Tutorials: The Dilemma

In past years, the school has reserved tutorials for Sixth Formers under the rationale that non-Sixth Formers have yet to exhaust the school’s resources to justify such advanced study. Yet with growing frustration over this restrictive policy among Fourth and Fifth Formers, a more thorough debate over this issue is needed.

Picture this: exploring the world of Metamorphosis with your favorite Latin teacher. Or how about contemplating the philosophies of Aristotle? Tutorials are when a small group of students (or even a lone scholar) are all deeply interested in a particular subject, and they pursue the knowledge of that subject under the expertise of a willing teacher.

Academics on the Circle are known to be rigorous, and Groton students don’t spare themselves when deciding what to add to their course load or what to drop. However, many of us here have very keen interests in a specific subject, whether it be a modern language, science, classics, or English. We are fascinated by and would like to further explore what these areas have to offer at a deeper level than a regular course, opening up the possibility of advanced study.

This is where tutorials come in. All members of the faculty at Groton are highly knowledgeable in their respective fields, and some feel that these extraordinary opportunities for learning are wasted by the school. If they have the time and the motivation for a tutorial, and there are students willing to embark on this journey of learning with them, what’s stopping everyone? The rule that only Sixth Formers are allowed to take tutorials.

Traditionally, only Sixth Formers are allowed to take tutorials because, as Kathy Leggat said, “It’s always been that way. Sixth Formers are the oldest and have taken advantage of a lot of courses and have no other options. Somebody who has taken all history electives for example, can contact Dr. Tyler to have a tutorial.” Usually, tutorials are reserved for students who have exhausted all other options.

However, the rule that only Sixth Formers are allowed to take tutorials interferes with this principle. Two Fifth Formers, Philippe Heitzmann ’15 and Fei Fang ’15, both highly proficient Spanish students, wanted to do a Spanish Literature tutorial with Sr. Fernandez. They were refused due to the fact that they were only Fifth Formers. Francisca said, “We are known to have a good academic program and students are encouraged to pursue their academic interests. Then why should tutorials be an exclusive privilege reserved for seniors? Since course offerings shown in the course catalog are definitely limited, the school should allow students to set up a tutorial if there is a course that they want to take but is not offered, as long as there is a faculty member available and willing to do it.”

Yet although the school should open up more tutorials to non-Sixth Formers as a matter of principle, it is logistically near-impossible for teachers to offer more tutorials. Katherine Bradley said that she was “always amazed that teachers are willing to volunteer so much extra time to their students.” Indeed, “teachers prepare classes, teach them, grade the work, coach sports, advise students and work in the dorm — and they also need time to spend with their families and friends.” Unless the teacher has a particular inclination towards the student, there are no reasons why the faculty member would want to pick up more work for no pay. At the end of the day, there is little time for teachers to fit in extra work for students. In fact, when teachers do underestimate their workload and accept a tutorial, their decision can lead to undesirable consequences for both themselves and the students, leading to a lot of stress and little learned; thus, the school only seeks to protect its students and faculty.

The administration also wants to emphasize that most non-Sixth Formers applying for tutorials have not yet exhausted the school’s resources in that domain. Sixth Formers, on the other hand, have usually expressed enough interest and taken all the available regular courses, thereby justifying their priority. In addition, this policy seeks to perpetuate the tradition of honoring Sixth Formers as the leaders of the school; Ms. Leggat said that “often Sixth Formers have taken many courses in a department and would like to continue further. It’s a long-standing tradition that the oldest students, who have more choice in their courses, might have the opportunity to pursue an area or a topic beyond what the electives offer with an instructor who shares common interests.” More importantly, many times the non-Sixth Formers have not yet had enough time to develop a close relationship with the teacher in question, which is a key ingredient to tutorial according to Ms. Leggat.

Therefore, in an ideal world where logistical limits are disregarded and principles dictate decisions, the school should loosen its tutorial policy. Under the idea that all students should be able to pursue whatever they’re passionate about, non-Sixth Formers should be allowed to take tutorials. Yet many times the reality is much more complicated, with teacher motivation and insufficient student preparation coming in the way of the creation of the tutorials for non-Sixth Formers.

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