A guest post from Natalie Coston:
Every Monday morning, I start my week sitting at my desk and waiting for the familiar voice that I have come to know so well over the years. My tutoring student walks in and greets me with a huge and cheery “Good morning!” I respond in turn and we get to work, pulling apart and making sense of the current topic that is giving her trouble. And every now and then during a tutoring session, I get a sense of overwhelming satisfaction and gratification. My name is Natalie and I am currently a fourth year graduate student in the Math Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Although I have been tutoring for a long time, since I have started graduate school my tutoring has become so much more valuable to me than the extra income it generates. I think private tutoring has great benefits and I highly recommend it.
For me, private tutoring provides an opportunity to connect with students in a way I don’t in the classroom. In tutoring a student, I get to know their strengths and weaknesses as well as who they are as a person. I try to encourage the idea that they are allowed to make mistakes with me; I am not grading them, only trying to help them learn. This mentality creates an environment very different from that of a classroom, and it is one I enjoy very much. Through tutoring, I get to help students make connections, and I get to see their eyes and brains light up when some topic finally falls into place.
When I tutor I also get to revisit old material. I would say I wasn’t truly comfortable with Green’s Theorem, flux integrals, or parameterizing a surface until I tutored multivariate calculus. In addition, every time I tutor a class I get a little something new out of it. Whether it’s viewing a technique in a new light after seeing something I thought I didn’t understand in that differential geometry class last year or finding a new way of explaining a topic, I can feel my knowledge base expanding every time I tutor a subject. It also helps me see that I am getting smarter and making progress. That little reminder that I do know something can really be helpful when I am struggling with my own research.
Getting paid to do something I spend my time doing anyway (math) isn’t too bad either. Graduate students typically don’t make huge amounts of money, so tutoring from time to time for all that extra coffee I buy can really help alleviate financial pressure. As a graduate student, my time is valuable to me, but getting paid to talk to someone about math feels well worth my time.
That being said, my favorite part of tutoring by far is sharing my knowledge with someone who wants to learn. Being able to pass my knowledge onto someone is an incredible feeling. Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of tutoring one student in particular in many different classes. I have seen her grow academically, watched her succeed and fail, and watched her keep reaching for more knowledge through it all. To know that I had the privilege of helping her foster her love of math and of learning is more valuable than the money made.
So often in graduate school, it is easy to forget that we are learning, that we are making progress, or to forget why we like math in the first place. For me, tutoring is a way to remind myself why I am here and why I love math. And hey, if I make a little extra spending money, that doesn’t hurt either.