In February of 2019, I joined online tutoring website MyTutor.co.uk. Online
tutoring is a great way to use your knowledge to help others whilst making
some extra cash along the way. Over the course of the two years I’ve delivered
over 1000 hours of lessons in maths and physics to students across a 20-year
age range. The learning curb for a tutor is a steep one. In this blog, I’ve
collected together some of the most important things I’ve learnt.
A lesson not a lecture
The student should be doing the work, not you. Talking non-stop for 60
minutes will leave your student bored and disengaged, and you with a sore
throat. You should accompany your explanations with quick-fire questions such
as “what do you think about this?”, “how does this relates to that?” and “any
questions?”. This forces your student to participate and think for themselves,
with the bonus of ensuring they aren’t tabbed out watching Netflix.
A student telling you they understand does not always mean they do.
There are several reasons a student may give you a false positive when you ask
them if they understand.
1. The student thinks they understand but doesn’t. We’ve all been there.
Being unable to answer a question on a topic you were sure you had
understood when you’d seen it in a lecture can be frustrating. Students will
sometimes feel like they’ve understood your explanation but will fail to
apply their new knowledge the next day in school.
2. The student is shy and is afraid to say no. The one-on-one environment of
online tutoring can trigger anxiety in some students, especially younger
ones. This can result in the student giving you a routine “yes” when you ask
them if everything makes sense, when in reality they have no idea.
3. The student is lazy and doesn’t want to hear another explanation. Some
students will only be sat in front of you because their parents have
threatened to take their Xbox away. The student is unlikely to have really
thought about your explanation but will tell you they understand anyway
because it is easier.
The best way around this is not to rely on your students’ word. Instead of
asking them if they understand, test their understanding. Utilise exam
questions and come up with problems to assess their grasp of the idea at hand.
No two students are the same
People learn and develop new skills in different ways. These differences are
most prominent in young people. The illusion that there is one perfect
teaching method is a dangerous one. The best tutors understand how to adapt
their teaching style for each of their students to maximise their results.
Find a good set of resources
As intelligent as you may be, there is not room in your memory for the entirety
of your subject’s syllabus; at least not in the detail that is required. It is
important to locate a concise set of online notes you can refer to during
lessons. GCSE Bitesize is one of the best sites for science subjects, but there are
hundreds of good ones out there. Purchasing an online version of a textbook
can also be a great reference.
There will be times you don’t know the answer
Every tutor's worst nightmare is coming to the realisation you don’t have the
answer the student is looking for. I’ve experienced this several times, mostly
when working with very gifted A-level students. So, what should you do? There
is no shame in telling your student you aren’t sure. Remain calm and assure
the student that you will have a quick research after the lesson and get back to
them as soon as you can. Your student won’t mind waiting a few extra hours as
long as you can give them the answer eventually. Don’t stress it.
Plan lessons where possible
The quality of my teaching increased dramatically when I began to request the
student let me know the topic they’d like to focus on the day before the
lesson. Spending 5-10 minutes before each lesson developing a rough plan will
result in your lessons being more structured and engaging. You will find lessons
more relaxing if you know where they are heading.
The tutor-student relationship is crucial
Your students will be more willing to apply themselves in your lessons if they
like you. For older students, take an interest in their prospects after their time
at school and introduce them to things you found interesting at their age. For
younger students, ask them about their extra-curricular activities and hobbies.
Giving your student a couple minutes to tell you about the goal they scored on
the weekend can do wonders for your productivity.