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Good tutors, bad tutors

December 7th, 2014 (by Nicky Bishop)

A recent article in The Telegraph criticises private tutors, claiming they don’t help children to achieve higher grades and can end up doing more harm than good to the child’s confidence.   The writer tells us of her 7-year old daughter’s miserable experience being tutored by a bright graduate from a good university who came to help the child with maths.

Rather than concluding that all private tutors are harmful, or at best a waste of time and money, the sensible conclusion is that – as with most professions – there are good tutors and bad tutors.  A young graduate with a 1st class degree, but little or no teaching experience, will often turn out not to be a good tutor for your child.

Tutors (just like teachers) need a good understanding of child psychology (it helps if they are parents themselves).  A good tutor needs experience of coaxing the reluctant or the timid to “have a go” without fear, and endless patience when the child is slow to grasp the concept or master the process.  A good tutor understands why your child doesn’t “get” fractions or algebra (for example), and needs a repertoire of different ways of explaining and demonstrating each tricky topic.  The best tutors have empathy.

I always say to myself (and often say to parents): “If the child doesn’t understand something, that’s my fault for not explaining it properly.”  Hearing that is tremendously encouraging for the struggling pupil – it’s no longer a criticism of them if they haven’t got to grips with ratios or cumulative frequencies.  The best tutors are good listeners and great communicators.

Here are some tips for selecting a good tutor for your child:

  • Have a long chat with the tutor on the phone and decide for yourself whether this person is likely to provide the gentle and patient support your child needs.
  • Ask about their experience with teaching – and even more importantly – tutoring.
  • Does the tutor have experience with your child’s age group? A tutor great at helping 7 year olds may not succeed so well with a 15 year old. And vice versa.
  • Ask for testimonials from other parents. A good tutor will be able to provide dozens.
  • Always ask for a trial session, to ensure your child feels confident and happy with the tutor. If the relationship doesn’t work, then find a new tutor.
  • After the lessons, ask your child whether the tutor explained things clearly.
  • Is your child finding the lessons enjoyable? If not, then find another tutor.

Posted in Tutoring in General

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