Tutoring In Schools: In-Class Support

February 19, 2020 by Tas F
Image Even experienced tutors can struggle when starting to deliver sessions in schools. Tutoring in-school means being particularly mindful of how your sessions fit into a student’s school life and tailoring your approach accordingly. This sounds easy enough in theory, but what does it mean in practice? 

This week, we’re looking at in-class support. Starting to support students in their regular lessons can be a big learning curve for tutors who are used to working one-to-one. Tutors working in a classroom alongside a qualified teacher have a very specific role, and an effortless relationship between teacher and tutor can be a delicate thing to find. Luckily, we’re here to help!

We’ve compiled a list of the five things tutors should definitely be doing when supporting students in their classes:

Never doing nothing

One of the hardest things for tutors to learn is what they should be doing when the teacher is teaching. Private tutors are used to being in charge of sessions – never having to play second fiddle during sessions or find the right way to support someone else’s teaching.

So much of providing great support is about what you do when you’re doing ‘nothing.’ When the teacher has the class’s attention and you’re not needed to respond to student queries or help to explain something. Here, the last thing you want to do is frustrate the teacher by continuing to talk to students when they’re asking for silence – so you should be doing ‘nothing.’ However, only inexperienced tutors will commit the sin of actually doing nothing when they’re doing ‘nothing.’ Lost?

Tutors have a range of non-verbal tools they can use to augment the teaching and learning when the teacher needs focus. Where are you standing? Who are you standing close to? Who are you standing between? When the teacher has their back to the class, who can you see has stopped listening? How might you stop two students whispering to each other without interrupting the teacher or distracting the class? Everything about your presence, attention and positioning in the room can be used to help the teacher to teach – your voice is the only thing you can’t use. That’s a long way from doing nothing!

Talking to the teacher

The fastest way to get the hang of in-class support is to set up a good line of communication with the teacher. In an effort to cause as little fuss as possible, tutors might be forgiven for just ‘getting on with it’ – relying on their intuition to work out where to be, what to do and who to help. 

Usually, teachers will give you some direction as to who in the class is likely to need your support. If they’d like you to sit with a particular student or group, they’ll probably tell you. But (especially during early sessions) there is nothing more valuable than putting these questions to the teacher and getting their advice on what to focus on.

A good example of this is whether you should be supporting the class’s most needy students or not. Are you in the room to support the student who’s struggling the most, or are you there to help everyone else so that the teacher can focus more energy on them? Two contradictory approaches that can easily discerned with a short chat to the teacher before the lesson starts. 

Engaging students that don’t ask for help

Some students are really good at asking for help. You’ll know them straight away. Hand in the air as soon as they’re stuck. Happy to have you help them with every question if you’ll let them. But part of your role in the classroom is to see beyond these students and find those that are struggling away in silence.

Often, the biggest impact you can have is with the students that don’t know how to ask for help – or don’t feel comfortable putting their hand in the air. A lack of confidence in the classroom is a massive burden for a young person to carry. Many students will do their best to avoid attention and get through one lesson at a time. Seek them out by talking to students about their work before they ask for help. What did you write for this one? Can you explain that for me? Sooner rather than later you’ll find the students really need your support and your proactivity will be greatly appreciated by teaching staff.

Taking time to work ahead

Tutors working in a classroom for the first time will usually jump right in to helping students – assuming their subject knowledge is sufficient to help students whenever they get stuck. In fact, one of the most productive things tutors can do is take 5 minutes to work through the lesson’s resources ahead of time – identifying likely sticking points or common incorrect answers. 

If you’ve worked through the questions yourself, you’ll get an immediate sense of why students are getting stuck on which questions and be prepared with a helpful way to unlock the key concept. If you’ve not checked ahead you might not spot a small error in students’ work or might get caught on the hop with a tricky question and give someone a hint in the wrong direction!

Rewarding the right behaviour

Having an extra pair of hands in the classroom can be a blessing for teachers, but sometimes the presence of someone new in a lesson can be inexplicably exciting for students. Tutors can get into a pattern of rewarding the wrong behaviours; giving all of their attention to the students who demand it by not properly engaging with the lesson.
If students know that not doing the work is the one way they’re guaranteed to get your undivided attention, they’ll keep not doing it. If your focus is elsewhere, they’ll make themselves impossible to ignore. If your attention is on them, they’ll make it very hard for you to go elsewhere. Whether or not they need your help quickly becomes impossible to tell and you’ve entered into a pattern of behaviour that always ends in disruption – not just for that student but for the whole class. Be mindful of this and always be prepared to walk away from students that are getting your attention for all of the wrong reasons.

If you’re interested in tutoring in-schools, contact the foundation at foundation@tutorfair.com, check your profile for volunteering opportunities or browse our website to find out what’s on. 
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