Someone I follow on social media is a freshman at university in a non-technical major, but she has a required data science course using Python, pandas and Jupyter Lab. She requested help from her followers, I offered to help, and she accepted. We spent an hour or two and I helped her complete her assignment while trying to coach her on fundamentals as best I could, given the fact that she is a beginner at all of the technologies involved, plus programming in general. (The assignment was to load a CSV file into a data frame and plot it in a couple of ways to get different insights into the data.) She was very happy with the session and asked if I would agree to tutor her for pay for the rest of the semester, and she made it clear that she wanted help with her homework specifically. I'm a programming professional with a lot of experience in the technologies but no formal experience tutoring and no need for extra income. I agreed to tutor her.

My question for the community is, how can I structure my tutoring so that she learns this subject and the sessions are not just me telling her how to do the assignment? Now that I have agreed to be her tutor I feel a responsibility to educate her and not just help her get better grades on her homework. Should I ask her to share her learning materials and assignments with me before her tutoring session? Should I give her readings to look at in preparation for our tutoring sessions? She is not passionate about computing, but if she is going to attain competency in this subject and do well on exams, she will need to fill in fundamentals of programming and of all these technologies, and doing this may not be what she wants from our tutoring sessions; I'm thinking she wants to come out of them with her homework done.

Many thanks for any feedback!

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    $\begingroup$ Seems you have a problem similar to Sal who started Khan Academy. Perhaps you should do what Sal did, focus on clearly explaining each topic as they come up. If Khan academy already has the topic covered and you can not add more value to it then just point the student to the topic link. $\endgroup$
    – Guy Coder
    Feb 3, 2022 at 8:15

1 Answer 1


So, I think that you're feeling trapped because you feel like there is a mismatch between her desires and your value. If, indeed, what she's looking for is homework help, I don't believe that there is a satisfying way forward from your current mind-frame.

I'd like to offer a slightly different lens, though, that might help you see your way to a different approach. The way forward involves asking a new central question.

The Central Question that you must ask yourself is, if we assume that she will never directly touch data science or programming again after college, what of value can she nevertheless glean from this course and from your time with her?

If your answer is no value, then you are not seeing your own topic deeply enough. There are central ideas of any field that can serve us well outside of that field.

(Note that there is a deeper economy-of-brain notion here: we make use of the patterns (think of a constellation of neurons and synapses) that we have developed to develop new patterns, even when the source of the the original brain-pattern isn't directly invoked. That is how we learn! This also means that the richer patterns of thought that we develop have an outsized impact on our later development, even if we don't realize that we are using them.)

Ultimately, your answer to the central question should guide your approach. Help her with the homework, but also help guide her towards meaningful connections to (and mental hooks into) the material that will help guide her thinking even outside of this field.

In other words, since she is not interested in the topic for itself, instead try to curate a journey through some of the more meaningful implications of the topic that she can utilize for the rest of her life.

Taken in this light, helping her with her homework becomes a more valuable proposition. She does better in the course, learns it more deeply, and also learns how the topic can help her in the rest of her life. You get to help someone, and have a reason to try to make deeper connections with your own field.

Good luck with your tutee!

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for this incredibly thoughtful and helpful response! $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2022 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ @VicinNewYork Aw, thank you!! $\endgroup$
    – Ben I.
    Feb 3, 2022 at 19:50

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