Ten Top Tips for Terrific Tutoring

6th July 2018

If you’re considering hiring a tutor for your child, but you’re not sure where to start, Lisa Botwright offers a guide into the practical, logistical and emotional aspects of finding the right person to support or challenge your offspring…

1. Clarify your concerns:
If you’re afraid your child is falling behind academically or, conversely, is not being stretched enough, your first point of call should always be with their form teacher. A good teacher will listen to your concerns, and may be able to offer in-school targeted help. If you both feel it would be a good idea to move forward with extra individualised support, ask the teacher for their advice and input; they should already have a good measure of your child’s learning style and the areas of the curriculum that he or she finds challenging.

2. Be wary of over-scheduling:
Perhaps you’re seeking to open up new horizons for your child and provide opportunity for extra-curricular enrichment. That’s great. Children are like sponges when they’re young, and love to soak up new ideas. By exposing them to all sorts of physical, intellectual and musical opportunities, children will learn more about what they enjoy and what makes them tick. But our little ones also need time to unwind, and studies show that over-scheduling can have as much a detrimental effect on their well-being as lack of stimulation, since ‘boredom’, is often a catalyst for creativity. Opportunity for play and for social interaction should be prioritised alongside formal lessons.

3. Collaborate on goals:
When your child’s been at school all day, the last thing they’ll want to do is even more Maths and English in the evenings or at weekends. Chat with them to explain your concerns in a way they’ll understand, and help them buy into the experience for themselves: Try ‘you’re doing really well in maths and science, but your teacher says that sometimes all those clever ideas in your head don’t translate well into your writing. If you have a little bit of help with your literacy, then you’ll feel so much more confident in your English and Humanities lessons,’ for example. Allow them to feel a degree of control by promising they don’t have to continue with the lessons if they really dislike them – and a small bribe never hurts to get things off on a good footing.

4. Nurture a growth (positive) mindset:
It’s important not to unwittingly reinforce the idea that your child is somehow ‘good’ at one subject and ‘bad’ at another, but to explain it’s only that they find aspects of certain subjects trickier to grasp than others – and that the tutor will help them find strategies for overcoming this. As educational psychologist Dr Carol Dweck explains in her classic book 'Mindset', it’s all about praising the hard work it takes to achieve goals, and emphasising the value of learning from mistakes – to ensure that a child is not held back by an erroneous belief that he/she has to be innately talented to succeed.

5. Consider their learning style:
Does your child thrive on bouncing ideas off like-minded peers, or do they need peace and quiet to concentrate? What works for one child, doesn’t necessarily suit another. Traditionally, tutors offer one-to-one lessons in the privacy of their or their student’s home, but there is also a burgeoning choice of group workshops, run by qualified teachers. If you’re unsure which would be most advantageous for your child, ask for trial lessons. It’s so important that the child clicks with their tutor’s personality and with their teaching style.

6. Check for qualifications:
It’s tempting to save money on the cost of a tutor (anything from £25-£60 an hour depending on experience and specialism) by using a friend of the family, for example, or a neighbour’s teenager who’s studying for their A-levels – and if this approach works for you, then super: there are undoubtedly many clever and personable young people capable of passing on their knowledge to someone younger. But tutoring is an investment, and, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. A qualified teacher will have more strategies and insights at their disposal, from years of training and/or experience. Plus, they should have the necessary safety checks in place, including the all-important certificate from the DBS, the Disclosure and Barring Service, which has replaced the Criminal Records Bureau.

7. Look into the logistics:
Finding the right person to teach your child is hard enough, but all the logistics have to work out too. Your ideal tutor may only have one slot left, but that’s no good if it’s 5pm every Wednesday, directly following after-school synchronised swimming, and thus leaving you precisely ten minutes to dry your child’s hair, give them a snack and get them there in the rush hour traffic. Ask yourself: does the proposed time slot work around other commitments? Is the lesson fairly local? Will your child arrive relatively fresh and ready to work?

8. Fine-tune the details:
Does the tutor set homework (this has advantages and disadvantages) and will they be marking it in their own time, or will it take up valuable teaching time? How will they feed back your child’s progress to you? Are you in tune with each other’s goals and expectations? Are you tied-in to a contract, or is there flexibility on both sides? Take the time for an initial chat to iron out all the details before lessons get underway.

9. Be involved:
Set a good example by being supportive of the importance of the lessons. As one experienced tutor points out (on condition of anonymity), parents can really send the wrong message: ‘It’s important that parents are reliable… that they see it as a commitment. We’ve all allocated time for this.’ If you cancel regularly because your child has had a better offer (or you have), your child will soon feel that their lesson is not that valuable after all.

10. Gain success in searching:
And where would you look to find the right tutor? Word-of-mouth is a great start, of course, but looking in the relevant pages of Optima Magazine will yield excellent results too…

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