5 Important Lessons I’ve Learned as a Tutor
I am a math and computer science tutor and would like to share some of the greatest insights I’ve gained from teaching. Being a tutor is fun and rewarding because it shows me things I know well, teaches me new stuff, and makes the things I don’t understand obvious. The following are ideas, concepts, and practices that have made my tutoring sessions more successful and more beneficial to my pupils.
The Importance of Listening
My assumption when I started tutoring was that I would explain most of the time and that my students would primarily listen. To some extent my assumption was correct, but I also found out that by listening to my students and asking them to explain the concepts to me, they improved their skills more rapidly and I was able to better assess the areas they needed to work on.
I also noticed that when I actively listened to them, as opposed to just lecturing, they perceptibly tried harder to complete the material. I suspect that when they felt heard, they felt more empowered and therefore saw themselves as people who could work hard with ease. By listening to people, I became better at responding to their needs. Also, by hearing what they wanted to learn, I was able to make the material more engaging and relevant to their lives, thereby making my instructions much more helpful.
There’s No Substitute For Showing Up
Inevitably when tutoring, there are days when my students just don’t want to work. It might be because they are having a bad day at school, didn’t get enough sleep, or simply because they want to do something more active than math. Ultimately, even on the worst of these days, the time spent doing work, even at a reduced pace or with a suboptimal attitude, helps them improve. Though the effort pays off in more ways than simply improving test scores. They also learn that they are capable of overcoming the obstacles that seek to overthrow them. In a way, learning that you can learn is more important than the specific things that you learn. Showing up matters just as much as what you do when you get there.
Everyone is Unique
Before tutoring, I had often heard that “everyone is unique”. I wrote it off as a kind of nothingism like “celebrity is as celebrity does” but after teaching two brothers of similar ages, I realized the profound meaning behind the ostensibly empty saying. No two people are the same, regardless of geographic, genetic, or cultural similarities. This is because of how many factors make up an individual. Since these factors are so numerous, they have a very slim chance of ever being repeated in the same combination. Therefore, people are unique. Anything else would go against everything we know about probability and randomness as well as my experience working with others. Let’s now explore the real-world implications.
The fact that everyone is unique, in big ways and small, means that applying the same technique or treatment to two different people or to the same person on two different days, is likely suboptimal since it means acting on lacking information. Instead, we need to recognize the optimal line of action based mostly on the current situation and only in certain rare cases should we default to acting solely based on experience. Beware of heuristic approaches that do not fully take into account the possibility that what worked yesterday will not work today. This is because the factors which made yesterday a success may have ceased to favor the doer. Likewise, do not assume that what worked with Eric will also work with Earl.
So what is the desirable alternative? To treat everyone and every situation as new. As an adventure. Treat the day as a place in time as yet unexplored, not as one which bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor. Live in the moment and embrace the uncertainty.
When applied in teaching, seeing each session and student as unique improves the quality of my lessons and the children’s enjoyment. Treating people in a one-size-fits-all way restricts a dynamic to a certain limit. The idea that every person and situation is unique removes this limit to how much can be learned or how much can be accomplished. Whenever possible, consider the individual first and then think of the category they fall into only as an afterthought, if at all.
Believe In People And Help Them See Their Potential
Often while I am tutoring, I will encourage the students to overcome difficulties in their lives, not just in their studies. I help them see the good that they can do. The good that they are already doing. Doing this improves their work, focus, and mood.
Helping people see and be their best is especially important when working with children. This is because they tend not to have already developed a strong sense of who they are and at such a developmental stage benefit much more from a positive outlook than do adults who have long ago settled into their ways. What we learn as kids will have a profound impact on the rest of our lives. Not that we shouldn’t see the best in our elders. Neuroplasticity never fully goes away so even in extreme cases counterproductive or harmful beliefs can be reduced or even removed. It’s just a much more involved process so it’s best to start early on the path to positivity.
Help the people you know to see their best side, and spend time with the people who do the same for you. While reading this, you can probably see the face of the last person who said something uplifting and kind to you and likewise for the opposite. If at all possible, increase the time you spend with the former and reduce the time you spend with the latter.
After each session, I like to discuss my pupils’ progress with their parents. Sometimes these conversations are fairly long and involved and other times they might consist of only a few sentences. The point is to consistently provide and receive feedback on what is going well, what should be worked on, and what needs to change going forward.
It’s always a pleasure to inform parents of how well their children are doing. And, in times when they aren’t focusing or putting in enough effort, these conversations serve to realign things for the next session. I also like receiving feedback from both parents and students about how I’m doing. If I’m doing great it’s nice to hear about and if I’m not doing something optimally it’s still good to hear because then I can correct it in the future.
Checking in regularly with the people you work with and live with will maximize your odds of having effective and mutually beneficial relationships. Though, a word of caution — if you have noticed that your discussions with someone tend to feel critical or subversive and you can’t seem to alter the narrative to be more favorable, then disengage as much as possible from that person. Another thing I’ve learned — though thankfully not from tutoring — is that certain relationships, such as those that leave you feeling like an inadequate person, are best when terminated. If this is the case, don’t overanalyze or try to assign blame to either yourself or the other party. What’s important is surrounding yourself with a supportive and positive group of people and knowing when to walk away from a loose-loose situation.
As always, thanks for reading and feel free to comment suggestions for improvement, or just new topics you’d like me to write about. I’ve been a tutor for over a year now and it feels like the time flew by. Lots of life lessons can be learned from tutoring. The things above are all tips or ideas which have helped me become a better tutor and a better person. I have found that teachers can learn just as much from their students as their students can from them. The truth is that by helping other people learn, you can’t help but learn yourself.