|Socrates - the best tutor ever?|
National Archaeological Museum Naples
Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen
There are some obvious signs that light bulbs are turning on – a palpable rise in the energy level in the room; people sitting up or moving towards the edge of their seats; the articulation of challenging and vociferous questions; students debating with each other in an animated manner as if the tutor wasn’t there at all. There are also obvious signs that a tutorial is not going well at all – if a student is staring glumly out of the window at people playing Frisbee on the quad, or picking dead skin off the soles of their feet while their tutorial partner talks about early modern Spanish armies. And then there is – much more commonly – the grey inbetween. If students are giving brief, faltering answers to your questions, with extended silences before they speak, does that mean they are ruminating on the issues at a deep and still level? Or that they are revealing a terrible lack of reading? Or that the point you just elucidated has gone right over their heads? Or, alternatively, that it was so blindingly obvious that no-one understands why you bothered to mention it at all?
So that is one of the reasons why tutorial teaching requires you to keep your wits about you. While one part of the tutor’s brain is neurotically concerned with reading body language, glances and silences for evidence of total bafflement or intellectual elation, the rest of it is trying hard to conduct a sensible conversation about the intricacies of Elizabethan court portraiture, or the economy of late 15th century Florence, or pedagogical practice in the Renaissance. But maybe that’s just me.