The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

Reinforced class instruction

Rushing through course material, not skipping a beat, leaves some students sitting at home lost and confused after a class.

Representative of the many sessions English Teacher and tutor Mark Mazzenga has with the students he tutors, he starts by identifying the issue that needs to be tackled. Once the issue is clear, Mazzenga spends time talking the problem through.

After the exchange goes on for a while,  Mazzenga shows the student what they said. “Look at all the stuff you said, let’s start thinking about how you can turn that into [something]” he said.

The clouded expression that was initially across the student’s face starts to lift and the ideas start to flow.

For Mazzenga, a tutor’s job “is to help, and support each students dependent on [his or her] various needs.” The emphasis being on support as Mazzenga explained “my job is not to make sure that the homework assignment is necessarily completed to get an A, my job is to take that homework assignment as a platform, so that they can learn the basic skills and develop those basic skills that need developing.”

Emmet Keeffe (’17), who is tutored in Spanish, agreed with Mazzenga. “[My tutor] never does my work, which I know people who have had that happen but usually he’s just kind of there to back me up if I have a question or if there is a new concept that I don’t understand,” Keeffe said.

With Mazzenga it can be as simple as asking “Hey, do we have a folder for this?” Or, “‘Have you completed these assignments?’ And other times it involves prioritization of work, and talking through difficult ideas that they are struggling to get onto paper.”

English Teacher Kimbalena Zeineddine sees that tutoring is additional support that works in tandem with what she teaches in the classroom. “On occasion there are students who need to have their skills bolstered or knowledge bolstered in certain areas, so in that case it may need to go beyond just supporting what is happening in the classroom,” she said.

That very case is where tutors like Mazzenga come and lend support to students. “I can really slow down the process and break it down for them in a way that a classroom teacher may not be able to because of time constraints,” he said. “I can individualize something based on a student’s particular [needs].” The individualization that Mazzenga refers to is one of the many distinguishing features of tutoring, as unlike teaching in the classroom, a tutor can cater individual learning profiles.

Zeineddine has no problem with students receiving help on their homework assignments for rudimentary tasks like editing and organization, however she explained that, “when [a tutor] starts dictating ideas and you can obviously tell this isn’t exactly the way that particular student [writes],” it becomes a problem. The issue with this is that it obscures the actual level of comprehension of that student to their teacher.

Keeffe concurred with Zeineddine saying that it would be inappropriate for his tutor to do school work for him. “When they start literally doing the problems, or they tell you what to say, it becomes an issue. If you have the ideas and you know how you want to say it and their just there to double check what you are doing, that is what a tutor should be for.”

Unfortunately, Zeineddine, and other teachers in the school have been in the position where a student’s work was heavily altered or even completed by a tutor.

Keeffe also believes that there is a culture at the school where some students have excessive amounts of tutors who do work for them. “Some kids use their tutor way too much and if you were to remove their tutor you would see the difference,” Keeffe said.

While this has happened to Zeineddine, she has faith that the systems in place have the best intention of giving a student the support they require. In fact, the process of acquiring a tutor is a formal process dealt with by the Student Support Team, made up of admin members, primarily deans, lead by Psychologist Helen Jackson.

The process of recommending tutoring to a student is scrupulous, and students must meet a particular criteria. Grade 11 Dean Jennifer Craig explained that tutors are recommended when a student is struggling in a isolated area of study.

“If there is one specific place that we are really, really concerned with and it seems to be limited to that one area, then often we will meet as a small group, the SST,” Craig said. The SST will investigate how specific the concern is by meeting with all of the student’s teachers. If the SST finds that the issue is specific and there are “fundamental gaps” in the students learning, then a recommendation for a tutor is often made.

Craig said that, “It’s not that hard to get [a tutor],” and although they do not always approve requests, most often denied applications are because of communication, or lack thereof between the student and teacher. “There have been kids this year, eleventh graders [who are requesting tutoring] where I have said, ‘well have you actually met with your teacher?’ And they will say ‘no’.” In this type of situation they “just needed extra help”, which is obtainable through communication with the teacher as opposed to acquiring a tutor.

Zeineddine echoed this point saying she has experienced students not using teachers as their number one resource. “I get the sense that some [students] are reluctant to go to the teacher and would rely on a tutor,” she said.

While all students are requested to declare to the school that they do have a tutor, receiving tutoring on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT are out of the school’s jurisdiction.

Ariadne Papamarkakis (’17), is one of many students who sees a tutor outside of school in preparation for standardized testing. With the SAT changing in 2017, Papamarkakis has made the decision to “push” to take the test a year early. Because of this, she feels some extra support from a tutor is necessary.

Papamarkakis believes success on the SAT is possible without a tutor, however, having one relieves a great deal of pressure. “It depends what time you want to put into it yourself, ” she said, explaining that it can be difficult to complete practice tests without the additional incentive a tutor offers.

Papamarkakis has also noticed a stigma attached to having tutors within the High School. “I think having a tutor in general is kind of looked down upon because you need outside help to do well,” she said.

Both Keeffe and Papamarkakis identified that having a tutor can be an unfair advantage. “It is easier for a student who uses a tutor to get a higher grade, but then again, if that student needs extra help then it is fair, it levels the playing field,” Keefe said.

Mazzenga thinks of it differently. “I understand that we are a college preparatory school and there is a sense of competition, but [for me it is] about the individual student and the individual progress that they need to make as a students.”

Mazzenga understands that tutoring is just bringing a student into an environment where they may be able to learn more successfully. “They are not getting an advantage per se, they are learning an important academic and life skill that every student needs to learn.”

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