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Teaching

How to Be a Successful Tutor

I have been successfully tutoring children, teens and adults for over 10 years, logging hundreds of tutoring hours. I started teaching when I realised that there was no dearth of students wanting to hire biology private tutors to help them with the subject. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of tutoring but still enjoy my work. My tutoring skills have grown through the years and I would like to share what I’ve found to be the best skills to hone to be a better tutor. I call them the four P’s: Preparation, Punctuality, Patience and Perseverance. If you can improve on at least one of these four, you are on your way to being a better tutor.

Preparation

Good preparation is important in any situation you encounter, not just for tutoring. Before meeting to tutor a student for the first time, make sure to find out the basics. Ask the student, or their parent, one or all of the questions I have listed below.

  • Exactly why are you seeking tutoring?
  • Do you know what your problem is?
  • Have you tried getting assistance elsewhere?
  • Do you have any learning disabilities?
  • What will be the exact subject covered, be specific?
  • Do you have any previous quizzes or exams I can look at?
  • Are you comfortable with me speaking to your teacher?
  • How often will you need tutoring?

These are just some of the questions that you can ask before your tutoring session. Don’t bombard your student or parent with questions, but ask enough to get a good solid idea of what you are in for. The more you know, the more you can prepare, and the better tutor you will be. Refresh your memory on the subject, maybe print out some guides or outlines to help you out. Bring practice problems with you, if applicable. Do whatever you can to be the most prepared you can be. This will help calm your nerves, and impress your student.

Punctuality

My personal pet peeve is tardiness. I hate being late. I hate others who are late. Because of this, I have built a reputation, both in my personal and professional lives, as being punctual. Punctuality is important for a tutor for a variety of reasons. If you are rushing to get to an appointment on time, it may leave you frazzled and less able to conduct a smooth and successful tutoring session. Being late to one tutoring session can mess up your whole day if you have back to back sessions scheduled. Most importantly, it impresses your student. A student’s father once gave me the best compliment by saying, ‘I could set my clock by you!’ That’s the reputation you want to have as a tutor. Try to always leave at least a 15 minute window to account for unforeseen traffic.

Patience

Although this may go without saying, it is of utmost importance that a tutor has extreme patience. It can be incredibly frustrating to work with a student for an hour on one subject and not seem to make any progress. Although that can be the sign of poor tutoring skills, sometimes even the best tutor cannot make some students understand. Don’t waste too much time stuck on one problem or concept unless absolutely necessary. This will leave both you and the student frustrated. As the tutor, you set the pace and tone of the session. Make the executive decision to move on to another problem and return to the original problem later. Sometimes having a fresh outlook can help a subject become clearer. I will admit, I am guilty of once saying in my head “why don’t you get it!?” but NEVER say that to your student. Always use positive reinforcement and try different ways of explaining the subject to help your student understand. There is nothing more satisfying to a tutor than seeing that glimmer in your student’s eye when they exclaim “I got it!”

Perseverance

How does that old saying go? ‘If you fall off, get back on and try, try again?’ This is especially true for successful tutors. Don’t give up if your student doesn’t understand the concept after the first session. Some students take longer to absorb new material than others. Don’t say ‘I don’t know how else to put this,’ but instead, reword the problem to help your student understand better. As a new tutor, you may not have all your skills sharpened and may not perform as well as you want. You may even get fired from a tutoring job due to poor performance or no improvement in your student’s grades. Don’t be discouraged, just keep trying. Every tutor goes through a rough patch at the beginning, but it will get better. Persevere and you will become a successful tutor.

I hope this article has helped you to see the importance of the four P’s: Preparation, Punctuality, Patience and Perseverance. If you prepare for every tutoring session, arrive punctual, remain patient and maintain perseverance, you will be a successful tutor.

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