There are over 128,000 public and private K-12 schools and nearly 6,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Every year, those institutions house millions of students – many of whom need a little extra help mastering their classes.
What can a student (or their parents) do when Shakespeare, physics, or trigonometry simply isn’t sinking in? These days, they fire up a Zoom call and meet with a tutor. The global online tutoring industry earned over $7 billion in 2022, and experts anticipate it will only continue to grow.
While tutoring differs from teaching in many ways, it’s a great opportunity for educators and experts to earn some extra money. But you don’t have to be a teacher to be a great tutor for students of all ages. All you require is a firm grasp of the subject you’re tutoring and excellent communication skills.
Looking to make a difference in your students’ lives? Here are a few tutoring tips to take each session to the next level.
What makes a good tutor?
The best tutors don’t just help their students study — they build up their students’ confidence so they can learn independently, too.
But how do you accomplish this? The short answer is by building a connection with every student. Before you take out your first tutoring advertisement and launch your side hustle, take time to hone the skills that will give your tutoring meaning.
Tutors typically work with students one-on-one, so you should tailor each lesson to meet your pupil’s needs. But before diving into the books, you need to build a solid relationship with your student. Listen to their struggles with the subject matter to understand how best to teach them. Practice active listening through positive body language (such as smiling and nodding) and by asking questions to fully understand your pupil’s perspective.
When someone reaches out for tutoring help, it’s often because they struggle to understand a class they’re taking. Your students need your help to succeed — so you need to show up. A good tutor attends tutoring sessions on time and prepares for each lesson so every session is productive.
Asking a tutor for help can be difficult or feel embarrassing. However, you should never give your students a reason to be self-conscious. Approach every student with kindness, and they’ll be more likely to respond positively to you and the material.
While tutors need to be reliable, it’s important to remember that life is unpredictable, and sometimes you need to make changes to accommodate your students. Be ready to adapt to different students’ needs (like a visual learner versus an auditory learner) and their schedules.
Tutors give their students additional help with challenging subjects. So, to be a great tutor, you must show you understand the material you’re teaching. The best way to do that is with confidence — if you’re self-assured and comfortable discussing a subject, your students will feel more at ease learning from you.
The dos and don’ts of tutoring
When you’ve booked a student and scheduled your first session, how can you guarantee your student benefits from this meeting? Follow these guidelines to create the best learning environment for your pupils.
- Plan ahead: Being present isn’t enough for a great tutoring lesson. You must also prepare ahead of time so you can discuss the subject matter with confidence. Before the first meeting, determine the length of the tutoring relationship (whether it’s a month or indefinite) so you can create a lesson plan to carry you into the near future or the end of your contract. Brush up on the student’s subject before you meet, and structure each tutoring session to take up the length of the meeting with enough time for your student to ask questions.
- Pay close attention: Tutoring is more than showing up, assigning work, and sitting back. Unlike some classrooms with an entire room of students, tutoring is all about one-on-one teaching. Make sure to focus on your student’s individual needs, listen to their questions, and use your own observations to guide lessons.
- Use tools and materials: Your student may not be allowed to use notes, learning apps, or other tools in the classroom. But when you’re tutoring, feel free to use supplemental materials to your advantage. Tutoring is supposed to help students better understand a subject, so use a calculator, the internet, and any other tools at your disposal to facilitate that learning.
- Practice patience: Tutoring can be challenging, especially when a student isn’t “getting it” right away. But stick with it — if you stay calm and keep trying, your pupil will eventually have a breakthrough.
- Do students’ homework: If you do a student’s assignment, you’re not a tutor — you’re taking their place in the class. Not only does this method fail to teach your student anything, but it’s also a poor use of valuable time. Depending on the grade level and institution, it may also constitute plagiarism and risk serious academic penalties for your pupil.
- Ignore people who need help: When students reach out to a tutor, they’re usually concerned about their performance in a class. For them, tutoring might be the difference between a passing grade and an F. Make sure you respond to people who want your help as soon as possible, even if it’s to let them know they should look elsewhere.
- Talk down to students: A big part of tutoring is building up your students’ confidence so they can eventually study and find academic success on their own. When a pupil struggles, don’t get frustrated or make them feel inadequate. Everyone learns at their own pace, and talking down to students creates a negative environment that’s likely to drive them away.
- Leave students behind: There are many ways to teach something, from visual learning to hands-on instruction. As a tutor, you need to be able to explain a subject to your students in the way they learn best (even if it’s not the way that makes the most sense to you).
9 tips to be a better tutor
Tutoring is a wonderful and rewarding opportunity to use your knowledge to help others. But as fun as it is, you are also responsible for putting your best foot forward every session. Follow these tips to become the best tutor you can be:
- Improve your communication skills: Be ready to explain a topic to your students in many ways. Clear communication that suits your student’s learning style might be the key to understanding a complex subject.
- Stick to what you know: Students need tutors who know what they’re talking about. Don’t overreach and offer services for a subject you’re not 100% confident you can teach.
- Be professional: Tutoring can be a great side business (or even a full-time job) — but only if you treat it like a one. Manage your schedule appropriately to show up on time and be prepared for every student.
- Create a strong relationship with your students: Make sure your students feel like you’re in their corner. They should feel comfortable asking you even their “silliest” questions, which will help them learn and improve.
- Set goals: Small, incremental goals — like getting B on a test or nailing a memorization exercise — can help your students build confidence as they improve in a subject. Help them set these goals and celebrate as they reach each one.
- Encourage creativity: Remember, everyone learns in their own way. Allow your students to try creative, out-of-the-box ideas to help them better understand their subjects.
- Request feedback from students: No one will know how to better your tutoring like the students you work with. Ask them for regular feedback on your teaching and approach so you can constantly improve.
- Use positive reinforcement: Most people thrive when they feel supported, whether at home, at work, or in the classroom. Use positive reinforcement, like small rewards or praise, to make your students feel better as they learn.
- Help students find their strengths: All students have unique strengths, and just about any strength can help them learn. Help the people you tutor understand where their strengths lie so they can use them to learn long after their time with you. For example, a student who excels at keeping calm under pressure can use this skill to improve their test writing strategy.
Build productive tutoring relationships with Practice
Successful tutors are always learning — just like their students. Practice’s blog is an excellent, free resource for self-improvement in tutoring and beyond. Read up on client relationship management skills, time management strategies, the best practices for professional communication, and more.