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Davis, California

Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Philosophy of Education: Private tutors

Almost all of us have seen the advertisements for paid tutors around campus charging $30 or more per hour. Frequently, those advertisements are missing many of the tear-off contact info strips, indicating interest in their services.

However, professors and TAs offer office hours for free. Why, then, do we hire private tutors who know only the general subject, not the specific material presented in the class?

While private tutors can be useful, they should be a last resort after we have tried the professor and TAs. However, many of us make excuses to ourselves instead of giving office hours a chance first.

Many of us turn to one-on-one, paid tutors out of fear that we cannot get personal assistance in office hours because we will not be the only one there. However, we do not know how many people will be there until we show up. If other students are there, most of the time, we benefit from their questions.

In addition, if we have the courage to ask, many professors will make personal appointments outside of normal office hours.

In the rare case where we go several times and office hours are constantly too full, private tutors can help. However, we should go to office hours several times before we draw that conclusion.

Sometimes, we feel or are told by friends that, while we can get personal help, a certain professor or TA cannot teach effectively and thus going to office hours wastes our time.

However, we forget that a professor’s inability to teach us in a lecture hall of hundreds of students does not mean the professor cannot teach us one-on-one. Teaching hundreds of students at once is incredibly difficult; few have that gift.

For example, if a professor has a thick accent and we cannot understand what is said in lecture, we will find it much easier to understand when we are physically closer in office hours and can ask the professor to repeat what they said if we missed a word, which we cannot do in lecture.

Some professors and TAs really cannot teach, which is where private tutors can be useful, but we should give each professor and TA a chance first instead of judging them based on past experiences, word of mouth or ratemyprofessor.com.

To give professors or TAs a chance, we must ask for help, which embarrasses many of us and makes us feel foolish. Most professors and TAs will not belittle us for our ignorance; the fear is only in our minds. Most of them sincerely want us to learn and will spend their time teaching us if we have the courage to ask.

Perhaps one in five will show that they are busy and just want us to leave, but we should give each one a fair chance and not judge them all by the actions of a few. In those rare cases, private tutors can be useful. However, if we go with the attitude of finding fault or arrogance in professors or TAs, we will find what we look for regardless of if the professor wants to help us, feeding the cycle of fear and judgment.

However, while most professors want us to learn, office hours are not for repeating what was said in lecture. When we ask for this, we show that we have not made an effort on our own first.

Our education is our responsibility; nobody can help us unless we first try to help ourselves. Showing this laziness frustrates even the best professors and TAs. When we see this frustration, we call even the most helpful ones arrogant, unhelpful or unable to teach, instead of realizing our own faults.

Thus, we think every professor and TA cannot teach, so we give up on office hours entirely for every class and turn to private tutors who will coddle us to keep us coming and paying, even though that is not in our best interest.

Instead, we should make our best effort to understand the material ourselves and only then go to office hours when we cannot understand a specific idea. By doing so, we go with specific, detailed questions that show the professor we want to learn and are trying our best to do so.

When most professors see that determination, they will go out of their way to help us. However, we must first show them our drive to learn.

To share your experiences with private tutors, contact WILLIAM CONNER at wrconner@ucdavis.edu.