Tutoring: The Secret to Success

Laptop computer displaying equations.
Rebecca A. Eckland

Success First Summer Bridge students enrolled in Math 126—or Pre-Calculus—got a taste of the college experience weeks before other incoming first-year students will... especially in regards to the study skills required to be successful in that kind of class. And while some of these skills—perseverance, focus and organization—are ones that can be learned on your own, many of these students found that the key to success in college is discovering the power of asking for help. 

Ryen Brown discovered the “secret” of tutoring their first week in the Summer Bridge program. “In high school, I didn’t really care about academics. I cared about being in band, about being in ROTC, and in theater,” they said. They were able to get the grades they needed without much extra work. All that changed with Summer Bridge, however, when the demands of their classes were definitely more rigorous. 

“My world turned upside down because I didn’t have those excuses anymore… [I couldn’t say] I have band, so I can’t do my math homework,” Brown continued. “It’s now: I’m going to do my math homework, or I’m going to fail the class.  And with that mentality, I was terrified because I didn’t know how to study very well, I didn’t know how to take tests very well. So the Summer Bridge program totally put it in the light that college is very important and completely different from high school.”

Brown, however, didn’t panic. Instead, they attended tutoring sessions that were offered—but not required—by the Summer Bridge program. The extra assistance, they said, made all the difference. In Math 126, Brown struggled to write an equation from a transformed graph, so they sought out tutoring to help them solidify their understanding of that process. Their tutor, Gabriel Salas, worked with them on how he approaches solving those kinds of problems. They used what they learned in their final exam, and earned full points for a correct answer. 

“If you go in [to tutoring] you’ll actually learn a thing or two,” Brown said. “And now I feel way more confident in college because the first week, I was like ‘I can’t do this, I’m done.’ But [tutoring] helped me… so much.”

Why Tutoring?

Gabriel Salas has been a tutor at TMCC for thirteen semesters and started tutoring with the Summer Bridge Program in the 2016-2017 academic year. Tutoring, he said, has been integral to his journey, both as an educator and as a student. “I was not a strong math student in high school. I was the kind of student who thought math was ok until they threw the alphabet in. Yet, it was the instructors and the tutoring support at TMCC that re-directed me from just being interested in education to becoming a math major,” he said. Salas plans on continuing his education at UNR, so he can become an educator with a focus on math.

Salas uses this story to build rapport with students, which helps him to do the important work of tutoring—work that is not the same as teaching, exactly. “Teachers deal with an entire class of students and curriculum. [Tutors serve] as an added bridge between the instruction and the student just to fill the gap. We don’t lay the road, we don’t pave it, [but tutors] help make it less of a bumpy ride. Because we don’t have to teach the whole curriculum, it helps us to focus on individual strengths or needs. I just love being that extra bridge between instruction and understanding.” 

Tutoring in a remote environment posed certain challenges, such as not being able to “read” a student’s posture or body language in a tutoring session. However, it also opened new opportunities that Salas said students took advantage of. “Because everything was offered remotely this semester, we weren’t necessarily bound by the campus schedule.  We literally did a 9-11 p.m. final tutoring review getting-ready-for-your-finals-session. It was, of course, not required, but because there was a request for it, we were happy to offer that. We were offering tutoring until 7 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. to make sure people are getting the support they need. And I think that’s really important for remote learning because without that it’s easy to feel like you’re teaching yourself, and that can be super intimidating, especially when it comes to learning math,” he said.

Salas remarked that many students took advantage of these additional tutoring sessions, including Brown, whose enthusiasm and curiosity helped to create a safe learning environment for all participating students. “Ryen was one of the first individuals to show up to the first day afternoon voluntary [tutoring] session, and [was] one of the most consistent to be there and ask questions. Honestly, I think that helped other students because when we’re in a group setting, students don’t always know what they don’t know. There have been a lot of instances when one person asks a question, and if you look at the chat, three other people are saying that they were wondering about the same thing, or having the same problem.” 

The bottom line? Salas said that there is no shame in admitting you don’t like—or struggle with—a certain subject. Asking for help from a tutor can be the one thing that can help you to do the work you need to succeed. 

Learning to Embrace Math

Something every college degree has in common is a requirement to complete at least one college-level math class. Math 126 is the prerequisite class for many STEM-based majors, as well as allied health fields. It was also, according to several Summer Bridge students, a class that made them realize the differences between high school and college. 

Summer Bridge student Lilanne Aguirre-Velazquez said that tutoring was one of the reasons she was able to succeed in this college-level class. “As a person that has never had any help tutoring-wise, it really helped with the transition of going into college, things really do get harder and the workload is more than in high school,” she said. Her key revelation? Asking for help really made all the difference. 

“[You shouldn’t]  be afraid to ask for help, because sometimes it’s harder to do stuff by yourself. Like, a lot of people have said math. It’s very intimidating, so trying to go into math by yourself and not knowing what you’re doing, and not having that extra help there [makes it difficult.] And so having these extra people who know what they are doing and going along with you, helping you is very nice. I really recommend new students go to tutoring. If you need help, ask for it.” 

Tutoring can also help students who, due to other commitments, have a packed schedule and are in need of the extra support to succeed. In addition to participating in Summer Bridge, Enrique Alcaraz works a full-time job. Working with a tutor helped him to utilize his study time effectively. “I never thought it was necessary to get any help because I just thought we would just review what we learned [in class] already. But, when I started going to tutoring I realized that [tutors] pay attention to what your necessities are, where you are lacking, where your strengths are, and how to improve on that,” he said.

Itzamar Arias Cruz echoes these sentiments: a first-generation college student, she learned new studying techniques from her tutors, which she said will help her to be successful in her first semester of college.  “Don’t be afraid to get tutoring. If you do it by yourself, you could end up feeling overwhelmed.”

This is especially true for difficult classes that can cause students to feel anxiety and stress, like math. According to Summer Bridge Math Tutoring Coordinator Adine Stormoen, tutoring does more than just increase the likelihood that students will pass a class (although this on its own is already a wonderful benefit.) “I hope that by getting the help that they need before frustration levels become too high, that students will feel more comfortable with math. It would be great for students not to see math as an obstacle or a punishment, but to see math as a tool that can help them to achieve their goals. That goal could even be a math degree. But it could be something else--it could be a career in science, could be a career in education, it could be a career in art. The math classes they take at TMCC can serve as a stepping stone to their future successes,” she said. 

If that seems like an overwhelming thought, take a deep breath. And then, schedule an appointment with a TMCC tutor to see what all the buzz is about. “If you’re committed, the tutors are also committed. It’s teamwork,” said Velazquez. 

For more information about tutoring at TMCC, contact the Tutoring and Learning Center (TLC) at 775-674-7517. Supported by Nevada INBRE, tutoring is embedded into the services offered to Success First Summer Bridge students; however, every TMCC student can access free tutoring through the TLC.