The Extra Mile
Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Tutor
In recent weeks, more than one conversation on the topic of compassion surfaced among tutors and, oddly enough, I am very fortunate in that I simply listened. Now, I fully understand that this comment is absolutely groundbreaking and will forever change your day in so few words, but, levity aside, how often do we really trek down that “extra mile” to better understand our students’ concerns? If only to be the proverbial shoulder for a few minutes’ time, I think we can all benefit from a trip down Humble Lane, and my voyage began with a student who certainly needed the few minutes of humanity that sometimes avoid us entirely.
I wish I had a long and detailed narrative to accompany this experience, but the student was unable to grasp the assignment instructions in their original format. Never have I felt so poorly as an academic than at that moment; likewise, never did I feel more of a responsibility to put myself in her shoes and take a few steps, if only for a second. The assignment itself was not to blame—nor the professor, which I find myself excited to admit. Instead, the problem here, and I am not so sure that it is so much of a problem as it is a simple oversight, reverts back to our distance and lack of a physical presence in front of students. The primary concern of this student stemmed from not feeling comfortable enough in the online classroom setting to pose the question, and, as I am roughly paraphrasing, speak confidently with the professor regarding said concern. So I began to wonder.
Like in a face-to-face setting, we interact with many different individuals, and I stress the term individuals for a reason, which becomes even more complicated with the great services that we provide; but that comes with a bit of fine print—right?
Both fortunately and unfortunately, we do not physically see these students’ emotions when their faces curl up in confusion regarding an assignment, a grade they do not agree with, or even a term we use in seminar that sounds more akin to a foreign language than our own. We simply do not have that consistency; unless, of course, all parties partake in the technology available, but again we cannot presuppose our students’ technology, again, due to distance.
That said, are we truly that unfortunate? As experts in this cacophony that we term as the Internet, I think it is becoming more of our responsibility to try and find that comfortable ground to help students actualize their goals. Sometimes, despite our wanting to do so, this includes rephrasing an entire assignment, on one’s own time, to better assist our students. To put the matter into context, think of it this way: Some assembly required. We all love to read that, right? Well our students’ needs sometimes take on an added clause, and maybe asking just a few more questions would open their minds up enough to feel comfortable in this online learning environment we have created. Surely the convenience of being primarily online comes with the added perks, so my challenge to all those teaching in this e-world of ours remains simple: Go that extra mile. Corny as it may well be, at the end of the day, just hearing the person’s voice change from absolute distress to a happy and content student justifies our work—and I think we all could use a but of sunshine during what appears to be the second ice age. Be the warming presence that our students will return to.
Absolutely! I think that your comment assists in defining that limbo most educators feel, or at the very least should feel, when dealing with difficult situations–and this extends across the university’s spectrum of learning, too. I like to think of it as taking my big step down from the proverbial high horse we often create. Much like when dealing with any situation, the benefits from being eye-level and understanding our students’ perspective–even if some may consider the methods of accomplishing the task slightly informal at times, a la emoticons, for example–far outweighs the negativity associated with being unprofessional.
Thanks, again 🙂 See! It’s not so informal all the time.
I struggle with a similar tension between praise for convenience and sorrow over lack of connection when working with students online. What I find particularly challenging is that the habits I use to connect with others in informal contexts, like personal social media accounts, are considered unprofessional in a corporate educational setting. Emoticons showing a smile in emails, laughing with a student over a voice chat, or reassuring a student in a chat room when they type “I’m crying right now so it’s taking me longer to type” (true story) are not part of the dominant narrative of effective, professional tutoring. These seemingly unprofessional communications are part of the reality, at least as necessary, because I do not want to come across as cold or uninviting. (I also wonder if this is a gendered tension, rooted in my feelings as a female educator about being a “good hostess” for students seeking my help, but that’s a whole other conversation.)
I’m really happy this helped! Sometimes even the simplest of gestures makes the world of difference. Stay positive and keep helping those students to the best of your ability 🙂 Thanks!
Kyle, thanks for this quick reminder to me to let my students know at the beginning of the term that if something arises in the seminar they can chat with me privately and the other students will not see the question or comment. Needed that thanks for the blog!