Top Tips on How to choose a tutor

Mark Maclaine

December 03, 2013

For a parent or guardian, choosing a tutor can seem like a daunting task. This is someone who will potentially spend a lot of time with your child. If they get on well, the tutor is likely to have a great deal of influence over how your child sees their own education and the world.

Firstly, before looking for a tutor, remember to discuss this with your child as this could be a sensitive issue for them.





Parents then find tutors in many ways. There are a growing number of agencies throughout the country, some people use personal ads and a great number rely on personal recommendations. Tutorfair is the first website that allows you to actually book online, and since it funds charity work which addresses educational disadvantage, I would definitely suggest that you have a look there first.

Before choosing a tutor it is often a good idea to meet at least a couple of other tutors first. Each will have a different style and the most important thing is to see who seems to fit best with their potential student, your child in this case. It can be tempting to base your decision on who you like the most, or indeed, the tutor that seems to have a tutoring style that you would have liked when you were a child. However, it is not you that has to work with them. It is therefore very important to listen to your child, see who they like and who they feel they could learn best from. If your child likes the tutor then half the job is done already as they will often start to work harder just to impress their new mentor.

If your child doesn’t like anyone this can make the choice a little harder, and it may not be a problem with the tutors, more that the student has a problem with tutoring altogether. I’ve heard some parents actually ask their kids ‘ok, you’re going to have to work with one of them so who do you hate the least?’ This is not to say that you shouldn’t also trust your own gut instinct, just remember that it’s the student who will work with them.

During your decision making process there are some key questions that I think are really worth asking your potential new tutor. If asked early on you could save a great deal of time later. Here are a few:

• What kind of learner are you? Were you more visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, or did you learn by rote?

• How would you deal with a student who doesn’t feel like doing any work that day?

• Have you had any very difficult students and how have you dealt with them?

This might all sound like an interview, and in some ways it is. I would advise against giving the potential tutor a hard time in this meeting but do voice your questions or concerns. Part of a tutor’s job can be to act as a go-between for the parents and kids regarding academics. However, I would be wary of any tutor who cannot explain what their working method is. Most of my work is gut feeling nowadays but I do have a set of approaches that I like to try first. If they can’t explain this to you in an initial meeting then I’d be concerned about their ability to explain anything challenging to a child who is really stuck.

Something else to look out for is how qualified your new tutor is. Many tutoring agencies stipulate that a tutor should have qualifications that are at least one level above the ones they teach. For example, a GCSE Geography tutor should have an A-level in that subject, and some even stipulate that they should have a degree. This makes a lot of sense, however, it should also be pointed out that just because someone has a degree (or even a PhD) in a subject, doesn’t necessarily mean they can teach it.

Some of the most inspiring tutors I’ve ever met have been those who struggled themselves at school. Most of the maths teachers I had in school had never really struggled with maths. However, it is clear to me now that this potentially made it more difficult for them to really empathise with a student who didn’t ‘get it’. I only started to understand maths later on, which in some ways has meant I find myself being more patient with students who do struggle, simply because I’ve been through the same struggle myself.

Aside from being good teachers, the most successful tutors are those who are half way between a teacher and a best friend. These tutors inspire their students to want to learn, and often kids like them so much that they will work harder, perhaps in some way, to impress them. This is one of the most powerful tools that tutors have and therefore a great deal of their success will depend on the chemistry they have with their students. I’m not saying that every student should love every tutor they have, but if they really don’t get on then it’s bad news for both the tutor and the student.

The tutor risks negative reviews from parents (and these do count in the playground outside school) and students risk wasting valuable time. It’s therefore important to see how a tutor interacts with your child, and although I do recommend leaving them alone to work together, don’t be afraid to ask your kid how they feel after the lesson.

They don’t have to be overjoyed but it’s a good idea to see if they feel like they’ve learnt something and that they don’t feel completely overwhelmed and lacking in confidence…

Once you have selected your tutor, the next question to ask is how to get the most out of your tutor. To find out my thoughts on this matter, please see my next blog, ‘Parents: How to get the most out of your child’s tutor’ which is coming soon