Advice for New Tutors

Mark Maclaine

August 05, 2014

Last week I got an email from a tutor who had been asked to travel abroad with a family. He'd only had a limited amount of teaching experience. However, what he did have was a great deal of life experience, and had traveled extensively. He'd been honest with the family about this, but they assured him that they liked him in his interview. Even so, he was a little nervous about going - so asked if there was any advice or tips I could offer to help him on his new tutoring assignment.

Although my response was fairly rushed (as I was on holiday) I'd like to share it with you all. From tutors, I'd love to hear any tips I should have included - things that you wish you'd be told. New tutors, if you have any questions please reply with them and either I, or other tutors, will be more than happy to respond. Essentially, I'd like to create a place where we all share tutoring tips and advice for new tutors. Here's my reply:

Hi [tutor name],

Thanks for the email. I'm currently away so have to be quite brief.

Essentially I see a great tutor as kinda half way between a best friend and teacher. Most of your job is to inspire them to *want* to learn and also help them grow as people. Given you're travelling I'm guessing that's something you can do.

Storytelling is your best ally when tutoring - tell stories to teach. So if it's teaching about plate tectonics then tell them about a world that was a big ball of molten rock (pounded by asteroids and meteors) then eventually started to cool down on the outside and hence why we have a thin crust. Helping them visualize can really help. Tell them stories about your travels and use what gifts you have - actual life experience.

Are they English or American etc? What system are they in?

Have a look for the syllabuses - or list of topics they're required to do - for their ages. If they're in the UK system - look up Key Stage 2 and 3. BBC Bitesize has a great set of notes you can work through with them. There are a great number of websites for almost any schooling system.

Another useful thing you can do is to go through the syllabus and get them to mark down - using the traffic light system - what subjects they know and don't know. Green dot for "I know it!", orange for "I'd like to cover it with you" and red for "I really need to cover it". Doesn't really matter if it's all orange and red - essentially getting them to think about what they *want* to learn gets them onside. I think if they like you then that makes things far easier too.

Make sure you have rules in place. It makes them feel safe especially when you stick to them. You don't need them to be too strict - just simple things like "when I say we sit down we sit down" but at other times we can joke around.

Anything else? Yes, I think it's a good idea to keep the parents updated regularly. Doesn't have to be long reports but do note down what you cover on each day in bullet points. Can save you a LOT of hassle later.

Also, you don't have to be an expert to teach something. Them seeing that you're not quite sure and working it out *with* them is something I often find is useful. I try not to be too slick even on the topics I do know well - slickness and perfection from the tutor can make it seem impossible that they'll ever get it. Instead, them seeing you struggle a bit and overcome this is the most important lesson they can learn. They don't need to get it right away but can eventually work it out for themselves.

The fact that you even took the time to email me tells me that you're approaching this the right away. Every day - try learn something from them - be open to new ideas and "not being always right" is a good place to start.

I hope this is useful. Best wishes and good luck!

Mark

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tutors: please do share what tips, tricks and advice for new tutors that I may have missed out! Post any questions you may have too.