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Tutoring Physics? (one bad experience, need to improve)

  1. Apr 4, 2015 #1
    So I am looking for advice from anyone really, especially ones from experienced teaching experience.

    I've been tutoring this past year, part time. Most of my students are very happy with me and we have a great tutor/student relationship.

    There was one student I met with only 4 times. Twice for math and twice for physics. The student met only because he wanted to learn some materials that he missed in class. He was sick and had to miss about a week of school. I thought we were doing great because his mom always emails with feedback. She said her son was happy and was receiving good grades! He seemed to be interested in physics too because he wants to be an engineer.

    The last time we met was for a huge exam he was going to have- A mock AP Physics exam. For some reason, he forgot everything we covered in the past. He forgot all the concepts, formulas, as well as dealing with fractions. I thought he was nervous, so I started off on conceptual questions (while also working on boosting his confidence). Once he and I felt confident about those, I gave him some questions that require calculations. I noticed that he was very very slow with the calculations. He did know how to solve algebraic equations ( i.e 2x+4 = 6), he did not know how to do ".5x4" without a calculator, and he forgot all his trig. I was getting worried and spent a good chunk of the session doing math problems as well with simple numbers. This was an extended session and we covered a lot of material. He felt good after the session was over and I felt that he was much better the concepts too. I gave him some tips on reviewing his math as well +additional problems. I always gave room for him to ask questions + give comments for me as well.

    I never heard back from the mom, but I heard from a third party that he had failed the exam and the parents blamed me for it. The reason he failed was because he had trouble with the math because I encouraged him to do math without a calculator. He also memorized the problems I worked on with him and tried to solve other problems the same way, which is not something I encouraged him to do.

    Of course I felt terrible that he failed and I am no longer his tutor anymore. What can I do to improve? I do not want to discourage students...


    Edit: I know you can use calculator on AP PHysics exam, but I thought it would be good for him to able to some simple math stuff ( i.e 2x25, 1/3 ( 12) ). I guess I was wrong.

    Edit: I tutored him for pre-calc, and he understood it very well. He enjoyed our sessions and did well on his exams. His trouble seems to be with algebra and fractions/multiplying numbers(because he got used to using a calculator too much).
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 4, 2015 #2

    jedishrfu

    Staff: Mentor

    This is not your fault. I tutored my friend many years ago in math. His Mom paid me to teach but my friend never wanted to meet on a regular basis only right before a test. He flunked and his mom blamed me until I told her what had happened. Needless to say I wouldn't tutor him again. He just didn't like math but he was great at drawing. He could have been good at biology too but the math held him back.

    In your case, the student got stressed over the big exam and stress causes you to lose concentration, memory... And then you flunk the test. There was nothing you could do. It may also have been that the parents but a big burden on the student with expectations to pass with the highest of marks.
     
  4. Apr 4, 2015 #3

    OldEngr63

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    Do not take it to heart too much. You cannot win them all. Some will do well, irrespective of what you do, and others will fail, again, irrespective of what you do. Do the best you can, and let the failures move on to someone else to try.
     
  5. Apr 4, 2015 #4

    Redbelly98

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    Having tutored for 7 years myself, I had a range from 1-timers to a couple families that hired me over several years as various siblings went through high school. At some point, I accepted that I didn't necessarily connect with everybody equally well. My "retention rate" for keeping clients did steadily improve over the years.

    It's good to continually ask yourself what can you do to improve, but if most of your clients are happy then I'd say don't worry to much about it. It sounds like this student was really weak on doing basic arithmetic, and probably that one tutoring session was not enough to break him of relying on the calculator as a crutch.
     
  6. Apr 4, 2015 #5

    jedishrfu

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    One of my sons tutors had a great system. When you showed up you did 15 minute quiz while he tutored another student. Tutoring began with reviewing the quiz.
     
  7. Apr 4, 2015 #6

    Fredrik

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    If you only met him 4 times, there's no way you could have done things much better. If you had seen him 20 times, then I would have said that your mistake was to not notice earlier that he needed help with fractions and simple algebra.

    When you get called in to help out only with the final preparations for the exam, there isn't much you can do other than to show him how to solve problems that he isn't able to solve himself.

    You're right to encourage him to do those things without a calculator. But perhaps you should also have encouraged him to use the calculator to check his results.
     
  8. Apr 4, 2015 #7

    WWGD

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    Some people just want to blame . I tutored someone from my school _for free_ for 5 months ( he was down on his luck) for an exam. I made plenty of suggestions, none of which he followed, even bought him food at times. He failed the exam and blamed it on me. He failed at least 2 other exams while in school. I refused to talk to him since, and I openly ignore him when I see him, even when we meet in mixed company. I have tutored many for a long time, have had referrals, no complaints other than this guy. Like someone else said, as long as most of your students are O.K with your work, that is the best you can realistically aim for.
     
  9. Apr 4, 2015 #8
    Thanks for all the replies anyone! I was just a bit upset that the mother didn't contact me regarding her son's performance. I would have listened to her/his POV as well as share my observations of his performance during sessions. I want to be prepared for this stuff for the future too.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences as well, I guess there are some people who just like to blame instead of stepping back to see things with perspective.
     
  10. Apr 4, 2015 #9

    symbolipoint

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    Unmistakably there are three types of students to tutor:
    • Those who do not need any and are already great at the subject.
    • Those who need help but are unprepared to use tutorial advice or are unwilling to cooperate.
    • Those who need the help and actually benefit from tutoring and often recognize their own improvement from the tutoring.
    .
     
  11. Apr 4, 2015 #10
    A lyric from a song I like is maybe relevant:
    ....

    Don't be sad
    I just wannna see you get through
    All I have
    It's yours if you think it helps you

    Good or bad
    There's no one can really judge you
    You just have
    To come to your own conclusion
     
  12. Apr 5, 2015 #11

    SteamKing

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    You can be the best tutor in the world, but you can't make up for your pupil's having missed getting an education in the first place, especially the basics, like arithmetic.

    Your pupil's parents may be mad at you, but it wasn't your responsibility to make sure their child was receiving a proper education in his earlier classes. Apparently, they either did not check that their child was being adequately prepared or they relied on assurances from his school and teachers that everything was OK with his studies.

    It's an unusually hard test which makes you forget how to do 2 + 2, unless you didn't learn it in the first place. o_O
     
  13. Apr 5, 2015 #12

    WWGD

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    Sorry for the sour grapes. Fortunately this was just a single case of out of more than a hundred. Hopefully you, nor anyone else will run into something similar.
     
  14. Apr 5, 2015 #13

    symbolipoint

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    Mostly empty hope. Students and their parents often enough go to a tutor when the student is having trouble, at time when the help comes too late, or the student not prepared or not motivated.
     
  15. Apr 5, 2015 #14
    Thanks again for the replies everyone! I often get students who come just for an exam and they are usually in panic mode and more interested in memorizing things instead of learning.

    I have a couple of students, who I meet every week, and these students are especially interested in learning and will do the extra problems I give them. =) Something I noticed is that some parents do not notice the kid's struggles in school or do not enforce studying time or something at school. These parents are the ones that tend to complain, I feel.

    I don't mean to parent blame...
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2015
  16. Apr 6, 2015 #15

    vela

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    One thing you can do in the future is ask the parents and student what exactly they expect to get out of tutoring. If their expectations are wacko, you can try bring them back to reality or run away. You can also let them know what you expect from the student.
     
  17. Apr 6, 2015 #16

    symbolipoint

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    bluechic92,
    Also along those lines, write a statement about the tutoring you provide. What courses and levels do YOU tutor, and what constitutes YOUR TUTORING service. Learn to tell in a brief, accurate speech what it is you do as a tutor.
     
  18. Apr 10, 2015 #17
    I have been wondering about something somewhat similar to this too. I tutor a student in algebra who does very well when we work through problems from one section at a time, like what they're working on in class, but when they have tests he usually gets low C's. I think perhaps it's that he's able to do problems of a certain kind one right after another but when there are multiple problem types on a test then he doesn't remember which "technique" to use where, whereas to me, they're all part of the same idea, so I have a tough time breaking down the different cases (for example, in simplifying expressions with exponents.) Tutoring is hard work!
     
  19. Apr 10, 2015 #18

    symbolipoint

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    At least some of us, or many of us, were like that. Experience is needed. Reviewing is useful. Does anyone study a concept or techninque just one time and then always know when or how to choose what to do?
     
  20. Apr 10, 2015 #19
    I always get students who meet me right before exams or right when they are on the brink of trouble, it's hard to teach them in this state. I decided that I will always focus on encouraging them to become more self-motivated to work out more problems and think through techniques instead of memorizing.
     
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