A Tutor’s Tutelage


Katie Bayerl dispenses tips to tutors at 826 Boston.

Katie Bayerl dispenses tips to a group of tutors at 826 Boston.

“Let the students talk,” said writer, teacher and editorial consultant Katie Bayerl to a group of 826 Boston’s assembled tutors. As a newly minted tutor, I was feeling lucky. Not only did I get to work with a bright and funny group of Boston school kids right in my neighborhood, but let’s face it, most of the time they were busy teaching me. “Is this, like, the first iPhone ever made?” cracked a high schooler during one session, snatching the phone I had been using to keep track of his 15-minute writing session. “Yes,” I replied, and when I was your age, we wrote in cuneiform.” We all cackle, and then get down to the business of learning about lobster backs and developmental biology.

Now I was learning again, as Bayerl gently lobbed the fruits of her years working with children to us. She teaches in the teen program at Grub Street Writers. In addition to letting the students talk, she advised: Personalize; Create choice; Move, play, engage the senses!; Break it down; Let students do the thinking too; and Forget about perfection.

Another short list of things to remember that she displayed also helped: You don’t have to solve everything; You’ll add value; and You know more than you realize. Breaking up into groups to solve tutoring challenges, we devised several collective solutions. Bayerl left us with my favorite tutoring advice of the evening as we wrapped up: “Fear is the only instinct that isn’t great.”