What Makes a Good Tutor?

What Makes a Good Tutor?

Beyond the obvious “chemistry” if you will that develops between tutor and student, two of the most important attributes are the tutor’s knowledge of the specific subject material as taught in your child’s class, and an ability to engage the student during the tutoring sessions.

While “knowledge of the subject” might seem obvious, and the tutor’s background in (for example) electrical engineering might impress you as substantial, an understanding of how to teach algebra does not necessarily follow as a given ability. If your child is struggling with basic algebra, knowledge of how to teach algebra is what is important, more so than the PhD program in electrical engineering. It is amazing how much basic algebra one forgets while in graduate school, and although it is not difficult to go and relearn it, you want to make sure that your child’s tutor has solved a quadratic equation at some point in the last ten years. Look for someone with a specific knowledge of the subjects taught in your child’s particular class, and it would be a good idea to have a copy of the course curriculum which you can show a prospective tutor in advance. You do not want someone showing up who is trying to figure things out for the first time in years, and at the same time explain it to your child, who has an exam the next day.

Second, how flexible is a tutor in their teaching style, and how willing are they to tailor their sessions to what a particular student specifically understands, and does not understand? A “one size fits all” approach does not work; you can not simply show up to a session with a student and “press play”. Indeed, there are children who require someone to push them, and there are those who will “tune out” after a minute and a half of this. There are students who can only pay attention for ten minute stretches, and if the tutor continues talking and the eyes begin to glaze over, well then it is just a waste of everyone’s time. An ability to read a student’s degree of understanding and engagement, and adjust accordingly, is crucial in developing an effective teaching style. Indeed, the ability to engage a student makes all the difference, and there are tutors who are simply better at this. You will get an idea if this is the case by sitting in on the first session and seeing how responsive your child is with what the tutor has to say.

Of course there are no absolutes in effective teaching. If your child says she understands the subject better and her grades go up, nothing else matters!

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