William, a Master of Strategic Communication graduate, recounted his experience in tutoring undergraduate students from various cultural backgrounds at The University of Western Australia. He also shared four major points that he learned from this tremendous experience.
During my time in Perth, I worked as an Academic Tutor for two semesters at The University of Western Australia (UWA). I tutored Consumer Behaviour Unit at UWA Business School to around 120 undergraduate students who came from different countries and cultural backgrounds. The main reason why I took this job is because I wrote two books about education. Also, the main reason why I wrote my two books is because I know there are so many things that teachers and schools in Indonesia could do better.
At first, I was a bit nervous standing in front of twenty students in each tutorial session and leading a discussion. I was just trying to do my best because number one, I did not want to let my students down, and number two because I thought it was the right time for me to walk my talk or to implement what I suggested in my two books. And honestly I didn’t notice that I have inspired my students until they write me their feedback. So, here we go, these are four things I learned and could share from my tutoring experience in Australia.
Tutoring is more than just delivering knowledge
The philosophy behind a tutorial session is to let students deepen their knowledge taught by the unit coordinator. It is expected for tutors to discuss one case study by using concepts or theories given in the latest lecturing session. I have no problem with this. However, I choose to walk extra miles. I know that it is expected for tutors to tick a box and work based on a checklist, but ticking a box is not how I do my job.
If better is possible, good is not enough. By leveraging my previous study (Bachelor of Communication Science), Master study (Master of Strategic Communication), and seven years of professional working experience in the communication-related areas, I shared real-world insights, intelligence, and lessons in order to connect my students with what they potentially do after they finish their study. I also encouraged them to know each other and learn each student’s cultural background because in a world where collaboration is highly valued, mastering cultural intelligence is necessary, and the good news is we could start it from the smallest scale in the classroom.
If I was just ticking a box, trust me that my students would not know how Indonesian culture (because I am from Indonesia) affects the way Indonesians make friends, do business, and solve problems. If I was just doing what I was expected to do without thinking about what I could contribute to my students’ cultural intelligence, my students would not first-handedly experience that people from Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Lebanon, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some African countries have unique worldviews that affect the way they live their lives.
Achievement is unequal to numbers
I am not writing this sentence to underestimate or generalise anyone, but I know that for some students, getting high marks is a sign of high achievement. I partially agree with this statement because on one hand high marks indicate that students have done their best on the exam. On the other hand, it is also important to realise that (sometimes) in Australia, questions on final exams are 100% generated from the textbook, which means that students with high memorisation skill are those who will be the top 10% of the best performers in class.
For me, memorising without understanding is useless. Memorising without being able to connect concepts or theories with real-world examples or cases is pointless. When I write this article, I can still remember some of my best students and I know that they didn’t get the best marks on their final exam or overall unit. But, when I interacted with them, I knew for sure that these students really understand what they’re talking about. And this matters more than a perfect score on the exam.
Every opinion matters
Not only my students, I believe that most people, including us, will feel appreciated if others listen to us. Listening skill is essential in many areas of our social lives. It helps us build trust and good relationships. No matter how good I am in tutoring or pedagogical methods or speaking in English, I did not think I would be possible to catch my students’ attention if they did not trust me in the first place.
The easiest way in building trust with basically everyone is to listen carefully and pay attention to what they say. And we also need to underline that we must have genuine intention when we do it. In my case, my intention is to know each of my students as a person who has feeling, personal goals, and different way of learning. I strongly hold this principle during my tutoring sessions and I give every student an equal room to express their opinion. When they had brilliant comments, I did not hesitate to applaud them. When they could not give good academic argument about a topic, instead of moving to other students, I gave them the second chance to say something based on their personal opinions (which I think is easier because everyone has opinion). This small practice really matters because it builds someone’s self-confidence to speak up and be different.
Tutoring is a simulation for leadership roles
There are ten sessions of tutorial in one semester, and I would not expect my students to always come to each session with the same level of excitement and thirst of knowledge. Some of them work part-time, some of them have other things to do outside their school hours, some of them might have family problems at home, and it comes back to me on how I manage my expectation to them and the other way around.
From my end, I always try to see the best in them. I send them weekly reminder about things they need to complete, answer their questions as soon as I can, and encourage them to send me email if there’s anything I could do to help them understand the unit better. Some days, good-performing students did not perform so well in our tutorial discussion, but I refrained myself from judging their whole performance based on one occasion. Similar to being a leader, being a tutor is all about fine-tuning the way we approach a problem. Good leaders understand the problems and find the solutions, not judge or expose others’ weaknesses. Good tutors should do this too.
Editor: Yogi Saputra Mahmud