There are several good reasons to hire a tutor. You may want to catch up in a class or a subject where you have fallen behind, get help on a particularly difficult assignment, or advance in an area where you are especially skilled. There are also things tutors are not there to do, such as write your academic or professional reports for you, babysit your children, or serve as customers for your business.
And there are a few things tutors shouldn’t do. Here are some signs the tutor you are working with is dishonest, unqualified, or unsafe to be around.
They’re secretive about their degree, relevant training, or other qualifications
There is a lot of information about a person that is confidential. Their academic degrees and other qualifications for a job they’re asking you to pay them to do is not among that information. There may be a completely legitimate reason for why you cannot see the degree hanging up on the wall. Some people do not care to display them. Others lose them due to things like flooded basements or chaotic moves. But the tutor should not refuse to talk about why they are qualified to tutor you in the subject they claim expertise in, talk down to you when you ask, or give vague answers like, “I have some experience in math,” when you ask them if they’re the certified high school math teacher you mean to hire to tutor your child.
The person is “running up the clock” in an online tutoring platform that pays by the hour
Many online tutoring platforms pay tutors by the hour they spend tutoring, with the amount doled out by the minute or other partial measurement. If the pay rate is $16 per hour, this means the time clock starts when the tutor enters a paid lesson, and 27 cents is added on to the amount for each minute. If a student only needs help for half an hour, the tutor makes $8 for that session. If they have a quick question and only need 15 minutes, the tutor in that situation would earn $4.
Students and/or parents should have control over when the lesson begins and ends. If a student seems to not understand that they need to end the lesson, an honest tutor will end the lesson when they see that the student is finished with the session. It is also dishonest to insist the student sit and listen to an unwanted lecture, stay online and come up with additional questions for the tutor after they’ve indicated they were finished, or go get another assignment once the one they brought to the tutoring session is done.
Tutoring is presented as mental health therapy or counseling
The only people who should be offering any type of professional counseling or mental health therapy are those who are trained, licensed professionals in the mental health field, such as Licensed Professional Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, Psychologists, medical doctors, and Psychiatric nurses. And even they should only be presenting their advice as professional guidance in the proper professional setting. Nobody who has offered their services as a tutor should be behaving as though they are your or your child’s therapist or guidance counselor. Reputable tutors only offer guidance in the subject matter they are being paid to help you learn.
The tutor tries to sell you something other than additional tutoring sessions
Tutoring can be one component of a broader career. There is nothing wrong with someone whose field is History working full time at the local museum, writing a book about local history in the evening, and picking up tutoring sessions helping those who struggle with history and social studies classes on the side. There is nothing wrong with mentioning the other work they do, if helpful and relevant. But the tutor should not be there with the goal of promoting another business or selling an unrelated product to their students. It would be unethical for that same museum worker and history book writer to set up tutoring sessions that were thinly veiled pitches for museum memberships, or to use tutoring sessions to sell copies of their history book.
Excessive or irrelevant personal information is requested by the tutor.
Tutors may ask questions designed to help them understand exactly what they are working on with you. If you bring them a paper to look over, they will probably want to know what grade level and what subject the paper is for. This is legitimate, needed information. A third grader’s social studies homework is going to have very different standards than a sixth grader’s work in language arts. A high school history paper will have a different focus than a college sociology paper.
A tutor should not be asking for, or trying to learn, information that is not necessary for them to help the student. A tutor who meets you online or in a public place does not need to know where you live. If you are working in an online environment where you use your first name and last initial or a screen name, the tutor should not be demanding your full name. The only reason a tutor should try to draw information about relationships, feelings, problems, or political or religious opinions from a student is if that is the topic and goal of the work the student has brought to the tutoring session. And in those cases, the focus should still remain on completing the work, not on forming a personal relationship between the tutor and the student or parent.
Sometimes, relationships do form between consenting adults. People have become romantic partners or platonic friends with their tutors. But the tutor should not be behaving as though they are there to use the tutoring program as a friendship or dating site or event.
The tutor offers to complete homework for the student, revise or edit papers for them, or give test or quiz answers.
Legitimate tutors offer insight, guidance, ideas, and relevant information designed to help their students learn. Taking tests, rewriting papers, writing papers for the student, or doing anything else that the student is being graded on doing is not tutoring. That’s cheating. Any tutor who offers to cheat for you or your child, or who has a reputation of being the tutor you go to if what you really want is someone to cheat for you should be avoided at all costs.
Tutoring is a passion for some, a side hustle for others, and a mix of the two for still more people. It can be done by those in any field. But it is a service, and a tutor is a service provider. And just like service providers in any job, tutors can be safe, honest, and qualified, or the last people you would want to hire to provide the service you need.
Tutors are great resources if you need to catch up, clarify, or supplement your learning. They can tailor subject matter to your learning style, break down concepts more than your classroom teacher, suggest resources you may find more useful to your particular goals and needs, and even help you when you’re advanced in the subject and need a new challenge. Tutoring may supplement your education whether you are in a class or self-taught. But there are a few things tutors do not, or at least should not, do.
Tutors are not there to do your academic work for you.
A tutor’s job is to teach you how to do the work in the class, not to complete the work for you. Never approach a tutor with a test or a quiz. This is no different than copying answers from someone else in class, or having a friend take your online test for you.
Your tutor is not your editor. They may suggest that you go over your paper and re-edit it for grammar, but it is not their job to sit there and fix all of your mistakes for you. They may suggest you add more detail on a certain subtopic. You still need to find and add that detail yourself.
They are not your research assistant. If you are struggling with research, your tutor will suggest places to find the sources you need. A tutor may go over your notes or your sources with you, and discuss the material. They will not compile a list of sources for you. Discussions with tutors are meant to generate ideas for your work. They are not discussing your topic with you so you can write down everything they say and insert it directly into your paper.
Unless the tutor is employed by the university or school, they do not have access to your syllabus, your teacher’s lectures, or your assignment instructions.
Taking a specific assignment to a tutor for help is perfectly acceptable. But if you are going to expect help on a specific assignment, you need to provide the directions, and any notes from your classroom instructor as well. An independent online tutor has no way of knowing that the person who teaches your English class offline at the community college in your hometown expects you to use at least four sources for each paper, or doesn’t want you to include a counter argument paragraph for this unit, unless you either provide them with a copy of your directions or notes, or tell them. Make sure they have this information at the beginning of your lesson. Showing up with a vague request, letting them help you for fifteen minutes, and then suddenly announcing that you need to complete the assignment according to certain requirements only wastes your time, the tutor’s time, and your money.
Tutoring is not childcare.
Childcare workers and tutors have completely different jobs. Your childcare provider or program may offer homework help or learning activities, and your tutor should provide a safe, healthy space for your child to learn, but the tutor is not there to save you a trip to the daycare center, or give you time to run errands or finish up at work. Tutoring is intended to meet needs related to academics and learning. Group activities, meals, snacks, exercise, and entertainment may be provided for your child through some tutoring programs, but this is not true of all of them. Always ask rather than assume.
Never leave your child alone at home in front of the computer with an online tutor, reasoning that the person will watch them. They can’t. The online tutor has no way to monitor anything they can’t see on the webcam, or step in during any situation that may come up offline in the house while you’re away. Your child will still be home alone.
Your tutor is not your therapist.
A good tutor will listen to your academic struggles in their subject, and help you work through solutions. It is absolutely appropriate to share frustrations with learning a new type of citation, or dealing with a classroom teacher who does not seem to care that nobody understands his lectures, or trying to learn a quickly evolving subject with an outdated textbook.
But the tutor is not there to provide mental health care, even if the tutor is a licensed mental health professional doing some tutoring in Psychology or Social Work on the side. If you know, or suspect, that a serious mental health problem is impacting your learning, make an appointment with a licensed mental health care provider who will accept you as a client of their therapy practice.
The tutor is not there to enhance your personal or social life.
Sometimes, friendships, even romantic relationships, develop between adult tutors and their adult students. As long as everyone directly impacted by the situation is an adult who fully consents to whatever type of relationship that may develop, it is nobody’s place to judge. This does not mean the tutor agreed to work with you because they really want to go out with you, flirt with you, adopt you as their new sibling, or fix you up with their best friend.
Behave as you would if you were hiring anyone else to provide a personal service. You wouldn’t just assume your hairdresser or the sales clerk who helped you find the right shoes to go with an outfit you bought would want to meet you for a drink or join your squad at the club tonight. Approach the tutor in the same way.
And just like any other service, it is perfectly reasonable to refuse to rehire a tutor, continue with a program, or even end a session immediately, if it is the tutor who is doing something unprofessional or making you feel uneasy in any way. It is also perfectly acceptable to politely refuse to rehire a tutor who just isn’t suited to your learning needs. Between local programs, individual tutors in our community, and online tutoring services, there are plenty of tutors to choose from. Don’t be afraid to search for the one that’s best for you.
Online tutoring is a service provided by Artist Cafe Utica. The site owner/writer does independent writing tutoring through the website “TutorMe.” This site functions like an Uber for online tutors. Email email@example.com or comment on the facebook post where you found the link to this article for more information or to arrange tutoring.
Adult students, and some parents visiting their child’s online or offline school, may see tutoring services offered through the school. Those who do not have tutoring offered through their own, or their child’s, school may know of an independent tutoring program offered locally or online. Finding tutoring is pretty easy. But everyone is not clear on what tutoring is meant to do, or when they or their child should look for a tutor.
Tutoring is appropriate for people who are bad at a subject or skill.
While this may not be the politically correct thing to say these days, the truth is that some people are flat out bad at certain subjects. This does not make anybody better or worse as an overall learner, and certainly not as a person, than anyone else. You might be a genius at both your music, and in your other career as an auto mechanic, but struggle to write the papers you need to write to pass the business classes you’re taking in preparation for owning your own garage someday. Or you could be gifted in academics overall, but just not great at math. Hiring a tutor in writing or math can help you over those hurdles.
When you don’t seem to learn the way your instructor teaches, a tutor can help.
You should be able to reach out to your instructor, and count on them to clarify concepts, break things down, discuss the material taught in class, or offer you general advice in their subject area. But there are times when, through no fault of yours or theirs, your learning needs and their teaching methods just don’t match up. Someone who is strictly a visual and hands-on learner is going to have some trouble in an offline lecture class. A student who learns best by listening to a lecture, reading, and taking notes may find themselves struggling to follow a teacher who uses a lot of visual aids in class. And while a good teacher will do anything they can to help you, they can’t redesign their entire class for you. A tutor will be able to take the concepts or facts you need to learn, and present them, or help you find resources that present them, in the ways that you learn best.
Hire a tutor when you seem to have missed something you were expected to know in class.
Tutors aren’t just for those times when you’re struggling to learn. A tutor can help when you arrive in class and realize there are things you simply haven’t learned. There might be a class most people in your school take before this one, even though it isn’t a prerequisite. A tutor can help catch you up on concepts “everyone” keeps referencing.
In some cases, your teacher may have designed the class with the assumption that everyone would know certain things, or have certain skills, on the first day. If it seems like the whole class falls into this category for you, it may be necessary to transfer to the class below it. But if it’s just a few ideas, concepts, or a set of facts or two, a tutor may be able to help catch you up.
Tutoring can be a way to turn things around if you did not work as hard as you should have in previous classes.
As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes the reason we’re struggling in school is our own attitude. If you skipped assignments, ignored your instructor’s lectures, tutorials, outreach, and other material, refused to participate in class discussions, didn’t bother studying for your exams, or just sat there and let everyone else do the work in a group project, your bad grade is indeed your own fault. There’s no getting around that. But there is a way to fix it. A tutor can help you catch up on all those concepts and skills you didn’t feel it was necessary to learn last year, or last term, or last week.
Tutors can help supplement your learning.
Deficiency in some form is the most common reason for hiring a tutor, but tutoring is not strictly for those who have fallen behind or struggle in a subject. A tutor can also supplement your learning when things are already going well. They can discuss the topic of your paper with you, offering insight and ideas you may not have thought of or heard about in class. A tutor may be able to recommend, or help you find, quality resources for additional learning in the topic of your course. They may even be able to help you jump ahead a bit, teaching you things you would learn in a more advanced version of the course you are taking.
Enrollment in a course is not necessary to hire a tutor.
In order to use tutoring services provided by a school, you will need to be a student, or the parent of a student, at that school. But an independent tutor may be a great resource for those who are largely self-taught. YouTube content creator Lindie Botes is a well-known polyglot. She has taught herself multiple languages, as a hobby. But even someone that devoted to language learning hires a tutor when she chooses a particularly challenging language. You may want to hire a tutor if you, or your child, is doing well in a subject but needs more of a challenge, or if you are teaching yourself, and think you could benefit from some input from an expert in the field.
Tutors can help focus, catch up, or enhance your learning. They can offer insights, input, or feedback you may not get in class. A session with a tutor may even spark an idea for a whole new project, or even a whole new direction in your studies.
Utica resident Ray “Pinky” Velazquez knows musical talent when he hears it. Velazquez began working in music in 1972, when he started DJing for the Impanema at 240 West 52nd street in New York City. He would later become the A&R Man and disco consultant for Vanguard Records from 1979-1984. During his time with Vanguard, Velazquez grew to be an expert in mixing records and scouting talent, and has signed R&B, Rap, Rock, Alternative, and Reggae acts, even working with a Rap group, “Spectrum City,” that would later become Public Enemy.
Today, Velazquez uses what he learned during his time as a DJ, mixer, and producer to help others. He is currently in talks with local businesses and organizations, mainly Phoenix Media.
“Cassandra Harris-Lockwood and I are trying to reach out to the community, to assist, lead, and inspire the youth,” he said, referring to what he describes as a process of building and putting ideas together with the owner, founder, and CEO of Phoenix Media. “Kids are dealing with violence in school, broken households. It’s a more challenging environment for the family. We want to make it better, to give youth and their families a little bit more of what they’re looking for, a little bit of hope.”
Velazquez offered a bit of guidance for young people…or people of any age..who feel called to the music business.
Define success for yourself
As with any other career field, people may have different goals in music. Most of us, from the most dedicated professional to the most casual hobbyist, would not turn down their favorite internationally known band’s paychecks, but being an international star is not truly the goal for everyone, and Velazquez stressed that it does not have to be.
Some people may truly feel called to work for international stardom. They may have a large income as a goal in life, or wish for a glamorous lifestyle. Others may be happier using their musical skill to entertain and inspire others in their region, or their local community. Some may want to teach. Others may want to promote other artists, or write songs for others, or be a part of technical components of music production.
“You have to ask, ‘What is right for me and my life?’ he said. “It may be money. It may be fame. But it may be something else.”
Be realistic about the music industry and your goals
Whether your goal in music is to make hit records for decades, open for your favorite band, have your favorite band open for you, play a local or regional club every weekend, or teach music at the high school, Velazquez noted that it is important to be realistic about the work it takes to become skilled in music, and about the music industry and the variety of circumstances that would have to fall in line to meet the goals you’ve set.
“The music business is a very large, very scary, very competitive business for a new musician,” he noted. “You have to understand the process. It’s never easy, never pretty the way people think it is. It takes about twenty-five years to be an overnight success.”
Velazquez added that this is true no matter how talented you might be. “The more talent you’re sharing, the more challenges you’re going to have,” he said. “ Use common sense. Make sure you’re ready for whatever challenges come up. Adjust your skills and keep moving. Try to enjoy the process. There is never a guarantee of anything.”
Educate yourself about your style or styles of music
Those whose goal in the music industry is to teach music at the college or university level will probably need an academic degree. Unless you have documented extraordinary achievement in music (like a grammy or past membership in a band that changed the entire field) you are going to need at least a Master’s degree to enter academia. Formal, academic education is not needed for most other goals. But that is far from the only type of music education.
“ Become serious about your craft. Read about and research your field,” Velazquez said. “If you’re going to play Reggae, learn about Bob Marley. Learn about his struggles, find out what he did to get into the music business. You have the God-given field of the internet. Look around. Absorb information.”
Seek mentors and collaborators with goals that are compatible with yours
Because the arts is such a competitive, constantly shifting, and difficult career cluster, it can be tempting to frantically approach anyone and everyone in the arts. And while it certainly doesn’t hurt to make connections with other artists in general, or to make learning all you can about the arts, or the music industry a part of your education, Velazquez emphasized the importance of working with those whose paths you would like to follow in your own career.
“Communicate with people who have accomplished what you want to accomplish,” he said, noting that this does not mean you should spend all your time writing emails to rock stars if your goal is to achieve international fame, or that simply talking to a record producer or songwriter means you’re going to be one.
“You may not be able to talk to Elton John” he said. “But you may be able to connect with someone who worked on one of his albums, or who knows someone who works for the record label that records Elton John.”
Always remember the importance of music to the world
Despite the difficulties of the music business, Velazquez urges musicians and anyone else in the field to never give up. He encourages everyone to live life with hope, and to keep the impact their work has on the world in mind.
“Music creates an opportunity to express yourself,” he said. “It’s a connection to the universe that pulls people in like a magnet. People are alone. They’re looking deeper inside themselves to create meaning. Music does that.”
Velazquez further reminded those who are farther along in their music career to remember the importance of goals, education, mentorship, and service to others.
“If you have more experience, try to share that experience with those starting out,” he said. “Put out that hand that says, ‘I care about you. I believe in you. I’m willing to help you carve out that path. You have potential.’ Give back.”
Ray “Pinky” Velazquez is certainly giving back to the community in Utica. His insight into the impact of music on individuals and on community will be a blessing for any organization he works with, and any program he helps to develop. Be sure to keep reading Artist Cafe Utica, and The Utica Phoenix news magazine, and listening to Phoenix Radio: 95.5 FM: The Heat for current information about Velazquez’s local projects.
Photo courtesy of/property of Ray "Pinky" Velazquez
Online learning became a necessity over the past two years, as it was not safe to gather in a classroom offline. Some people did well. Others had difficulty coping, and struggled to succeed. Anyone can force themselves to make it through an online course, but some people are better suited to online learning than others. The information below is directed at adult learners. Children and teens have unique academic, social, and emotional needs. If you are unsure about the correct learning environment for your child, speak to their current teacher or another expert in child psychology and learning before making decisions for them.
Online learning is best for people who are able to work with little to no direction from others.
Some people need a pre-set plan, direct supervision, and a lot of direction from a supervisor or manager to do well at a job. Others are able to start from the beginning of a project, plan the work, and create their own schedule. Neither of these types are “good” or “bad” at learning or anything else. They are just different personalities that react differently to variations in their environment.
In an online course, you will likely have due dates and deadlines set for you. Lessons will be pre-made. The work of each day, however, will be entirely up to you. Nobody will be expecting you to show up in a classroom every Monday night at 7 p.m. You will need to go over your schedule and decide for yourself whether or not Monday is a school day, and which hours are school time. And you will have to be disciplined and focused enough to stick to the decision you made.
Students who are comfortable working alone, but not in complete isolation, are best suited to online learning.
Virtual classrooms are not always as isolated as some people make them out to be. You will interact with other students and with your teacher. In-person interactions are not eliminated, but may be replaced with chats and meetings via Zoom, discussion boards, email exchanges, instant messenger exchanges, and other forms of online communication we are all familiar with from other parts of life.
But you will not be able to sit in a room full of people. You may not even be able to arrange to sit in a room full of people by gathering together with other online students. Zoom meetings, phone calls, listening to recorded lectures, and watching videos might disrupt others’ learning. You are going to need to spend at least some time physically alone in a room.
Those who express themselves better in writing than by speaking may prefer online learning.
There are opportunities to talk to people when you are an online student. Some instructors welcome, or even encourage, phone calls from students. You may be assigned group projects that require you to call or hold Zoom meetings with your classmates. In some classes, the instructor will even hold an in-person lecture or class that is traditional in every way, except that it is done through Zoom.
But in many cases, you are going to be asked to communicate with your teacher and your fellow students through writing. Much of the discussion in class is done through discussion boards. Email and messenger systems hosted by the school are common ways to talk to your instructor and your fellow students.
Those who consider their words carefully before they speak are better suited to online learning than those with a tendency to blurt or speak first and ponder what they said later.
The opposite should be true. Online classrooms should be the perfect place for that person who can always be counted on to say what others are thinking but are too afraid to announce. If they’re on a discussion board, they have to type and can’t just blurt things out.
What some do not realize is that many discussion board comments cannot be edited, and instant messenger messages cannot be erased. If you are talking to the class over Zoom, it is likely being recorded, and made available to anyone who wants to listen to it until the class closes. This makes what you say, gaffes and all, much more permanent than offline, in-person speech. If I say something rude, embarrassing, or otherwise inappropriate in room 203 of the nearest traditional university on Monday at ten, there will be no record of it, and half the class may forget it happened in a month or less. If I post that same thing on the unit 3 discussion board in my online class, it’s there until the class closes.
Taking a class online is best for those who are comfortable online, but do not already “live” there.
The person whose whole life revolves around the internet, the one who is always reading their facebook page, enjoys posting every detail of their life, and knows more about their favorite YouTubers than they know about their actual friends may seem like the ideal online learner. Some may indeed find an online class a natural extension of what they already do all day. Others may struggle, as the lure of their facebook, instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and wherever else they go online all day may prove too much of a distraction.
Online learning may help those who need to save some money
There are no truly cheap accredited colleges or quality training programs around anymore. Everything costs money, and school is no exception. Online classes just tend to be slightly cheaper than their offline versions. Even if the tuition and required materials cost the same, taking a class online saves you the cost of travel to and from campus, eliminates the need to buy meals or drinks between classes, and can lessen spending due to social pressure, such as buying new school clothes or meeting for snacks or drinks after class.
Online learning is not for everyone. But it can be an option for those whose personality and/or or life circumstances make it suitable. Before signing up for an online course, consider whether your unique traits and needs make it the right learning environment for you.
You were called to a new career path, or to advance in your current one. Part of that journey requires going back to school. You carefully chose your program. Books and materials have been purchased. Time and space for school has been carved out of your life. Things were going great. But now there’s a problem. Something has gone wrong that is messing up your school work schedule. You are tempted to panic, beg your instructor for special treatment just this once, quit school, or cry. Don’t. There is a solution to many of the issues faced by adult learners.
You go to school online, or you go to school offline, but need to do internet research, and you lost internet service.
The best way to solve the “no internet” problem is by planning ahead of time. Always have at least three solutions to the “there is no internet” problem available to you. Making sure you have a phone with a tetherable modem is essential if you’re going to depend on the internet for school or work. In the case of your home or workplace internet going down, your phone can act as a temporary second modem. Use that tetherable modem as your “Plan B.” You might want to arrange with a family member or friend to use their wifi first as your Plan C.. Should their wifi be unavailable, perhaps plan D will be to use the wifi at the library or other public place.
If the problem appears to lie with the school’s system rather than your own service, contact tech support immediately. This can be frustrating, as you may wind up talking to someone who has only been trained to respond to key words from a script, and does not truly understand what you are saying. But every ticket, every email, and every call serves as a report of the problem, and they can and should fix campus wide technical problems as quickly as possible.
There is a genuine emergency in your life.
Some emergencies are of course so serious, you truly cannot complete the work of your class. In those situations, it may be best to take a leave of absence and return to your studies when you can. But in situations where an emergency occurs that will not necessitate leaving school for a while can best be dealt with by making an emergency plan before you start school.
Your emergency plan will start with your schedule. Let’s say Monday and Tuesday are your main school days. You get off work at 2 p.m. on those days, your classes are online, and your schedule is up to you. You have set 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. as your academic work time. Add an emergency plan on to that. It can be something like, “If I am unable to complete my work on these days, I will get caught up the following Sunday before the assignment is due” and set time aside for that.
The worst course of action would be to wait until your work is due, and then message your teacher using the emergency situation as an excuse. You may want to let your instructor know of your situation, but frame your message as seeking guidance on what to do in that situation, not as a demand for an extension or other special treatment. When students do this, an instructor’s first thought is often, “This student lost their job/broke their finger/had to take their friend to the hospital/had to go out and do side work to pay a bill…..but it didn’t bother them enough to mention it until the moment their homework was due?” Even if you do honestly think an extension or makeup test or assignment is your only option, letting the teacher know you did all you can to deal with a genuine situation is always better than simply sending an excuse.
You look over some work, and you do not understand the assignment.
Anytime you are not clear on the work you are supposed to do for any reason, reach out to your instructor early. Be honest. Tell the teacher exactly what you don’t understand, and ask them for help.
Some students are afraid of “bothering” their instructor. Don’t be. Teaching you the material in the class is your teacher’s job. They’re the expert in the field, and they’re the one being paid to help you learn more about it.
Using classmates’ work as your sample and guide is a common mistake when faced with this issue. It will be tempting to just look around or ask around and see what everyone else is doing, but it will likely turn out to be a bad idea. Your classmates are great resources when you want to have a discussion on the topics of the class, or when you want to know how a member of the general public might respond to your work. Their work may give you ideas on what to do going forward. But they might also be as confused as you are when it comes to the work of the class.
You did everything right, including asking the teacher your questions early, and they brushed you off and told you to go look it up on the internet, or go find a tutor.
Look it up on the internet. Go find a tutor. And do everything you can not to take any more classes with this instructor.
Your instructor can be thought of like a project consultant and supervisor at a paying job. Sometimes you get great ones, who are there with the goal of helping everyone meet the goals set for the project. Other times, you get good enough ones, there to lay out the requirements and rules and write evaluations (or grades), but not available for much else. And sometimes you get people who make you wonder why they took the job if actually doing the work makes them so miserable they can’t even bring themselves to do it.
Someone in class is harassing or threatening you, or doing something else that prevents you from completing your course.
In most college classes, you are going to encounter a wide variety of people. There will be people who differ from you in life experience, religious or spiritual beliefs, age, political affiliation, sexual orientation, goals for the class, and just plain attitude and personality.
You are there to learn and to strengthen skills, not to police other people for political correctness, whether that be left wing PC or right wing PC or just some general weird detail we all like to jump on each other for these days. Somebody disagreeing with you, seeing the world differently than you do, having different goals, or just plain not liking you is not harassment or a threat, and it is not stopping you from learning.
Stand up to people who are just run of the mill, everyday jerks. Don’t let a classmate talk over you, “correct” everything you say, or talk to you in a condescending tone. You have just as much right to be there as they do.
This is of course all very different from threatening or harassing behavior. If someone is threatening any type of harm to you, other students, staff, the school in general, or anyone else…say something right away. Take the instructor aside after class, or instant message them immediately in an online course, and let them know what’s going on.
These are just a few of the issues you may face as an adult learner. Look for future articles for solutions on failed research projects, lack of needed source material, and other academic problems…and their solutions.
When you’re in high school, or college if you go the traditional route of enrolling right out of high school, living on campus, and taking all in-person classes, school can feel like the world. Whether that’s a good experience or a bad one depends on your school and your place in it, but either way, it can feel like your whole life.
Going to college after age twenty-five, going to college online, and/or going to college part-time while we also focus on our family, paid work, music gigs, acting, or writing can feel like a completely different world. And like traditional college and its urban legends, nontraditional college comes with its own set of myths and misconceptions.
Note: for the purpose of this article, the term “adult education” will be used to refer to any of the nontraditional situations described above. It is a common term used to differentiate nontraditional students from more traditional higher education situations, and is in no way meant to imply that a student who is eighteen or over, taking all of their classes offline, and living on or computing daily to campus is not an adult.
Myth: It’s going to be you and a bunch of eighteen year-olds who have never done anything but attend high school.
Reality: This may turn out to be true at some schools. However, people are increasingly delaying college, going back to college to prepare for second careers, or taking other, less traditional routes to their degree. If you do not want to feel like the only person who did not head off to college right after high school and then settle into your permanent career, it is entirely possible to narrow your list of prospective schools down to those with a high percentage of students who fall into similar categories as you. According to the U.S. News and World Report online rankings for 2022, Peirce College in Philadelphia, UMass Global, and our own Empire State College right here in New York boast a student body that is over 80% “aged twenty-five and older.”
Myth: The instructor is going to expect you to know more about the subject because you’re older, or you’re “out in the world” more
Reality: Most instructors expect students to enter the class at the level of expertise and skill one would expect of anyone taking the class. Anyone who doesn’t is being unfair. Regardless of the subject, everyone was a beginner at some point, and that includes adults studying that subject for the first time. You will not be expected to have any skills or insight anyone else taking the class would not be expected to have.
Myth: You will never really be a part of campus life.
Reality: Like the issue of feeling surrounded by people barely out of high school, this one seems to be less of a problem as nontraditional students become more and more the norm. Where once you might visit a university webpage and find “Young Democrats,” or “Young Republicans,” as the only offerings for those interested in politics, “College Democrats (or Republicans)” groups are increasingly common. Groups for people of specific ethnic backgrounds, general interests, and career interests welcome all students. Many schools even have distinct groups for students who do not reside on campus or are otherwise “nontraditional.”
Myth: You are going to be your instructor’s equal, especially if you’re close in age or older than them.
Reality: Your instructor is the person teaching the class and you are the student, regardless of your age, life experience, or any other details about either of you. If you truly know more than the teacher, you need to drop the class and take one at a much higher level. Other details about your life do not matter in class. An instructor with an earned doctorate is still “Dr.” and his or her last name. Those teaching with a Master’s degree, or who hold a terminal Master’s degree are “Mr,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.” (or whatever they introduce themselves using) and their last name, unless they ask the class to call them by their first name. And regardless of your age, past education, or professional experience, it is best to ask the teacher what they wish to be called if they do not let you know in the syllabus or other introductory materials.
Myth: The instructor is going to offer you special treatment because of your age, employment status, or family status.
Reality: This myth began circulating around the internet as early as 2009, and took hold thanks to a now defunct “college advice” website boasting more than one rather questionable gem. Never assume that you are going to be graded more leniently, allowed to turn things in late, or given extra time on a test simply because you have a job, kids, a spouse, a house full of pets, or bills to pay. Each instructor’s policy on late work, grading, and other class issues may vary, but they will apply to everyone, not just you.
Myth: Your instructor will have a degree, or at least some training in adult education and will be especially attuned to the needs of adult education students.
Reality: This particular myth has been put forth by a certain well-known online university that offers doctorate degrees in adult education. Visitors to the “chat with us” area of their website are urged to enroll right away, and the line “Yeah, in order to teach at a college you pretty much need a doctorate in Adult Education” is one they have used. This is neither true, nor is it a tactic used by all schools that offer this degree, because it simply is not true. Your instructor will have an advanced degree, at least a Master’s degree, in their field.
Myth: College teachers have to announce they treat everyone the same. If I take them aside and have a little chat with them, they’ll give me an extension when I have to work an extra shift that week or take my kids to practice.
Reality: Approaching anyone supervising any of your work, whether paid or academic, with a reason why you deserve special treatment is making an excuse. Some instructors happily accept excuses. Others accept none. But either way, what you’re doing is nothing more than making an excuse. And that is not a good habit to develop in college…or at work.
If you’re headed back to school, or thinking of going back to school at an age that feels older than everyone else, or you feel like you’ve had more or different life experiences than most college students and won’t be able to relate to anyone else, don’t let those fears discourage you. Higher education is more friendly to those who didn’t take the traditional route than ever.
While the traditional path to college is still full-time, on campus, and directly out of high school, more and more people are going a different route. People are getting degrees after they have been in the military, worked in a professional field for a time, raised a family, or coped with a long illness. Many people are returning for second and third degrees in order to make a career change. College can happen online or offline, or a bit of both. It’s not all dorm rooms and frat parties anymore.
Here are some tips…from someone who teaches nontraditional students online…for anyone who is off to school online, after age twenty-five, or after first going down any other path but the one straight to campus after high school.
Set up space for school.
The best place for nontraditional college students to take online classes, study, and complete their homework would be in a comfortable shared space. Renting a classroom or conference room with a group of other students and making that “school” for you would be ideal. Of course, that also ranges from impractical to downright impossible for most people. So come as close to that as you can. If you have a home office or studio, use that space as your school space. If you have a desk in your room or in a shared home office, use that. And if you have none of those things, set up a temporary school space. Designate your chair at the kitchen table your “school spot” anytime your laptop is open or the mug from the school store is sitting there.
Schedule school time.
Colleges and universities that offer you the opportunity to “learn at your own pace” and “work on your own time” mean that you get to decide when school time will take place, not that you get to do your work and hand it in when you feel like it. Begin each unit of study with a careful noting of due dates, and plan your work around that plus the rest of your life, including your own learning style.
Some people learn best and get the most done when they do a lot of work at once. Others need to work in shorter, more frequent sessions. Academic work time will likely need to be scheduled around paid work, family obligations, and other activities. But schedule it. It’s too easy to forget to do an assignment when you decide to just “do it when you have a chance.”
Get started…and ask questions…early.
Read the first assignment, including any resources, notes, samples, guides, or supplemental material, on the first day. Start assigned readings that day. If you have a project to plan, get started on it on the first day of school. This will give you a time cushion if something goes wrong. If you need to cancel a day of scheduled school work, a piece of a project gets misplaced, you’re having trouble getting a book you really need, or you don’t understand the assignment and need to email the teacher and wait for a reply, you’ll be ahead and able to relax and work through the difficulty without sacrificing your grade, or any other part of your life.
Wearing yourself out will not benefit your studies. Give yourself breaks and time off.
Going to college is supposed to be time consuming. It’s supposed to be hard. If your admissions counselor talked you into enrolling by promising you can earn your degree by glancing at your phone while your toenail polish dries at the salon, you are at a bad school. You will be tired. You will have added stress. But this does not mean you need to live logged in to your school website or your online research materials, never leave the local library, or miss your best friend’s wedding to write a paper.
Breaks should be scheduled into each school session. And days…or at least half days off should be scheduled for important life events. You might also want to schedule a day off of school work just to rest once in a while.
Tailor your work to the rest of your life as much as possible.
Sometimes, you are just going to have to complete projects you don’t feel like completing. This is going to be true whether you are in school or doing paid or volunteer work. But it is always more encouraging to work on something you care about. Choose a topic you’re passionate about anytime you are assigned a paper, presentation, speech, or other project on the topic of your choice. You may even want to design a project that can be used in your current professional life.
Avoid excuses and pity plays.
Excuses today come in a wide variety. The classics are still around., “My dog ate my homework, often updated to “The computer ate my homework” today. There’s always that time in the semester when it’s apparently dangerous to know someone who goes to your school, as everyone’s friends and family members seem to die, go to the hospital, or fall seriously ill at once. And then there’s the contemporary version, where the excuse-maker attempts to give everything a politically correct spin. They’re “just letting the teacher know the work will be late because communication is important,” or “They’re going to be handing in the next assignment when they can get around to it, because they’re ‘doing self-care.”Don’t use any of them. Spend the time you were planning to use to write out that excuse to write out the questions you have about the coursework that’s preventing you from being able to get things done on time instead.
Keep track of large projects you complete for classes.
If you’re old enough to go to college, you’re probably a little too old to hang your work up on the fridge, but don’t just recycle or delete everything either. Keep papers and projects you do particularly well on. You might be able to use some of the same material, or the same research, in future classes. (Make sure this is okay with the new teacher first of course.) Even if you never get to use the work again in school, it might give you something to discuss with a hiring manager at a job interview when they ask what you have done in your new field, or want to talk about your studies.
Going off to college isn’t going to be the same as it would have been in your late teens. If this is a second degree, things won’t be the same as they were the first time. But with some planning, and some useful attitudes and approaches, they can be even better.
by Jess Szabo' (novelist, arts writer, and writing teacher)
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica
When it’s not much better than the “University of Facebook”: avoiding sketchy training and academic programs
For many, coming out of the quarantine and returning to some semblance of normal life means re-evaluating our professional lives. We are looking for new performance venues for our music and readings, new day jobs, second careers, and side gigs. Some of us feel called to return to school or some other form of training and education as part of that professional shift. But all schools are not equal. Here are just a few signs that the program you are considering might not help you reach your professional goals.
The program is not recognized by the profession you’re entering, or in the case of an academic degree, a regional accrediting body.
For technical and career training programs, always start with the career you want and work backwards. Learn which professional organizations and agencies approve credentials for your field, and narrow your search to schools and programs that meet their standards.
If you are seeking an academic degree, regional accreditation is the bare minimum measure of quality. Earning a degree from a school that is not regionally accredited is about as impressive to potential employers as watching a bunch of videos on YouTube or getting your information from facebook memes. In other words, it isn’t.
They aren’t promising to hire you, but they’re guaranteeing their degree or program is a direct path to your career goals.
As hard as this may be to accept, training and education is not a guarantee of future employment or improved business. It can certainly help, but unless you’re working with a program or business that explicitly guarantees this program ends with an offer of employment at this specific company, nobody, not even an Ivy League university, can guarantee you will get the job you want, or any job, simply because you completed their program.
Emphasis is on how easy and convenient the work of the program will be.
Persuading potential students, especially those older than the traditional “college aged” students, to choose them over their competitors by mentioning that the work can be done without sacrificing paid work or family obligations is common practice among training and education programs of all levels of quality. Simply mentioning that their classes are online, and can be accessed at any time during the day does not mean the place is a diploma mill. But beware of any training or educational program that wants you to think you can simply pop in and complete a few easy tasks and earn certification or a degree.
If you’re entering a field that requires specialized technical training, you are learning a whole new profession. If you’re entering an academic program, you are immersing yourself in a field of study. These things are supposed to be hard. They’re supposed to be time consuming. Putting in the time and effort is a large part of what leads to the expertise in the field at the end of the program. Would you want to hire someone to do work they prepared for in the easiest, most convenient way possible, or someone who cared enough about the work to devote real time and energy to train or learn to do it well?
Feelings sound more important to the admissions staff than learning.
Promising the program will “boost your confidence” or “help you on your journey” is not a red flag in and of itself. Training and educational programs are trying to attract people from two generations whose educations have been greatly influenced by the self-esteem movement. Their potential recruits, people whose money they need to keep going, are used to things like participation trophies, “trigger warnings” on books because words in them might upset some people, and safe spaces to protect them from the ideas of people more liberal or more conservative than they are, so some of that is likely to be part of their sales pitch, no matter where you go.
It becomes a red flag when this seems to be all the program is about. If you’re looking for a quick way to feel good about yourself, looking to pay your money, set aside a little time, and have everyone tell you how much you deserve this, how amazing your results are, and how fun it is to have you there….and little else….what you’re looking for is not training or education, but a retreat or a spa.
There is intense pressure to hand over your money right away.
The terms “for profit” and “not for profit” applied to a university refer to whether the school is owned by a corporation, not whether they want money. Every job training program, college, and university in the world is there to make money, and they will be making money from your enrollment, whether you have full financial aid, and they’re getting the money from government programs, wealthy alumni, and organizations outside the school, or you’re paying for everything with your own income.
It’s the “sign up for our program today for three easy payments of $19.99” approach that should alert you that something is not right about the school. Look out for admissions staff that wants to sign you up the minute you send out that first inquiry email, including pushing for a credit card number to pay for admissions fees or start the first class. Even a program with open admissions is going to want people who are fully aware of what they’ve signed up to do. If they’re practically enrolling you based on an email from you that read, “What type of program is this?” look elsewhere.
Back when I was a reporter, I contacted a well-known for-profit university based in Minneapolis, hoping to write a feature about for-profit universities. The staff person I talked to immediately began making an admission file for me, and sent emails designed for a new student who needed to register and pay for classes for days before I finally convinced them that I was not a potential student and to close the file. While I am not printing the name of the school, it’s one I would not work for and would not attend classes in, based on that interaction.
They claim to be the only path to reaching your career goals.
When researching potential next steps in my own education, I had the following exchange with an admissions representative from a school I will call “Internet University.”
“My career goal is to eventually teach at a college or university. I was looking into your doctorate in Education with emphasis in adult education.”
“Yeah,” the admissions staff member said, “In order to teach at a college or university, you pretty much need a doctorate in Education with emphasis in adult education.”
I’m being deliberately vague on the exact degree and specialization to avoid exposing the school, but the staff member was trying to convince me that in order to even be considered for the job I wanted, I needed their exact degree.
Approximately nine years after that conversation, I have been teaching writing composition courses to adults for six and a half years at a different university based in a different city from the one referenced above. And I hold a Master of Arts in my subject, Literature and Creative Writing, from Goddard College. Earning a terminal degree, whether that be an Ed.D or a Ph.D. in my field, or a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing or Interdisciplinary Arts, would indeed be an improvement in my credentials, but their specific degree was far from the only path to the job I wanted.
Jumping into a new training or education program quickly may be tempting, especially when job hunts become frustrating. But just like any major professional decision, choosing a college, university, or training program should be done carefully, with thorough research.