What makes a good tutor?

If you want to invest time and money into tuition, you want to be sure that it is good tuition.  You want to make sure that the tutor is good. The big question is, however, what are you looking for and how do you tell?  Here are ten tips to help you choose a tutor.

Relationship

You need to have a good working relationship with a tutor.  Perhaps the most important things for the success of a learning relationship is that the tutor and tutee can work together. Having a good working relationship can mean different things to different people, but it must mean mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual understanding.  It is no good having the friendliest tutor in the world if he or she cannot understand the difficulties you are having, nor can you work with someone who does not respect you or your needs, even if they are incredibly knowledgeable about their subject.  Don’t be afraid to meet with a few tutors before you make your final decision about which one is best for you.

Meet the tutor first

We offer a free half hour introductory session, but whether or not the tutor you chose offers something like this, you need to meet them before you commit to any sessions.  You should meet in a similar way to which you will have your tutorials as this will allow you to judge the relationship you may or may not be able to build with the tutor in the environment in which you will be tutored.  If you are going to visit them at their home, then a meeting there will allow you to see how you interact in that environment.  If you have going to have online tutorials then a similar online tutorial will not only tell you if the mechanics of a Skype tutorial, or Google Hangout will work for you, but will also allow you to get a feel for the tutor and your learning relationship with him or her.  Always ask for an introductory meeting or session before committing to a particular tutor.

Knowledge

Does your tutor have the necessary knowledge? It is important to me that a tutor has not just a superficial knowledge but is able to talk around the subject and bring something extra to it.  When I work with primary aged students on literacy, I have a working knowledge from my experience home educating my daughter.  I also have experience of working with secondary aged students who have low literacy levels in mainstream schools and several years working with students with Special Educational Needs.  I have also worked training teachers in phonics teaching. On top of that I have academic study from my MEd, and BA(hons) which looked not just at a range of theories for language acquisition, child development, literacy and reading. All these areas come together to mean that I can explore literacy in a range of ways and from different perspectives, meaning as a tutor I have a wealth of experience and ideas to draw on.  A good tutor will always have more than just a surface knowledge of the subject area you are asking them to work on.  Don’t be afraid to ask about their experience and knowledge before committing to sessions.

Skills

A tutor can be highly knowledgeable about a subject, but if she or he does not have the skills to be able to transfer this knowledge to the tutee it is all for naught.  For some people, being a specialist in a subject makes it impossible for them to understand those who find the subject difficult.  I remember a friend who was fluent in about 5 languages and thought she would train to be a teacher.  She did some work experience in a school and confessed that she just didn’t understand what the children found hard and therefore couldn’t break it down for them. Needless to say she became a translator; a much better career choice for her.  Ask any potential tutor about their teaching methods, and if possible, ask them to do a teaching activity in the introductory session which you request.

Fun

I blogged just the other day about the importance of play and I firmly believe that learning should be fun for both tutor and tutee.  Different learning methods suit different ages and stages, but if the learning is a boring drag, you will not learn as much as if you find it fun.  I play running around games with 5 year olds learning letters (“run to something beginning with the sound <s>”).  I do quiz shows with A-Level students cementing their subject knowledge.  Not everything has to be or should be a game, but the act of learning should be fun, not a chore.

Inspiring

As an adult, to this day, I can remember the teachers who really inspired me. The teachers who’s lessons made an impression and this is what you are aiming for in a tutor.  Someone who’s knowledge and passion can be transferred to the tutee.  If you have lost interest in a subject or are finding it hard, or if you are revisiting something as an adult in order to further your career, you need a tutor who can re-kindle the flame of interest and inspire you to do well again.

Understand you

A good tutor will in the first few chats or sessions, often listen more than he or she talks.  The tutor needs to gain an understanding of you, your needs, your strengths and weaknesses your ways of learning. Whether you are a home educated unschooler looking for some subject specific input, an A-level student who wants to supplement college in put or an adult who wants to boost numeracy skills for a new career, you will have different needs.  Those needs may well change along your tuition journey as well. As you go along, you should find that sessions are tailored to you and your needs, not get the feeling that this is something the tutor has taught time and time again and that the pattern of sessions is set in stone for you to work through.  Always ask a tutor if they have a course which they work through or if the sessions are created in an organic manner to develop with your needs as they arise.

Time that suits you

Consider the time at which your schedule your tutorials.  Are you going to be in the best frame of mind for learning at the time you schedule sessions?  Are you going to be able to devote your whole attention to the sessions?  Try not to schedule sessions for a time when you will be tired or hungry.  Obviously a good tutor may be booked up, but discuss a range of slots with him or her before you commit.

Location that suits you

You need to be comfortable not only with the tutor you chose, but with the surroundings in which you are studying.  It may be that going to a tutor and working in their environment puts you in the best frame of mind for studying; creating you a specific study space.  It may be that you would feel more comfortable or confident in familiar surroundings.  Check before you commit, whether the tutor will travel to other venues and/or ask to the see the venue they tutor in to ensure you will feel comfortable there.

Where can the parent go?

I have talked about ‘you’ as the tutee throughout this piece, as we tutor people from reception, to adults I felt this was the best way of framing the writing, however I am aware that many people reading this will be parents looking for a tutor for their children.  One of the most awkward things for many parents is the ‘where should I be’ question.  Once you child is having a tutorial with their tutor what are you expected to do?  Should you sit in the car?  Will there be another room you can sit in? Should you stay with your child?  Do not be afraid to ask these questions before you make decisions about a tutor.  We offer parents the option to stay in another room and have a cup of tea.  For some people this can be a welcome break!  For others the opportunity to head off and get things done is more appealing and as DBS checked tutors we are happy for you to leave your child in our care for the duration of their session and head off to get your shopping done. Unless the child is every unsettled without his or her parent, it is usually best not to have a parent in the session.  Children often have preconceptions of what the parent wants and expects and will often play to (or against) those expectations.  However, if a parent wants to stay and see what I am doing for a session or two to put his or her mind at rest, he or she is always more than welcome.

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