Helpful Information for tutors

Information for Tutors

If you are thinking of becoming, or are currently, a tutor with Top Class Tuition, we strongly recommend that you read this page. It provides some helpful advice on what to do in given situations, how to tutor and potential pitfalls.

What is a tutor?

A tutor is a person who is enlisted to support somebody in their studies. The form this takes varies but, generally-speaking, they work with the student in their home and provide a service which is either supplementary to their school work or exclusive of it. A tutor could be someone asked to help Johnny each week with his English homework but it called also be someone required to teach Jessica a GCSE that she is not studying at school.

How do the lessons work?

In most cases, a tutor is expected to visit the student at home at a set time (usually each week). The fee paid to the tutor is a much higher hourly rate than the national average so all travel expenses and other administration costs are expected to be covered by this fee. Depending on the brief you have been given, you may or may not decide that it would be sensible to plan the lesson in advance. In the prior arrangements made with the student, whether or not this is necessary should have become clear. For example, if Callum is looking for somebody to help him with whatever homework he gets that night, it is not really possible to prepare a lesson, as this would clash with his intentions. However, it may still be wise to read around the general subject area or have a backup idea in the event that he doesn't actually get given homework. However, if Carol has asked for some help with Trigonometry because she missed the lessons at school and really does not understand it, it would be very advisable to plan a lesson, or series of lessons, on this topic.

And on our awkward first lesson...?

The first lesson can be awkward but, usually, this is because both the student and the tutor are not sure of the other's expectations. Therefore, it is worth assigning five minutes to getting to know the student and just asking him/her general questions about his/herself - "what school do you go to?", "what is it like?', "what is your favourite and least favourite subject?" etc. This is crucial in breaking the ice and getting to know what the student can relate to. It is then worth having a pre-set form (one can be provided by us if you request it) with some key parameters, like predicted grades, current grades, aims, subjects struggling in, strengths and weaknesses - and going through this with the student before beginning. This is invaluable for both parties as it sets a clear direction for lessons. 

What if the student/parent has unreasonable expectations?

If the student's expectations (or the parent's) are too high, you should be up front with them and tell them how much is practically achievable in the given time. Be forthright about what you can and cannot do. Make an offer of extra lessons if you think that this would help but do not push them onto the family as they may not be able to do this for financial or other reasons. If a student or parent still maintains that they expect you to take them from an E to an A in three weeks with only one lesson per week, explain that this is unlikely but that you are happy to do as much work as you can to improve the student's work in the allocated time.

What if the student has behavioural issues?

It is quite rare that students being taught one-to-one have unmanageable behavioural issues - but it is certainly possible. First of all, you should look at yourself and calmly consider your approach. Are you being friendly? Are you giving the student the opportunity to speak enough? Are you going going at the right pace? Do you have fair expectations? Are you being clear? Does the student understand what is being taught? Is the lesson sufficiently invigorating? Are you giving off a calm and patient vibe? Are you rewarding/praising the student for good behaviour? 

If you answer 'no' to any of the above, this could be a possible reason for some behaviour problems with the student. Equally, you need to set a firm line on what your expectations are and let the student know these. Avoid making threats (including idle ones) and try to give the student a sense of ownership over the lesson. The student should feel free to give you feedback and question/challenge you in the same way that you should feel able to do that with him/her.

However, there may be occasions when, for whatever reason, a student's behaviour goes beyond your control. If this is the case, we recommend that you call the parent as soon as possible as it is not your responsibility to deal with this. If the student has known behavioural problems, stay calm and patient and give them all the time they need. Tell them that you will give them space to calm down and only resume the lesson when it is clear that they are ready to. Do not battle with students or try to speak over them as this will have the opposite to intended effect. 

What am I allowed/not allowed to do around a student?

As a tutor, you should behave in an appropriate manner in accordance with the age of the student. Avoid swearing, shouting, using complex language and being negative or overly demanding. Be aware that it is not your responsibility to discipline or reprimand a student so avoid this where possible, but assert your authority and set a comfortable and structured framework.

Is an hour too long or too short?

Private tutorials are quite intensive and, as such, quite a lot can be gained from them. However, one of the key benefits of one-to-one teaching is the time you get with a student individually to deal with areas of misunderstanding and confusion. So don't rush through things or trying to get too much done if the student is struggling to keep up. The major difference between private tutoring and classroom teaching is that you can be entirely adaptable to the student's needs. So, if a pupil really struggles with Pythagoras, you can spend an entire session going through it patiently (whereas in a classroom you would have to move on for the sake of the other pupils). Equally, if a pupil already understands something perfectly, you can move on immediately without wasting time recovering old ground. Just try to ensure that you have an idea of the basic framework for the lesson (and base this on what you have learnt about the student in previous lessons) and look to avoid 'dead time'. Continually question the student whilst (s)he is completing written tasks so that you can acquire live feedback on how (s)he is finding the task.

How do I teach a good lesson?

Schools nowadays recommend incorporating a variety of learning styles into each lesson and this is a good idea for tutoring too. Try to combine a mix of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic elements to your lesson. For example, if you are teaching a session on Life in the Trenches, you could show a couple of pictures of a soldier and a trench (these could be printed on paper, in a book or on your phone/tablet), you could read a story about life there and put on the 'voice' of a soldier and you could get the student to go under the table for sixty seconds to try and imagine what it was like. However, the best thing about one-to-one tutorials is that you will soon learn which styles work and which don't for your student - and so you can extend those that do and scrap those that do not. 

Another good idea is to try to structure the lesson in three parts. By having a Starter, a Main Body and a Plenary, you help both yourself and the student to evaluate the lesson and their learning. A Starter is a quick activity (could be a game, a competition with you, a drawing, a mystery, etc.) that introduces the student to the topic in question. So, in a lesson about poetry, your starter could involve the student choosing their favourite song lyrics - or even just playing their favourite song. The Main Body is then made up of several activities where the key learning takes place. So, in the poetry lesson, the student would make a prediction about the poem's meaning based on its title, research the context, one of you would then read the poem and then complete a chart on the poem/annotate it, before concluding by answering a question. The Plenary is then about assessing the learning that has occurred. So this could take the form of writing, from memory, the five most important quotes from the poem or simply 'three things I learnt today'.

How long should I stay?

Speaking generally, your session has a set length and that is all the time that you are being paid for. However, it is important to build a comfortable relationship with both the student and his/her parents so sprinting out right on the bell might not create the best impression! It is probably a good idea to aim to wrap up five minutes before your allocated time is up. This then allows for any additional questions to be answered, any remaining work to be concluded and some feedback to be provided to the parents. 

Even so, some students and parents try to take advantage of your politeness and may keep you there long after the lesson has ended. Of course, it is your prerogative to entertain this, but you may want to, politely, make it clear that you have other appointments and offer to spend part of the subsequent lesson discussing progress if that is what they want to spend the time doing.