Monday, February 11, 2013

You Don't Have to Agree With Your Tutor ...

I was contacted by a fellow correspondence course tutor this week (he works for another company) who was quite upset about a response he’d had from one of his students. This student had received the tutor’s feedback on their assignment and had taken offence. As a result, the tutor was worried that his criticism had come across as too harsh and was not constructive.

Receiving criticism is difficult, and all tutors are aware of this. But, hopefully, the criticism a tutor gives is constructive. It should demonstrate the steps that can be taken to improve the text, and then explain why those steps lead to better text.

Does a student have to agree with a tutor’s advice and implement it? No, not at all. It is entirely up to the student whether they take the action the tutor has recommended. Most tutors, though, are drawing upon their own (successful) writing experience.

One of the student’s complaints to my fellow tutor, was that he’d picked up on all of the spelling, punctation and grammatical errors, within the text. Surely, this wasn’t necessary when so many published books have poor spelling, grammar and punctuation within them. Sadly, I can see where this attitude comes from - only this morning, whilst reading a crime novel written by a well-known novelist, (and published by one of the big four UK publishers) I came across two spelling mistakes in the text. The first one was a little dismaying, but the second one, only a few pages later, was more annoying. I began to question how many more I might come across in the book, which I expected to be professionally written and produced. But this experience doesn’t make me think it’s okay to let my standards drop. I still want to write to the best of my ability, and to the highest standard that I can attain. And that’s also what I hope for my students, too.

It came across that the student’s response was one of someone whose immediate reaction had taken the comments personally. They’d not liked what they’d read and sat down and fired off an emotional response. Whilst understandable, it’s a shame, because that tutor/student relationship is now more delicate than it might have been. In the future, my friend is more likely to exercise extreme caution when marking this student’s work, (in fear of receiving further vitriolic responses), which means the student may not get the detailed feedback that could really help them. It would probably be better if the student asked to move to a new tutor, and created a fresh tutor/student relationship. Indeed, I’ve often said to people undertaking courses, that if they don’t get on with their tutor, then ask to be transferred. The tutor/student relationship is an important one, but it is also a human relationship, and not all humans get on with one another. You’re more likely to get the most benefit from your course if you have a good relationship with your tutor.

That doesn’t mean that a student has to accept everything their tutor tells them. Sometimes, students have disagreed with my advice. They’ve taken on board my comments and spent time making the changes I’ve suggested, but then they don’t like this new result. That’s okay. I respect the student’s decision, because at least they’ve had a go at making the changes I’ve suggested. They didn’t simply dismiss my suggestions; they gave them thought, consideration and then tried acting upon them. Because of this, they now have a ‘before’ and ‘after’ piece of work, to compare, which they didn’t have before they’d received my feedback. This enables them to examine the differences and ask themselves which bits work better, and why. Being able to say that, “this works better because…” means the student has still learned something in the process, and as a result, they will be a better writer. 

At the end of the day, everybody is human: students and tutors.

Good luck.