By Barrington Scott, Math Specialist
Barrington Scott has conducted 3,000 tutoring sessions for 1,000 students—and that’s just in the LEC. Before he joined MCNY in 2006, he tutored students at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), where he also teaches classes.
In this post, an interview presented in his own words, Barrington reflects on his experience as a professional educator, telling the story of how he stumbled into tutoring and making predictions about the future of the discipline (hint: it involves computers).
How I Accidentally Became a Tutor
In graduate school at City College, I thought I would go into the finance or actuarial industry. But teaching was part of my degree program in Applied Mathematics—a sort of backup plan until you got a job. There was no training. I learned by observing the experienced full-time professors, stopping by their classroom and watching.
My first teaching job was at BMCC. It was an accident. I went there to look for a friend. When I arrived, I saw a student standing there crying. Being nosy, I asked her what happened, and she said she was going to fail remedial algebra. I asked to see her notes, and she showed me. I took it upon myself to tutor her for a few minutes.
I had no idea the supervisor for the tutoring lab happened to be watching me. He asked if I wanted a job. I started tutoring that semester. Next semester, I started teaching. I’ve taught there since—statistics, pre-calculus, business calculus, medical doses calculations.
Tutoring Thrives When Personalized
Eventually, I became tired of tutoring 10-15 students at once, in all subject areas. I didn’t have the opportunity to connect with students. They asked for answers, I helped them obtain them. There was no follow-up. It was like a factory production line.
I came to MCNY, where we have the 1-on-1 model. This allows for a connection. You can have conversations about the topic, which allows you to figure out the student’s weakness in a course.
The environment is also much more open to the exchange of ideas and information. It’s more private, which lets the student express feelings about the subject. This is important in constructing goals and objectives.
But I didn’t know that when I first started here. I lined up four or five students at my table, all with different classes. Afterward, the directors told me not to do it again.
“Don’t bring that stuff over here!” they said. [Laughs] “We want you to have a personal relationship with the students.”
The Future of Tutoring is Technology
Technology is taking over tutoring. Textbooks are being replaced with online platforms. This often puts the work in the hands of the students—they must be responsible for their education. Once they get the information they need, they must solve problems themselves. It can set up students to become independent learners.
It’s not good or bad, it’s just moving along with the times. Everyone today is playing with their phone, so maybe this is the best way to reach students—put information where they’re likely to see it. My generation, we focused on textbooks. This one is centered around computers and devices.
In my tutoring, I use MyLab Math and WebAssign for its algebra and statistics platform. Some students use it, especially if they’re motivated. If they lack the motivation, they might not. So you have to force them to get it done. [Laughs]
In 20 years? Maybe there won’t be any classrooms. But it depends on the vast majority of students. The classroom people might just be the minority. I’m not sure schools can get rid of classrooms.
People still like face-to-face contact. They like things explained to them. Online is more geared toward working people, people with kids. But in the end, tutoring and instruction are personal, so you’ve got to have both.
A version of this article appears on pages 10-11 of the Fall 2018 issue of Luminaria, under the title “Looking Back To Move Ahead.”