I have been “volunteering” in our math tutoring center at SOU for seven years and before that for 24 years at College of the Siskiyous, ever since I started teaching mathematics. Working one-on-one with a student is enlightening, fun, and frustrating.
Students are mainly in the center to get their homework done. At the lower levels this means precisely that – get the right answer and get on with life. At the higher level it means produce a series of steps that they understand, get the right answer, and get on with life. And I mildly resisting like a good tutor prefer to lead them to the answer, building on what they know – sort of a one-on-one Socratic dialogue.
Part of this process includes discovering what they know from their notes or text but often, if I let it, it would mean delving into how they think about algebra rules and arithmetic and for some it means uncovering their hesitancies even fears – the psychological realm. I am often tempted to explore all these areas out of curiosity and empathy if nothing else. This is dangerous. We might both end up crying. I generally don’t make the attempt – not in my skill set anyway.
I know my students’s names and many of them as individuals. I am endlessly curious about how they think. But Socratic dialogue takes time, lots of time. I need to move on to the next student’s question, the next homework assignment. Our encounter will be efficient and even briefly revelatory but not transforming. Oh, to have the time and the courage.