1. Blocking. These students feel hopeless, easily frustrated. They might say things like, “I’ll never get this,” or “I have no idea what’s going on.” The tutor needs to find something in the material the students DO understand and build from there. The students’ confidence needs built. Exaggerating successes and helping the students get some understandable structure to the class can make the situation less difficult. For instance, the tutor could find out if tests come largely from the textbook; knowing that may help the students focus their study time.
2. Resisting. These students are not interested in the class, the tutor, or the work. Often they are angry, prone to outbursts and hostility. If the anger is directed toward the class or professor, tutors should first let the students vent. Listening and commiserating (without joining in on the negativity) can go a long way, even though it might be difficult. Then the tutor can point out the necessity of a change of attitude: “I hear that you feel this class is useless to you, but you need it to graduate, so let’s get you through it.”
3. Passivity. These students don’t show the hostility of the resister, but they refuse to get involved in the tutoring session. They answer questions with as little information as possible, ask few if any questions, and seem disconnected from the session. Using open-ended questions can draw the students in. A session should explore their likes and dislikes and then try to find something that fits those interests. For example, if a student is struggling with introductions and conclusions in an essay class and is also a film buff, the tutor could try using movie examples that follow such structure.
4. Manipulation. These students often appear as an amalgam of characterizations. But these students don’t typically really hate the instructor or get confused by the homework; they just want the tutor to do it for them. No matter how many outside examples are used, manipulators will always return to the specific questions in the homework. “Can we do just a couple of these?” is a common request even after tutors have explained that doing homework is not tutoring. In this kind of session, the tutor might say, “We don’t seem to get much accomplished when we meet. What do you think we should do to fix the problem?” It also might help to actually walk away during a session. The tutor can assign a specific problem or set of questions and try to force students to attempt them on their own: “I’m going to go check a couple of resource on the computer. While I do that, why don’t you do #4 using this as an example? I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on your progress.” If the student hasn’t started when the tutor returns, the tutor could suggest a step or two and then leave again: “If you look at #1, what is A? How did you know that? Then what would be A in #4? Keep going, and I’ll be back.”
Difficult tutoring situations will always exist, and difficult students will continue to seek out tutors. But the response to such situations can be one that is helpful to the student and yet doesn’t violate the tutor’s code. Knowing what kinds of behaviors can be difficult to work with and planning ahead how to deal with them can make tutoring difficult students no different from any others.