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Academic Tutoring

Between the Fall of 2020 and Spring of 2021, I served as an academic tutor at the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes (ASPSA) of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I tutored Portuguese and guided study sessions.

Tutor

This experience represented many ‘firsts’ for me, which posed significant challenges (especially when I first started) but also made me grow significantly as a teacher. For one, it was my first time teaching a foreign language. It became very clear to me that there is a wide rift between knowing a language and knowing how to teach a language. Because Portuguese was my first language, I learned it so organically (and so long ago) that I have internalized many of its quirks, which distanced me from the perspective of someone who is learning it for the first time. I knew I had to try to counteract this as best as I could before I started tutoring. Thankfully, my coursework at Auburn had given me a solid pedagogical background. As a refresher, I reread Lightbrown and Spada’s (2006) How Languages are Learned, which I had been introduced to during an Applied Linguistics course. On the practical side of things, I studied Jouët-Pastré et al. (2013) textbook Ponto de Encontro, which was what my students used for their Portuguese UNC coursework.

I knew, however, that it was impossible to fully prepare myself. This was even more true due to the nature of tutoring: my sessions depended entirely on what students needed at the moment; no two sessions were exactly the same. Especially in the beginning, I relied very heavily on Ponto de Encontro. If a student asked me something I didn’t knew, I didn’t try to pretend that I did; I wrote the question down, looked it up after the session, and got back to the student in our next meeting. As time went on, I learned what questions to expect most often and was able to come up with my own exercises and ways of teaching.

I was also able to put in practice a lot of what I had learned in my Applied Linguistics course. As an example, suppose students wanted to prepare for a speaking test. If a student asked for help with pronouncing specific words, knowing about phonology allowed me to look for the phoneme in the English language and use that to help them. I could point out, for instance, that the ‘j’ in ‘José’ is pronounced the same way as the ‘si’ in ‘confusion’, and thus frame the task in terms of sounds the student already knew how to pronounce, even if these sounds were represented using different letters.

Other ‘firsts’: this was my first time facilitating sessions exclusively via Zoom. I had had experience with Zoom before, but this experience required me to use all of its features (like screen sharing, meeting rooms, raising hands, private chatting, and whiteboards) to promote a fruitful learning environment. But, to me, the real challenge had less to do with the software and more with teaching online–more specifically, teaching online in a time of constant, never-before-seen change. For many colleges and universities in the US, the fall of 2020 was the first semester where classes were taught fully online. How to keep students engaged? What to do if a student loses connection? What if a student couldn’t get work done due to a personal emergency? Learning to deal with all of this made me a more adaptable teacher. Last but not at least, this was my first time teaching student-athletes. As I met week after week with my students, I learned about the constant pressures they face, both athletically and academically. Understanding these pressures, and the strain they place in the students, made me better connect with them and grow to be a more empathetic and understanding teacher.

ePortfolio Program Assistant

For two years, I served as a program assistant at the ePortfolio Project at Auburn University. Most of my responsibilities involved supporting our student population as they developed their ePortfolios, which are personal websites aimed at professional audiences (. To that end, I facilitated several workshops and presentations, and helped my coworkers run several student programs.

Most of the workshops I facilitated were designed to introduce students to the ePortfolio or to help them with specific aspects of ePortfolio creation, such as setting up a platform (we used Wix, Weebly, and Wordpress), writing reflections, and choosing what experiences to showcase. These workshops ranged from 50-minute introductory workshops to a series of six 90-minute workshops designed to help students create a working draft of their ePortfolios from scratch. I also facilitated one-on-one, student-directed tutoring sessions in which I provided technical support or gave feedback on student ePortfolios.

Teaching

At Auburn, the ePortfolio Project is part of the University Writing initiative. As a result, I also taught several workshops that focused on English academic writing. These workshops included using feedback for revision, reading difficult materials, crafting personal statements, and writing literature reviews. I also participated in several events and career fairs on campus, where I introduced students (and, sometimes, parents!) to University Writing.

Teaching was the most rewarding part of my work at the ePortfolio Project. I loved interacting with and learning from my students, so I actively sought to take on as many workshops and presentations as I could. This meant that sometimes I was teaching something for the first time, or presenting on topics I wasn’t intimately familiar with before. To prepare, I sought the advice of my coworkers, who always gave me facilitation tips or introduced me to supplementary material that I could study. I also practiced my delivery several times: I found it helpful to practice enough so that I had a rough idea of what to say, but no so much that it became a script.

My time with the ePortfolio Project taught me much of what I know about teaching. I learned to make lesson plans that balanced lecturing, class participation, and activities. I learned to efficiently carry out these plans, with the most interesting experiences happening when I had to adjust on the fly, like when a great question or an enriching discussion came up and I had to consider how long to let it happen, when to get back to the original lesson plan, and what changes to the lesson plan I would need to make.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.
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