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Three Myths About Tutors That Are Just Plain Wrong

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Tutors might be a bit of an enigma on our college campuses, but they don’t need to be. Strikingly smart and dynamically talented, these students spend part of their college career supporting the success of their peers through academic and other coaching.

This help is often quiet, though; it’s not on the front lines for all to see or celebrated at end-of-year banquets. As a result, we may not know a lot about the tutors who help other students achieve and excel.

We know there are benefits for students to work with a peer tutor and to serve as a peer tutor, but what is there to know about tutors themselves? Let’s start by busting three myths about tutors and uncover important truths to better appreciate and understand these peer support superheroes.

Myth #1: Tutors are good at hard skills, but not soft skills

Tutors could not be tutors if they didn’t excel in the classroom. Yes, they are good at “hard skills” such as foreign language proficiency or solving complex math or science problems, but it is a mistake to assume that is where all of their strengths reside. Stereotypes could include believing tutors have books smarts, but not people skills, that they are serious but not creative, or that they are introverts or shy (which are two different things).

Tutors show us, though, a wealth of both hard and soft skills in a beautifully blended way. After all, tutoring is relationship-based as much as it is transactional-based, so soft-skills are not only needed to attract and retain students but these soft skills strengthen over time with the repeated opportunities in the tutoring role. In fact, the University of Hawai’i Community College notes the benefits of tutoring include psychological insight and skill acquisition/reinforcement in soft skill areas. Of course, NACE provides its eight career readiness competencies, many of which are soft skills tutors are able to hone through helping their peers.

Consider also the vulnerability that comes in the learning process as students struggle with confidence or motivation in certain subjects. Tutors give encouragement and reassurance, provide feedback, and create learning goals and plans to increase a student’s confidence and ability over time. All of this is soft-skill related— they could not be achieved without being in-tune with the needs of others and being able to meet those needs.

Indeed, tutoring is not only a way to develop many of the soft skills needed before graduation, but tutoring programs steeped in soft skills and current trends can demonstrate for tutors how their work is connected to growth in the soft skills desired by the workforce.

Myth #2: Tutors only care about academics, but aren’t connected/involved on campus

Some mistakenly assume tutors only care about academic life and spend all their time studying rather than being connected or involved on campus. This stereotype may classify intelligent students as loners or not very social— that they either don’t desire or are not skilled at being involved in the community with their peers. We don’t think this of teachers who teach full-time, so why would we think it about tutors?

While it’s true that tutors are typically excellent students who care about academics, they also care about helping others. By the nature of their work, tutors support their peers to try new things and experiment with new ways of thinking, step outside of their comfort zones, and be open-minded. Certainly tutors have become proficient in their areas from challenging themselves in these ways, so it is a gift they share when they inspire peers to do the same. Tutors are champions of student success on our campuses who care about learning but also care about people.  

It is also true that tutors can be found across campus involved in a variety of ways. This might be in intramurals, fraternity and sorority life, religious involvement, other clubs and organizations, as well as in other leadership roles as a Resident Assistant, Orientation Leader, or in Student Government. Tutor headshots and bios (check out examples from Emporia State University or Carthage College) are great in helping students understand that tutors are connected to the campus community. In fact, programs that include easily accessible, engaging and/or interactive tutor profiles allow tutors to share about themselves. This makes tutors more approachable to their peers and can possibly increase help-seeking behavior of students for these services.  

Myth #3: Tutors are too behind-the-scenes to be considered student leaders

We usually use the term “student leader” for a student who is elected to a leadership position in a campus club or organization, or an active and involved member who supports the group’s philanthropy, service, or awareness efforts. They might also be in a paid student leadership role, like a Resident Assistant. Their role may indeed be focused on leading their peers, so it’s easy to see why the traditional view of “student leader” fits. They are marked by their visibility on campus as well as their contribution.

Leadership, however, is not about visibility— it’s about impact. Leadership does not have to be loud to be important and it doesn’t have to be on a stage to make a difference. The work of tutors may be unassuming and inconspicuous, but it is no less vital. Leaders are agents of change, and tutors are some of the biggest agents of change on campus. Consider, for example, this study from The National Tutoring Association (NTA) that showed coached students were 5 percentage points more likely to persist in college, representing a 9-12 percent increase in retention. Coached students also had graduation rates four percentage points higher than other students after four years. Helping lead peers to receiving a degree illustrates some of the best that student leadership has to give.