Get the Most from Your Tutor

by Neil Chyten

If you are like millions of other families across America and across the world, you hire tutors to help your child with a difficult subject, to write a paper, or to pass a test. Indeed, tutoring in America is a $15 billion industry. Most tutoring is done by individuals with little or no training in the fine art of teaching. Much tutoring is done by college students or graduate students. There is no class a person can take to learn to be a tutor, or to improve his tutoring skills. Often, tutoring is done by students who attend top colleges.  Indeed, many tutoring services boast about the names of colleges that their tutors attend more than they boast about the teaching ability of their tutors! It is as if going to a big name college automatically makes you a great tutor. In reality, attending a top college has little or nothing to do with how well you can teach. On the contrary, some of these students are just so smart that learning comes easily to them, so they don’t really have a deep understanding of how to help a student who struggles in a particular subject area.  

Given the fact that there is no accrediting agency for tutors, you rarely know how good a tutor is until you start working with him. Even though you may get a recommendation from a friend, the relationship between a tutor and a student is always unique, and no two relationships are the same. In other words, a person who was a great tutor for one student may not be right for another student. And just because a tutor has a degree from Princeton doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a great tutor.

So, let’s take a look at this from another perspective. If you want your tutor to be as effective as possible for your child, then you must learn how to teach your tutor how to teach you. That’s right. A tutor must be taught the best way to help each individual child. Perhaps your child needs encouragement. Perhaps your child needs motivation. Perhaps your child requires a more nurturing attitude. Perhaps your child needs to be pushed. These are just some examples of the kind of information that can help to improve a tutor-student relationship. Parents, some of this information can come from you, but some of it must also come from your child. And in many cases, the more you get involved in the tutoring sessions, your more your child will resist. Sound familiar? With this in mind, here are three suggestions on how to train your tutor to work best with you child. 

Teach your Tutor – Suggestion #1: Discuss a previous positive tutoring experience. 

Perhaps the greatest teacher is experience. Talk to your tutor about a positive tutoring experience your child has had in the past. What made those tutoring sessions effective? Was it that the tutor had a sense of humor? Was the tutor able to motivate your child? You can also talk about a tutoring experience that was not positive. Discuss what went wrong. The more you can teach your tutor based on experiences of the past, the sooner you’ll create a positive environment for effective learning.

Teach your Tutor – Suggestion #2: Talk openly and honestly about your child without being critical or judgmental.

You can explain that your child has certain knowledge gaps and perhaps even share why those knowledge gaps exist. You can explain that your child likes a certain topic, but does not like another. You can indicate that your child needs things to be explained slowly, or that your child is impatient or fidgety. You can suggest that your child needs to get up and walk around every 10 to 15 minutes. No one knows your child as well as you so. Share your knowledge with the tutor to foster a more positive tutoring experience.

Teach your Tutor – Suggestion #3: Step Out of the Room

Encourage an honest and open relationship between your child and your tutor. That means that you should not be present or even listening in as the tutoring sessions occur. Your being in the room, or nearby, is just going to be a distraction and a hindrance to the formation of a strong tutor–student relationship. Give your child the freedom to be honest, even about you! Let your child say that you push him too hard, or that your expectations are too high, or that you don’t believe he is smart enough, or works hard enough, to get great grades. When this kind of openness is encouraged, a strong relationship can the formed. And, a strong relationship built on trust and respect is an essential component to a successful tutoring experience.

Parents, remember that a degree from a great college does not necessarily mean that someone is a great tutor. So, what are the characteristics of a great tutor? To me, the most important quality a tutor can have is empathy. Great tutors read the thoughts of their students just as if they are reading a book. Great tutors use nonverbal clues to determine whether or not their students are getting the message.  Great tutors are patient, and have the ability to change their teaching styles to match the learning style of each of their students. Great tutors do not boast about how great they are. That kind of self-centered attitude is the antithesis of what it takes to be a great tutor; great tutors are always looking outward rather than inward. Finally, great tutors are great planners. They can quickly evaluate the current status of their students and plan a positive path forward to a successful outcome.  

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