Last year AMS tutoring saw frustrated staff, overwhelmed management

With issues like confusion about staff appreciation gift cards, communication gaps and management’s transition difficulties, the 2016/17 term saw a high level of frustration from AMS Tutoring staff.

Katherine Pan, the former coordinator of AMS Tutoring, attributed most of these administrative problems to the “overwhelming” scope of the service. 

The first public complaint about the service was made in May 2017 via a r/UBC subthread called “AMS tutoring is a mess,” in which Reddit user “fucktheamstutoring” inquired about the appreciation gift cards that were promised to the staff. 

“So our lovely AMS tutoring coordinator mentioned a few months ago that there was some budget allocated towards gifts to us tutors and told us that we were getting gift cards to the bookstore of ~$30,” he said. “They said they would email us when they were ready for pick up but that was months ago. All of my follow up request to them through email and text message have gone unanswered. AMS tutoring is done for the year.”

In a separate email to The Ubyssey, he also sent a screenshot of an email from Pan that is dated March 13, 2017, which proves that the staff were indeed supposed to receive the gift cards. 

“Staff appreciation — I have discussed with Hussam, [the former AMS student services manager], and Liam, [the former AMS Tutoring assistant coordinator], and we will be giving tutors gift cards to AMS Food outlets as staff appreciation for this year. I will inform you of the logistics and exact amount closer to the end of the month,” wrote Pan in the email. 

However, as indicated in the subthread and confirmed by others, they didn’t receive the gift cards. At the same time, the expense for these gift cards — altogether valued around $1,000 — also didn’t appear on the budget according to the current AMS Student Services Manager Marium Hamid. They were simply never bought.

In response, Pan acknowledged this promise and referenced the timestamp as the reason for this error. 

“That was sort of the minor things that we definitely did say we would provide for tutors,” she said. “It was quite difficult to focus on the transition from March to April — a lot of that time was focused on transitioning and hiring a new coordinator. Unfortunately, things just slipped by.”

A larger trend 

This issue of letting things “slip by” also seems to be a larger trend based on concerns that were brought up other tutors. For instance, ideas were reportedly often brought up to management and seemed to receive positive feedback, but then were never followed through. 

“I feel that the biggest drawback of our service is that we can’t advertise so I suggested to them to make small pamphlets to keep as reception desks or to give it to students,” said Parampreet Singh, an AMS tutor. “I talked to Liam and he said that it was a good idea, but when nobody did it, I brought it up in a meeting as well. It was never executed.”

Similarly, in the same March 13 email, Pan also wrote that the service was “working to get all tutors a shared Wolfram Alpha subscription.” The staff likewise never received this account. 

Communication gaps between the staff and management were also present. 

“At the beginning, it was a bit stressful not knowing when we would start tutoring because for a while, none of us got contacted. None of us got informed,” said Garrett Tang, another AMS tutor. “Later on, it was still difficult to get in contact with a lot of people. Sometimes it would be very good and they would respond right away but other times, they wouldn’t respond for days.” 

Pan attributed this trend to the difficulty of managing the scope of this service. 

“I worked at the AMS last year 20 hours a week from May 1 to the end of April this year and my assistant coordinator, who was hired late in the summer time, worked 15 hours a week. Between us, we have about 35 hours a week I would say so that was the main driver for the issues that we have been experiencing and working to alleviate,” said Pan. 

“At any point during the year, we had about 30 to 40 tutors and other staffs working and that will fluctuate throughout the year. The ratio would have been about 1 to 20 in terms of manager to subordinates, and I would say that the normal ratio in any sort of working environment is one to eight maximum,” she added. “That ratio can get therefore quite overwhelming and as a result, we kind of lost touch in terms of communication in a few instances.”

According to her, this was also the reason for any perceived difficulties in management’s transition, such as delayed payroll processing at the beginning of term. 

“I was trained in payroll by our payroll administrator, as well as the former assistant coordinator,” said Pan. “It wasn’t so much of an issue of knowing how to do the payroll. It was more to do with where we were at the time and how things were a little bit behind at the beginning of the year [due to] the scope of the service itself.”

Moving forward

To make managing AMS Tutoring more “sustainable,” some of the responsibilities of the coordinator and assistant coordinator have been reallocated to the AMS assistant student services manager, according to Pan. 

Furthermore, because there is management turnover every year, Hamid noted that the new coordinator and assistant coordinator this year have and are receiving extensive transition preparation. 

“We have for the first time a week-long transition period,” she said. “They got two weeks with their predecessors and not only that, they also got one week of training from payroll, HR and general team leadership styles.”

There will also be time in the summer to spend on preparing goals and planning outreach for the year. Different ways for people to provide feedback to the coordinator and assistant coordinators will further be put in place this year. 

She couldn't comment on how this preparation was done last year.

Lastly, both Pan and Hamid pointed out that they had heard little to no complaints about AMS Tutoring prior to The Ubyssey’s interview requests. As a result, Hamid encouraged anyone who has any issues with the service to come talk to her or the new coordinator about them.

“If these problems had been brought up, we could have looked into it, but since we received zero emails or even an in-person drop in, I can’t really speak about these grievances,” she said. “I encourage anyone who has had an issue with this to email me or the current coordinator. Even if issues are communicated to Katherine’s personal account, I will have zero way to know and improve the service this year.”