For substitute librarian and RSVP* volunteer Kathleen Turner, virtually tutoring a middle school student in math as a volunteer for the Youth Tutoring Program (YTP) has brought a welcome change: She no longer has to perform that traditional librarian function: “shushing” too-noisy library users. However, she does have to make sure her Zoom settings (the web platform YTP uses) are set appropriately for privacy and to minimize background noises of both her and the student’s computers.
Instead, Kathleen now has the uniquely contemporary challenge of establishing rapport during remote tutoring, where making eye contact is difficult, and a 45-minute tutoring session goes by quickly. “That is not a lot of time just once a week,” she explains. “I think establishing any kind of a relationship through a screen is difficult.”
The weekly sessions are scheduled for afterschool hours, which works well for Kathleen. In fact, when meeting in-person becomes possible again, she is considering tutoring additional students now that she has experience with online tutoring. “Learning how to do it, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t overcommit.”
Making the best of the new normal
Since beginning tutoring for YTP in late September, Kathleen has been very impressed with how the program is run and how they have adapted to the online environment. “They have tried to do some of the fun things that they do during normal times, such as having an end-of-year party. They had a day where there was no tutoring; everybody [logged on], and they could go to a breakout room and play games or watch a movie.”
“It pushes you, a little bit. I would recommend it for someone who wants to be learning themselves – because you are not the only one that’s teaching. I would say I’ve learned more from my student than maybe they have learned from me.” ~Kathleen Turner on virtual tutoring
YTP has incorporated this relationship building into tutoring sessions as well. “Many times, they have a question of the day or a thinking game or something to start it off. They have been really amazing and really tried to adapt to making it fun [in addition to the] work” with the students.
Much of the time, Kathleen does her virtual tutoring from the remote Shaw Island in the San Juans, among a population of 150 people, where she and her husband help maintain a family cabin. As she puts it, “No one ever comes to Shaw unless you have a reason to come.” Like many other people in these isolated times, she and her husband have adopted a puppy, now four months old, which she describes as very time consuming.
Tutor virtually to be a lifelong learner
Kathleen recommends becoming a virtual tutor to other prospective volunteers, especially if they are interested in getting to know a young person. “They live in a different world, in a way. Life is very different in school than it was when we were in school. It’s really been interesting to try and navigate how to speak about events in the world, because there have been questions come up, and comments. … It pushes you, a little bit. I would recommend it for someone who wants to be learning themselves – because you are not the only one that’s teaching. I would say I’ve learned more from my student than maybe they have learned from me.
“It’s interesting getting to know someone who’s very different from me in their life. It’s been very illuminating, and I feel very honored to be able to do that. Don’t expect you won’t be challenged,” Kathleen makes sure to clarify, “and not in a bad way. Just be open. You have to be a little humble, because you get little glimpses of how other people are coping [with the current circumstances].”
The Youth Tutoring Program, which matches volunteers with elementary-to-high-school-age students for one hour of tutoring support a week, excitedly welcomes new volunteers for its school-year and summer programs. At the time of this writing, YTP is completely virtual, using the Zoom platform to connect students and volunteers; their training and onboarding includes technical support for those who need it.
If you’re 55+ and interested in learning more about volunteering through Solid Ground’s RSVP of King County, please contact RSVP Coordinator Megan Wildhood at email@example.com or 206.694.6786.