, growing both physically and mentally. They learn how to be a better player. They find strength and determination they never knew they had. Or they discover that their lack of determination and motivation is what led them or their whole team to failure. But, this physical and mental transformation is not limited to athletics.
Tutors, or “academic coaches” as some are called, watch the same transformations occur in students. Yes, we help students understand their assignments and explain the steps needed for completion. Yes, we help them grow academically to achieve the grade that they desire. But just as in athletics, more than a physical change occurs. The real change occurs mentally in a student, not just with understanding the assignment, but with understanding him or herself. A tutor helps a student feel confidence that he or she can do well. A tutor motivates a student to achieve his or her goals. A tutor also lets a student know that if he or she continues certain habits, he or she will most definitely fail. Pushing students to recognize their abilities is the only way to enable them to recognize what exercises need to be done and skills need to be developed before winning the “big grade.”
Without growth in character and the ability to self reflect, neither students nor athletes can improve. Support and encouragement coupled with the consistent push to go beyond their current skill level are methods that both tutors and coaches utilize to motivate their students and athletes. A tutoring session should be like a training session: demanding, difficult, and uncomfortable. Students should have to try things that are slightly intimidating. They should be encouraged to move beyond what they know into a realm of uncertainty. And a tutor, just like a coach, should be there to challenge and to motivate students during the frustrating, sometimes unbearable “workouts” of academia. A tutor cannot ensure that the student will “win” or succeed, but a tutor knows precisely what’s needed to teach the student how to perform at an optimum level. And just like embarking on a new physical fitness program with a personal trainer, one tutoring session does not make a major difference in academic ability. A sound plan, along with continued effort on the student’s part, are also required for progress to be made. Once a trusting relationship is developed, students often achieve academic strength and confidence. Results may vary, but students can expect to get what they came for: a challenging exercise regimen for the mind that helps those who apply themselves become capable learners.