Mar 21

Ask a Tutor Tuesday – 3/21/2017

Question: I work in a group home. What right do I have to “put my foot down” and make them work? If they say they don’t want to work, what can I do?

Cathie Alter: Working in a group home is very challenging. I find I have to build a relationship and gain their trust before they will participate in the tutoring session. It took me four months to get the student I’m currently working with to fully engage in our math tutoring sessions. I started out by finding something she did like, which was reading and history. Initially, we spent the full hour discussing books and talking about Thomas Jefferson. I gradually started to increase the amount of time we spent on math. We now spend at least 75% of our time working on math and 25% visiting. It took awhile, but it was worth it. Her math skills have improved, and I can tell she is proud of herself. I hope this helps.

Amanda Carr: It can be challenging to work with older students, especially if they are unmotivated. As a tutor, your primary purpose feels like it should be helping with schoolwork, so it can be frustrating when those plans are thwarted. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to help motivate high school students. However, you must keep in mind that School on Wheels tutors are in shelters to tutor and serve as mentors–not to discipline. Remember that many students have had bad experiences with teachers and adults, and they may also be ashamed of what they don’t know. You cannot ‘make’ a student work, but you can use some tactics to persuade them.

  1. Like Cathie said above, if a student doesn’t want to work on homework, don’t force it. Have a conversation about something else, and find out what they are interested in, whether it is books, music, sports, etc. You can then use this information in future sessions, perhaps bringing in an article in on the subject to discuss. Take time to build a relationship with them, and they will be much more likely to go along with tutoring.
  2. Use our BUS Program, which is a mentoring program designed to get students to think about life after high school, as well as encourage them to graduate. There are several activities, like the Career Zone Make Money Choices exercise, which shows how education influences lifetime finances and goals.This might work to motivate them to complete their homework.
  3. Let your student lead. Ask them to teach you something. They might be completely surprised about what they know–and surprise you with their enthusiasm, as well.

The most important thing to remember is that even if you can’t get your students to work on homework, you are modelling good behavior by being present with them every week. Be creative and be flexible, and don’t forget to have fun!

Cathie Alter has been a School on Wheels tutor for one year.  She is a former law firm Administrator and CPA.

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.

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