How does she do that?

Jaejin Ka
Chemistry Adjunct Faculty / Science & Math Lead Tutor

Amy was one of several students who came to my tutoring sessions on a regular basis. She often seemed to not grasp the concept of what I explained, or not as quickly as other students did. She would stay with me long hours not only because she took more time to understand but also needed help with almost every problem in her assignments or class materials. Often times, she was not able to apply the principle she just learned from me to the next problem that uses the very same principle. I was worried about her slow progress and how she would fare on her exams.

However, I was surprised at her test results. It was Amy who earned a 4.0, out of all the students who got help for the same class. It was neither Greg who looked so smart, nor Tom who was so active in the tutoring session. The latter two were both good students, and I liked them very much because they were so personable and diligent. Yet, it was Amy who actually excelled in the end.

I was still perplexed. Even after she garnered a 4.0, she still acted the same, not understanding the following chapters, looking lost, and leaving me wondering how she did well in her exam. Was it a fluke? Well, she pulled off another 4.0 in the next exam. I had to process how all this was happening.

There could have been multiple factors played in her success compared with others, but I will just focus on what I observed as a tutor. Maybe she did not look as smart as other students just because she trusted me so much to show her all academic weakness unlike any other students. In other words, she was not ashamed to ask all the minutia questions until she fully understood. She was willing to expose her lack of understanding to the extent that she may look dumb. Of course, I would encourage students to ask the same questions over and over until they truly understood. Even with my encouragement, some students would respond, “Oh that is right”, “It makes sense” Or “I get it” etc. at my first explanation when they actually understand incompletely. That is not the case for Amy, she almost never said she understood right away, instead took full advantage of the tutor even until said tutor could become exhausted. Sometimes, she would also become too exhausted and about to cry. Yet, she always found a way to bounce back and stayed with me until she understood everything she asked. That is a rare virtue to the success and I do commend her for her humble but relentless approach.

As for me, I no longer assume student success based on their strengths/weaknesses shown to me, because each student would reveal their weaknesses at different degrees, and because some students like Amy would share more weaknesses than others, yet make even greater progress.