During these Covid-19 times of social distancing and distance learning, our friends and our favorite teachers are harder to reach. The relationships that make school and learning at its best are at their worst. A good tutor can help bridge those gaps, but how can you know if a tutor is “good”, especially during times of increased uncertainty? How can you determine what tutor would be right for you?
It’s not so much about subject mastery or teaching qualifications, though those are important too. More so it’s about the qualities of any good relationship: Trust, accountability and mutual respect. How well do you connect with them? Do they keep things interesting? It’s a bit corny, but finding a good tutor is not so different from finding a good friend.
This a list of things to look for in a tutor. It could also be a list of things to look for in yourself. Like any good relationship, it takes more than one person to make it work. If you spend time with a tutor and find yourself understanding new concepts, they may be your tutor. If you find yourself enthusiastic about learning, that’s a good sign too. Notice how you feel and follow your gut. Go with the one you like the most, and keep these things in mind.
6 Things to Look For in a Tutor:
Does the tutor take the time to ask about you and your life? Are they building a relationship beyond just the schoolwork? Do you like them?
Connection is essential for all learning, but it’s especially important when tutoring one-on-one. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person. Hopefully you wouldn’t make a plan to hang out every week with someone in your class you don’t really like. The same goes for tutors.
This matters more than simple enjoyment. The problem is, if you don’t like your tutor, you probably won’t learn as much. There are two main reasons for this.
First, we tend to withhold things from people we don’t trust. In the case of tutoring, this means not sharing information—test scores, questions, challenges—that is necessary for a tutor to help you learn.
Second, if you’re anything like me, you won’t be as excited to learn. It’ll be like sitting in the back of that boring math class for another hour every week—and we all know how much learning happens there. Lessons become an ordeal and homework an obligation, done at the last minute if at all.
A good tutor will take the time to build connection. They will talk about your life beyond school, discuss the process of learning alongside the material. They will put everything aside to connect with you as a unique human.
Finding a tutor you connect with is the single thing that matters the most when looking for a tutor.
Does the tutor adjust their teaching to fit your needs? Do they pinpoint the challenging problems and then give you the tools to work with those? Do they find personalized strategies to help you learn and improve over time?
School often gives the impression that all learning is the same: teach a concept to a class of 30 students, and everyone should understand. But that’s not really how it works. Everyone learns differently. Everyone has different challenges—and different strengths.
A good tutor will pick up on these differences. They will give you tools to use your strengths to overcome your challenges. They will slow down for difficult topics and speed up for the stuff that is easy. If you don’t understand the concept when explained aloud, they’ll write it on the board—or vice versa. If it still doesn’t make sense, they’ll give an example or walk through a problem or find some other way to make sure you understand.
Tutoring is so amazing because it allows for this personalization. In a 30-person class, the teacher can’t stop to relate the material to your hobbies. But a tutor can.
To get the most out of tutoring, make sure you find a tutor who takes the time to do this. They should know you, individually, not just as another student. They should tailor every lesson to your needs. When you meet, you should feel like their only student. They should personalize examples as well as their teaching approach. The more personal, the better. You are a unique human being; one-on-one tutoring is one of the only times this can be recognized in your learning.
Does the tutor adjust their teaching to the situation? Are they willing to change plans halfway through a session—or a topic? Are they familiar with teaching technology? Do they use all the tools available to them?
Part of this goes hand in hand with personalizing lessons: a good tutor should adapt their teaching in accordance with your knowledge. A bigger part, though, goes with the larger context: a good tutor should adapt their teaching in accordance with the outside world.
This comes up in all kinds of ways: incorporating effective technologies, addressing current events in relevant discussions, adopting the newest insights into how learning happens best. It is not enough for a tutor to be well-studied and say they like teach “their own way,” whatever that way may be. The world is constantly changing; our teaching must be too.
Right now, with Covid-19, a lot of the adapting is for online learning. With sessions happening remotely, tutors must use everything technology has to offer. A good tutor will see this not as a challenge but an opportunity. As much as technology can make connection feel difficult, it can also allow for new advantages: digitally saved whiteboard notes, instant screen sharing, collaborative document creation.
Online learning has also opened new possibilities for the role of tutoring. With teachers more distant in light of distant learning, your tutor can become an essential resource for mastering new material. Whether in biology or Spanish or English or math, a good tutor will adapt to the new challenges Covid-19 brings.
Even without the Coronavirus, a good tutor should adapt to larger circumstances. During these uncertain times this quality becomes even more essential.
Is the tutor enthusiastic about the material? More importantly, do you feel enthusiastic when learning with them?
Enthusiasm in learning, like connection, is kind of like a magic sauce. It makes everything more flavorful—and without it, tutoring gets pretty bland. Learning anything is harder when the learning itself feels like a drag.
It’s easy to spot an enthusiastic teacher—the English teacher who recites Shakespeare spontaneously, or the physics teacher who’ll start each day with an explosive demonstration—but we often forget to notice our own enthusiasm.
When choosing a tutor, ask yourself whether you’d be excited to see this person every week. Does the material feel more exciting—or at least more clear—when working with them? Do they tap into your innate love of learning (I know it sounds dorky, but trust me it’s there)? A good tutor will inspire your enthusiasm, reminding you how to be excited about even the most boring subject in school. Pretty soon, you’ll notice you’ve been learning more, and that learning will excite you too. That’s what a good tutor can do.
Does the tutor understand where you’re coming from? Do they recognize you have other things going on in your life beyond school? Do they understand when a seemingly academic challenge—poor grades, for instance—stems from a challenge outside the classroom? Do they help you identify and address these underlying challenges?
You are more than a student. It’s obvious, I know, but not all teachers remember this. A good tutor should. They should not only ask about your life, but also care. They should recognize that the week of soccer tryouts you may need a different strategy for homework. Or if there was a family emergency you may not be able to make your session. They see school as only one part of a larger life.
Often, challenges we have in a certain subject run deeper than the English essay or that one difficult problem set. For years, I was bad at math because I believed myself to be bad at math. Recognizing that belief allowed me to change it, and just like that math became accessible again.
By helping you identify limiting beliefs, good tutors invite you to kickstart your growth, empowering you to grow past what you thought you were capable of. They see you as the full human you are.
Does the tutor know the subject they are teaching you? Do they convey this knowledge in your sessions? Do you feel like you have more you could learn from them?
Knowledge is often the first thing we think of when choosing a tutor. It’s true you want to find someone who knows what they’re talking about. This is usually pretty easy, especially with the internet.
In truth, though, this factor in some ways matters least. Not that you shouldn’t find someone who is well informed, but knowledge is meaningless without the other qualities. It’s the baseline from which you should make your choice, but it should not be the deciding factor itself.
If you’re in a session and realize you know more about the subject than your tutor, you might have a problem. But that’s pretty rare. Usually, anyone tutoring your subject will have enough knowledge, so then you have to use other factors—connection, for instance, or personalization—to make your final choice.
Do not just choose the expert in your subject because they are an expert. Mastery does not equate to more effective teaching—in fact, often the opposite is true: the mathematician who assumes you already know advanced concepts, or the pianist who can’t explain how she plays.
Instead, as long as the tutors you’re considering have a strong knowledge of the subject, choose the one you connect with the most, or who has the other qualities.
Beginning Your Search:
Finding the right tutor is a process. As you meet different people, make sure to follow your gut. You want someone who not only knows the subject, but also takes the time to connect with you as an individual. You’re going to be spending a good amount of time with this person, and the better tutor you find, the more you will be able to get out of your sessions. A strong relationship with your tutor will result in strong results. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn, if given the right support.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you can always reach out to us for a free consultation. At Emergent Education we focus on connection and personalization because we know that first and foremost, the relationship matters. Having a session with one of our tutors will let you experience that approach for yourself—and even if it isn’t the right fit, you’ll have an idea of these qualities for whoever else you may try.