January 18, 2018

Tutor your way into work experience and the job market!

Tutor your way into work experience - photo copywrite 2012 Rick Sherrell

Here is a student question I received in person at the end of one of my “Chatty Professor” college presentations:

“I’m in an Intermediate Calculus class and am acing it. I feel like going to class isn’t worth it. I could just go on test days and be fine. I talked to the instructor and he sort of said that would be okay. My mom does not think it’s okay. What do I do to make my mom happy, but not have to sit through a class where I already know what’s going on?”

Now, I get that many students only wish that they could be in this position, right? I empathize with this student. It is frustrating to feel like you are wasting time in a class when you are solid about what you’re learning. Here is my response:

The student did the absolute right thing going straight to the instructor and telling that person what was going on. You can say, “This information is really easy to me. I’m getting through the assignments and tests with no trouble and getting all A’s.” (Goes without saying that you should have proof of this in the instructor’s grade book).

You can also ask, “Does the college offer a test-out option or would your department consider creating one?” (My college does not offer a test-out option in speech, but our department has discussed developing one for our public speaking course, so it is reasonable to at least ask, even if the possibility doesn’t exist at that moment).

I do not think bailing on the class time is the best move, particularly when a student can use his/her command of the subject to a serious advantage. How? By becoming a teaching assistant–and boosting experience and resume content! Say to the instructor, “Maybe I can be of help to you. I could work with a group of students who are struggling.” The instructor may even ask you to help with other class-related activities or assignments. The possibilities are wide open!

Let’s say the instructor doesn’t need your help or won’t take it. That doesn’t mean you can’t start your own underground movement to assist others in your class. You can chat with your fellow students or send an e-mail through a course management system letting others know you are available.

Then, you can ask the instructor, “Is there a tutoring or resource center where I can help students who are taking other classes?” This broadens your base of help and you could even earn some money for your tutoring services!

I had a student, Spencer Wright, who took several of my courses and was a masterful writer/speech outliner. He got a job working in my college’s Writing Center and, lucky me, Spencer was assigned as the first student to help with both English and Communication classes! This meant that my students could make an appointment with Spencer and gain his help with their outlines. Spencer was crazy-busy that term; my students flocked to him before sending their outlines to me for review. The students who saw Spencer had some of the best speech content. I felt so lucky to have a student working behind the scenes to help my class. I valued his input more than I can adequately express!

Could you be getting some extra sleep rather than going to this class that you could ace in your sleep? Sure. Could you be hanging out on campus and making new friends? Of course. Could you be spending your time working on another class that you are struggling with? Absolutely.

But think about this: Knowing and being able to apply what you know–and seeing proof of that via rock-star grades–is excellent. Explaining what you know to others, helping them process information and apply it, will cement your knowledge and expand your communication ability in ways that will make you that much more excellent… and increasingly employable!

It’s work experience while you’re in college!

(Have I previously reported in this blog how important communication ability is in the workplace? Oh, wait… Yes, I have!).

Two quick end-notes to these tips:

First, make sure that in the midst of helping others that you don’t fall behind in your own work. Reel in your time if you suddenly find that you are struggling to maintain those A’s or are suffering in another class.

Next, a few weeks before the class ends, ask your instructor for a letter of recommendation. I wrote suggestions for starting this conversation for MyCollegeGuide.org not long ago. This should be an easy write for the instructor since you’ve not only done great work, but you’ve helped others improve, too! This is one letter that can speak directly to both your academic and professional talent, so grab it before you leave that class!

So how did my advice go over with the student? Really well, actually! The student’s entire face sort of lit up after I made the suggestion that he stay in the class and become the teacher’s right hand man. He said he hadn’t considered such an idea before and he was going to check out the possibility.

I bet his mom was proud!

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About the Author: Ellen Bremen (17 Posts)

Ellen Bremen is tenured faculty at Highline Community College and the author of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success (NorLights Press, April 2012). Ellen stops at nothing to help students strengthen their communication skills: Peanut butter and jelly to illustrate problematic messages, pipe cleaners to teach communication models, and Post-it notes to reduce speaking anxiety. Ellen holds degrees in Post-Secondary Education and Communication. As an interpersonal communication expert, Ellen has watched students struggle to navigate their classes, especially their communication with professors. Ellen's goal? To help students correctly--not cluelessly--speak/deal with those who teach them. The outcome? Better student-prof relationships, improved grades, and confident and competent communication skills for college and beyond. Ellen's philosophy: College is THE safe training ground for students to practice and hone assertive and professional communication skills. Then, students can transition this sought-after skill to their professional and personal lives. Ellen looks forward to answering students' simple and complex questions about communication in college, and particularly professor-related challenges.

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