The Final Phonecall

May 31, 2013 by Mark Maclaine

Most of the best tutors I know make time to call a student after they have finished working together. I’ve done this consistently for the last decade and have found it not only good for business but…

…hugely fulfilling on a personal level.

Every student is different, however there are a number of things that most of these calls have in common. I usually thank them for working hard, ‘for making my job easier by putting in the effort’, and give them credit for how far they’ve come. If I’ve done my job well, there will have been changes in their studies. Even if this isn’t reflected in huge grade increases, it will be evident in their attitude to school and work in general.

Most of my students start off hating Maths and/or Science, so this can be something else to mention: ‘I want to acknowledge you for putting the work in even though it’s a subject you hate so much!’

I will then ask them if there’s anything they want to ask or say to me. Usually there isn’t much to be said, but it does allow them to get anything that’s been worrying them off their chests. Things like, ‘I don’t know if I worked hard enough.’ Your job at this point is mostly to listen to them and understand why they may feel this way. Maybe they could have worked harder, but sometimes part of your job is to encourage them to ease up a little.

Don’t invalidate their feelings by saying something like, ‘You’re wrong’. If you do disagree with them, instead say something along the lines of: ‘I understand why you might feel that way. Actually I think you could not have worked any harder.’

Very often I find myself saying how much I’ve enjoyed working with them. I try to give specific examples of what I’ve learnt from them, too. It’s rare that I meet a student who I don’t learn something from (even if it’s about Pokemon cards). Finally, I will end the call by thanking them for trusting in me and wishing them good luck in the future.

There are three reasons why these phone calls can be a good idea:

1. Positive reinforcement for the student. One of the greatest lessons a person can learn in life is that working hard is far more important than grades. Grades should be a reward of working hard, but not the only focus of a student. By acknowledging how hard they’ve worked and how far they’ve come, you’re helping them to see that in the future (especially when they’re struggling with something) they can overcome it with perseverance. This is particularly effective if you can remind them of a specific topic or exam question they couldn’t do in the beginning and now can.

 2. It provides both of you with closure on your time together. When any relationship comes to an end, including the working relationship between tutor and student closure can be important for both of you. There are a number of papers and articles (most available online) that discuss this topic in great detail. You might find it useful to look at papers that specifically deal with the need for cognitive closure in education.

3. Positive memories. Very often the student’s last memory of you is in the context of a stressed and hurried final lesson just before an exam. By making this phone call you can leave the student (and their family) with a positive memory of you. This is also comes in handy when they recommend you to friends or if younger siblings eventually need a tutor.

It can take time to get used to making this kind of call, but it’s often during these conversations that I’m reminded of why I love tutoring so much.

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