career development / Job market

My experience as a tutor

In February 2019, I joined online tutoring website Online tutoring is a great way to use your knowledge to help others whilst making some extra cash along the way. Over the course of the last two years I’ve delivered over 1000 hours of lessons in maths and physics to students across a 20-year age range. The learning curb for a tutor is a steep one. In this blog, I’ve collected together some of the most important things I’ve learnt.

A lesson not a lecture

The student should be doing the work, not you. Talking non-stop for 60 minutes will leave your student bored and disengaged, and you with a sore throat. You should accompany your explanations with quickfire questions such as “what do you think about this?”, “how does this relate to that?” and “any questions?”. This encourages your student to participate and think for themselves, with the bonus of ensuring they aren’t tabbed out watching Netflix.

A student telling you they understand does not always mean they do

There are several reasons a student may give you a false positive when you ask them if they understand.

  • The student thinks they understand but doesn’t. We’ve all been there. Being unable to answer a question on a topic you were sure you had understood when you’d seen it in a lecture can be frustrating. Students will sometimes feel like they’ve understood your explanation but will fail to apply their new knowledge the next day in school.
  • The student is shy and is afraid to say no. The one-on-one environment of online tutoring can trigger anxiety in some students, especially younger ones. This can result in the student giving you a routine “yes” when you ask them if everything makes sense, when in reality they have no idea.
  • The student may not be there for the right reasons and doesn’t want to hear another explanation. Some students will only be sat in front of you because their parents have threatened to take their Xbox away! The student is unlikely to have really thought about your explanation but will tell you they understand anyway because it is easier.

The best way around this is not to rely on your students’ word. Instead of asking them if they understand, test their understanding. Utilise exam questions and come up with problems to assess their grasp of the idea at hand.

No two students are the same

People learn and develop new skills in different ways. These differences are most prominent in young people. The illusion that there is one perfect teaching method is a dangerous one. The best tutors understand how to adapt their teaching style for each of their students to maximise their results.

Try to understand every pupils learning style…

Find a good set of resources

As intelligent as you may be, there is not room in your memory for the entirety of your subject’s syllabus; at least not in the detail that is required. It is important to locate a concise set of online notes you can refer to during lessons. GCSE Bitesize is one of the best sites for science subjects, but there are hundreds of good ones out there. Purchasing an online version of a textbook can also be a great reference.

There will be times you don’t know the answer

Every tutors’ worst nightmare is coming to the realisation you don’t have the answer the student is looking for. I’ve experienced this several times, mostly when working with very gifted A-level students. So, what should you do? There is no shame in telling your student you aren’t sure. Remain calm and assure the student that you will do some additional research after the lesson and get back to them as soon as you can. Your student won’t mind waiting a few extra hours as long as you can give them the answer eventually. Don’t stress it.

Engaging resources can make both teaching and learning more enjoyable…

Plan lessons where possible

The quality of my teaching increased dramatically when I began to request the student let me know the topic they’d like to focus on the day before the lesson. 10-15 minutes before each lesson developing a rough plan will result in your lessons being more structured and engaging. You will find lessons more relaxing if you know where they are heading.

The tutor-student relationship is crucial

Your students will be more willing to apply themselves in your lessons if they like you. For older students, take an interest in their prospects after their time at school and introduce them to things you found interesting at their age. For younger students, ask them about their extra-curricular activities and hobbies. Giving your student a couple minutes to tell you about the goal they scored on the weekend can do wonders for your productivity.

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