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3 Strategies for Student Success: Overcoming Frustration, Anxiety, and Impatience

Olivia explains how she supports students who may be having a tough time with their coursework or other stressors when they first start a Paper session.

Validating students’ feelings

As anyone who has spent time around children will know, keeping them focused on the task at hand can be a challenge—especially when that task is solving math problems or finishing English homework. If you’ve ever felt frustrated, exasperated, or helpless in a classroom, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

At Paper, we work with students of all different ages, cultures, academic backgrounds, and levels of ability. We're fortunate to facilitate beautiful learning experiences and glorious “aha!” moments. That doesn't mean there aren't challenging times too. Every tutor has worked with a student who seemed committed to straying off topic, or who repeated the phrase “I don’t know” over and over again.

Fortunately, our tutors understand that students sometimes experience complex emotions that they may have trouble articulating. For example, one-word responses and “I don’t know” messages can represent genuine confusion about the subject matter or embarrassment about asking for help. Straying off topic or spamming the chat with emojis can be kid-code for “I need a break!” Even behaviors that seem simply rude or impatient at first, such as demanding direct answers, can mask a sense of dread about an impending due date or anxiety about a difficult task.

Strategies for navigating a challenging session

Let me give you an example. As a humanities tutor, my students often come to me for help with literary analyses and writing essays. In these sessions, my first few questions are designed to gauge how much the student already understands about the text they’re studying.

I might ask questions like:

  • What was the most important part of the story?
  • Which character did you find the most interesting?

In response, a frustrated student might come off as demanding or vague. A few individuals might even decide to change the subject entirely.

While it’s easy to let a sense of exasperation take over, an effective tutor will read between the lines. There are three strategies any tutor on the Paper team can use to move the session forward.

1. Hit pause: “Do you need a break? Come back anytime!”

How long has the student been working today? It might be time for a break! A good strategy is to let the student know that they can pause at any time and that Paper is available 24/7 to support them. For young students in particular, regular breaks can make a world of difference in keeping the session pleasant and productive.

2. Pump them up: “You’re doing great!”

If needing a break isn’t the problem, another useful strategy is to provide encouragement. Some
students might be feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or anxious about their assignments. An effective tutor will let them know how much their efforts are appreciated. We have to remember that students are working hard and managing stress just like the rest of us. A positive message can go a long way toward making the session more productive. Students appreciate being told that they’re making excellent progress and doing great work.

3. Be reassuring: “Am I confusing you? Just let me know.”

In my opinion, the most important thing tutors can do is to remind students that not knowing is OK. Many students—especially as they move into the higher grades—feel pressure to excel. They may think they have to know everything, ace every test, and finish their work with a perfect grade every time. These students often feel embarrassed because they think their questions are too obvious or that they shouldn’t need a second explanation. In these cases, tutors need to remind students that the act of learning, in and of itself, is a success. Making mistakes or getting confused is an inevitable part of the process. I always ask students if they need me to slow down, repeat an explanation, or review another example. It’s important to let them know that there’s no such thing as a bad question—we’re here to help them improve, and sometimes that means practicing the fundamentals.

Learning is about the journey, not the destination

At Paper, we work hard to engage meaningfully with all types of learners and to nurture their curiosity, even if they feel uncertain at first. Our tutors are patient, adaptive, and passionate about education. And when a tutoring session is particularly challenging, it feels even better when we finally take a step forward or achieve a breakthrough together. While frustration is natural, we respect the fluid nature of progress for each and every student. That’s how learning happens.


Tutor Olivia

Olivia, Paper Tutor

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