There's good and then there's great, can you tell the difference?
There are thousands of full time and part time private tutors in Singapore. Some teach in tuition centres others visit students in their own home or host at other venues. There are a variety of skills that tutors need to do their job well but only the very best have all of these qualities.
Here’s what to look for in a truly great tutor.
It may not always be top of a parent’s list of qualities when considering what makes a great teacher. I’m sure we have all come across the tough task master at school or as your boss at work. They bark orders and command discipline and respect. For some people this may work well.
But in most cases this is not the best teaching method.
A patient and kind tutor will generally make more of an impact on a student than a tough task master.
Why? Because they are able to empathise with their student, understand how they learn best and adapt their teaching method to fit the student and the particular subject matter that they are teaching.
In addition to this they will be better at detecting changes in the student’s state of mind. Bombarding a child with new subject matter at the end of a tough week when they may be distracted or stressed by issues at home or with just being young may be counter-productive. The best tutors will pick up on this and know when to go a little slower.
Understand the ‘science of learning’
There is a huge body of research around how humans learn. For instance children are primed for learning and absorb information far more readily than older folks. But also different children favour different modes of learning. Some absorb information better visually others are better at verbal information flow and can learn by listening.
Add to this that certain subjects and subject areas lend themselves better to certain modes of teaching. For example for most people it would be virtually impossible to learn how to do quadratic equations if the maths tutor simply read out equations from a book.
In order to learn mathematics most people at least need to see the equations written down and then practice them. In contrast, when learning a language your English tutor might engage students in roll-play conversations or read literature and discuss it.
Typically a great tutor will combine this technical knowledge with the softer skills such as compassion and empathy in order to know how and when to implement the science.
Ability to engage students in academic subjects
This is a combination of two qualities. Firstly but least important is that it obviously helps if the tutor has a naturally engaging and enigmatic personality. We all know at least someone that lights up a room when they enter. That person that everyone wants to talk to at a party.
If you are lucky enough to be blessed with natural charisma then fantastic. By definition though 99% of us are not naturally the most charismatic person in the room. For the rest of us there are 1,000s of books and learning resources that can help to learn some of those skills to be more engaging.
Remember though that I did say that having a naturally engaging personality was the second most important of two qualities. By far the most important is having a passion for the subject and for teaching in general.
Remember at school that geeky maths teacher whose trousers didn’t reach his ankles (I know this is actually how the cool kids wear them now!) and who you wouldn’t imagine for a second was the life of the party, but who suddenly came alive when you mentioned calculus? The best tutors love their subjects and it can be infectious.
A dedication to teaching
To sum this up very simply any education professional needs to know to check their ego in at the door. Being dedicated to teaching means that the private tutor is focussed on developing their student.
They understand their student is the main priority.
A good tutor will try to teach their student how to complete and assignment or will help with homework. A great tutor will seek to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their student, will focus on the areas that will help them improve and to fully understand a subject.
They will also take time to examine their own strengths and weaknesses and commit to improving their own skills and knowledge in order to be better at passing on their knowledge.
A strong work ethic
Being a full time tutor isn’t an easy profession. For a start most private tutors don’t teach out of their own home or premises so for every 1.5 hour lesson that they are teaching they may have travelled 20 mins or more to get there.
A great tutor won’t turn up to a tuition session and ‘wing it’ they will have done some preparation for the lesson. This is in addition to the administration of the ‘back office’ of their home tuition business – talking to parents, professional development, keeping up with the changes in school syllabus, marketing their business to find new students, billing and accounts. It’s far from a 9-5 job.
It can be gruelling work especially if they combine 121 private tutoring with group tuition classes where they are engaging groups of students at once. Great tutors need a stong work ethic. In order to maintain a high quality of tuition to their students a private tutor needs to be dedicated and driven to go from class to class and ‘perform’ whilst working mainly unsociable hours in the evenings and at weekends.
With so much going on and with many different students to see and plan for, tutors need to be super organised. Turning up late to lessons or forgetting learning materials just doesn’t cut it. The best tutors will be super organised. They will know where in the syllabus their student is and what they have planned out for the lesson.
There is a big caveat to this one in so far as we mean that the tutor needs to be excellent in their academic subject relative to their student. For instance teaching primary 1 maths doesn’t necessarily require a Phd in maths. In fact being over qualified might actually hinder your tutor’s ability to teach a subject due to boredom or just not being able to connect with your child’s abilities at the right level.
A great tutor needs to be several levels of ability above their students in the subject that they teach. They need a level of understanding that allows them to easily grasp the syllabus that they are teaching from many different perspectives. They should know what the common sticking points are and what students generally find hard about each particular area of the syllabus.
Crucially the best tutors will know how to reframe these problem areas and have many different approaches and techniques for helping their students to understand the subject. If one method of teaching it fails then they can try another until the student eventually gets it.
Ability to connect with and bond with children
Children learn best from teachers that they interact freely with. A great tutor has the ability to bond with their students and to build a relationship of trust in lessons. This allows the student to relax and to feel comfortable asking questions and to tell the tutor if and when they don’t understand.
Private tutors, as well as school teachers often act as role models to their students.
The best tutors are mature enough to recognise this responsibility and build trust with their students. They may be able to help children to overcome issues with exam stress or pressure at school. A great tutor will be a positive influence on children. They will have the ability to impart a love of knowledge and a quest for learning, not by persuasion but by example.
Being a private tutor is a tough job and being a great tutor requires dedication and a lot of different skills and qualities. If you are interviewing a tutor for your child you should bare this in mind when you meet or talk with them for the first time before deciding to go ahead and book with them.
For this reason it’s crucial that if you are hiring through a tuition agency you should insist on speaking to the tutor first before confirming the booking.
See which of these qualities you can detect in your tutor. It may be that you can’t always tell at a first meeting. Of course if you are interviewing a tutor and they turn up 20 mins late for the meeting you might have cause to question their organisational abilities.
However it will be tougher to tell how empathetic and perceptive your tutor is to your child’s needs in just a few minutes. You can of course probe and ask questions. Just asking them what they think the most important qualities are for a tutor is a great start. If they give some of the answers you expect then at least they have given it some thought and may portray some of those qualities.
More probing questions about their thoughts on different learning styles, how they keep up to date with the syllabus and alike will also be revealing.
What do you think is the most important quality in a home tutor? Check out the Tutorconnect tutor listings to find your perfect tutor and arrange an interview today.
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Written by Tutorconnect