EDITORIAL: Academic Support Systems

Many private tutoring options are available in the Tam community, but private tutoring is a way of tying academic performance to financial expenditure, putting some students at an advantage or disadvantage based on their economic status. It’s important, then, that the free tutoring systems in place at Tam be as widely available and well-developed as possible. Students may be unaware of the programs already offered at Tam, or wary of their flaws. These programs exist to provide students with equal access to free help, and teachers should be commended for their efforts in that regard. At the same time, however, many Tam tutoring programs don’t feel accessible to students because of their inconsistent execution. This issue needs to be addressed so Tam’s academic support systems can be as viable as private tutoring options.

The math department’s Mandatory Math Tutoring Support (MMTS) program aims to support students through a system of mandatory tutorial sessions assigned in response to missed assignments or misunderstood concepts. Theoretically, the system provides equal access to math help, but it suffers from inconsistent application within the department. For some teachers, the MMTS is an automatic response to a missed assignment. Anecdotally, this policy causes more students to copy each other’s work or rush through an assignment to avoid losing points through an MMTS, rather than encouraging more careful review. The intervention format is a good one for mandating wider use of free tutoring services, but proves counterproductive when it serves as a punishment. On the other end of the spectrum, teachers who rarely or never enforce the MMTS policy fail to give students this extra studying opportunity, and perpetuate an uneven playing field. If the MMTS policy were standardized, more students would benefit from the program’s positive aspects, and fewer would suffer its detriments. The mandatory sessions are most effective when used as a tool for check-in and catch-up throughout the semester for students who truly need the additional help.

One program that might address the issue of inconsistent application or infrequent availability is Link Crew’s recently modified Study and Snacks program, which replaces traditional end-of-semester study sessions with mandatory math and science tutoring for students identified by teachers as needing additional help. The new system matches student tutors with struggling students during sessions strategically placed near unit tests, giving them an opportunity to address confusion or organizational issues before the problem gets out of hand. Like the MMTS, Study and Snacks is an intervention system designed to prevent last minute panic, but, due to its young age, has yet to fully prove itself.

A secondary issue of Tam’s support systems is their lack of consistent publicity. While some programs are made available at teachers’ discretion, others rely on student initiative. Tam’s Writing Lab provides students with writing tutors in Room 2020 during tutorial, but the program suffers from low attendance—perhaps because many students aren’t aware that the resource exists. Many teachers generously donate time outside of class for one-on-one sessions with students, but it’s students’ responsibility to coordinate these sessions. Teachers who do offer office hours could greatly help the process by making details about the times and locations of those sessions as specific and available as possible.

Given the economic divides that private tutoring options create, it’s essential that teachers and administrators offer a range of free academic support systems. In order for these programs to become fully functional, students need to actively seek support, and teachers need to ensure that these programs are as standardized and consistently publicized as possible.