Saint Mary's University Writing Centre

Halifax, NS


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So what did you expect? Confessions of a confused tutor

Roberto Montiel, Saint Mary’s University

Expectations, so many of them, everywhere—and we, tutors, aren’t immune. It is good to have them, we might think, for they are like compasses to our actions. Yes. Yet, while initially invigorating, these expectations often prove a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they may inspire us as tutors to walk the extra mile so as to excel at our job. On the other, they can be a constant source of disappointment, particularly when we discover that our expectations fail to match the reality of our sessions. As John Trimbur suggests, those tutors who find their expectations shattered within the first weeks of tutoring tend to turn their hopes into feelings of despondent self-doubt, flagrant cynicism or overwhelming guilt (21-22). These feelings are likely to emerge when the tutor’s expectations are set by the tutor their self. The more personal the expectation gets, the more unrealistic it tends to be, and the more likely the originally excited tutor will end up a disappointed fellow. Yes, this might be why so many of the current debates about peer tutoring consider the relationship between the tutor’s expectations and the tutor’s performance as an integral part of what it means to be a tutor (Corbett; Galbraith & Winterbottom; Leung; Moussu).

Unrealistic expectations, nonetheless, are very common in peer tutoring for the simple reason that this kind of expectations abound in young people (Arnett 1-7). Unrealistic expectations are the matter of which youth is made. Some tutors, for instance, may find the urge to do something meaningful not only for their tutees but also for the English written language itself (Trimbur 21). Although a very noble expectation, this is way beyond the powers of a tutor and, it could be said, of any writing centre—maybe even beyond the powers of higher education. Continue reading