When we’re out on the edge of our understanding or ability, we need help getting to the next level. For interpersonal or emotional support, we typically turn to family and friends. Athletes get coaching from, well, coaches. But for academic challenges, the best bridge from what you can do to what you need to do is usually a great tutor.
Too bad, then, that so many tutors are less than great. Get the most out of your supplemental education experiences by learning how to tell if your tutor is elite or just average:
Your first communication with a tutor will either be via an assignment from an educational company or initiated by your direct communication. Right from the start, pay attention to how quickly your tutor responds. Top tutors will reply promptly and professionally not just to that initial contact but all subsequent communication. A 24-hour response time is a reasonable expectation, especially since top tutors shouldn’t be answering your calls while working with other students!
BONUS: Look for a tutor that will engage you on your preferred media, whether it’s email, text, or phone calls.
As service professionals, tutors should be held to high standards of professional conduct. This begins with a clean and neat appearance, but should extend to every level of client interaction. Top tutors treat education as a business in the sense that they respect their clients and the transactional nature of the tutoring relationship.
BONUS: A business card or website can indicate, but not guarantee, that a tutor takes his or her role seriously.
Yes, tutoring for compensation is a business, but that doesn’t mean a tutor can’t crack a smile. Students learn more and commit to study when they enjoy working with a tutor. As a result, top tutors exhibit exceptional social skills in establishing effective rapport with both students and, where applicable, their parents.
BONUS: The mantra should be, “Friendly, but not too friendly.” Make sure your tutor keeps sessions focused on work.
Too many tutors take an ad hoc approach to instruction, responding to immediate concerns without establishing a framework for future success. Contrast that improvisational approach with one that involves a plan and preparation. In test preparation, this manifests as a curriculum with proven strategies and an emphasis on high quality practice. Subject tutors seek to align instruction with a student’s syllabus and may even reach out to a teacher for clarity on long-term goals.
BONUS: Teaching out of a retail SAT or ACT book is not a system. On the other hand, teaching out of a retail AP guide often is.
Sometimes, tutors take systems too far and try to apply the same cookie-cutter approach to each student. Effective education, especially in tutoring, demands differentiation. Top tutors focus on the specific students in front of them and individualize instruction accordingly.
BONUS: Avoid any educational organization that cannot guarantee the same tutor every time, unless you’ll be content with generic instruction.
Not only is experience the best teacher, but experience makes the best teachers. The gold standard for tutors is someone who has demonstrably helped a wide range of students over a number of years excel in the specific area or test you need help. Alas, you can’t always find that level of experience. However, you should prioritize specific rather than general expertise. For example, you’ll find many math tutors out there, some of whom are happy to work with students from 1st grade through college. But you don’t want a generic math teacher for SAT Math prep or AP Statistics. Instead, you want someone who has taught that particular material. Often, the mark of experience is not measured in subject knowledge but in understanding of the unique demands of a given test or course.
BONUS: Everyone starts someplace, and even the most seasoned tutors were once green and untried. Even a new tutor can be effective with the right degree of personal success in and experience with a given test or course, especially with excellent training and supervision.
We often see education as a vocation, but teaching students for an hourly wage is, by definition, a job. Nonetheless, top tutors bring a passion for education to their interactions with students and clients. Seek out tutors who exhibit a level of excitement that inspires you to be your best.
BONUS: Bad days befall all of us, but top tutors rise above the daily grind to make each session feel meaningful.
What do you think: are these the traits you see in the best tutors?