The Qualities of a Great Tutor29/08/2023 / Online Tutoring
The History of Tutoring
The history of tutoring goes back thousands of years. Long before the event of widespread schooling, tutors were employed to educate children, often at home and individually, to prepare them for the requirements of their adult life.
Many famous tutors were scholars in their own right. Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander the Great, and the Kings and Queens of England were tutored by the greatest minds from Oxford and Cambridge University. Homes throughout the country employed tutors for their sons and governesses for their daughters. Boys hoping for scholarships would be tutored in Greek and Latin to pass the selection for prestigious schools.
The introduction of universal free schooling in the 19th century and the rise of the internet in the 20th and 21st century has transformed how tutoring is required and delivered. Nevertheless, focusing on the individual child, preparing for the next phase and raising aspirations remain crucial to modern tutoring.
‘Tutor’ is not a protected term. This means that tutors in the UK do not need to hold any qualifications in the subjects they tutor or register with any particular professional body. In comparison, a qualified teacher in the United Kingdom will have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and an additional teaching qualification, such as a BEd (Bachelor of Education) or PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education). Teachers are also required to complete one year of induction as an NQT (newly qualified teacher), where they have additional observations and mentoring to ensure the standard of their teaching meets expectations.
Principal Tutors only provides teachers with a UK-recognised teaching qualification. This means they will have, as a minimum:
- A Bachelor’s Degree or Master’s Degree
- A Teaching Qualification (such as BEd or PGCE)
- Plus – classroom teaching experience
We believe that qualified teachers make the best tutors. A qualified teacher will be informed in educational pedagogy (the understanding of how and why children learn), have experience (where relevant) in preparing and entering pupils for examinations, and will have a greater weight of professional experience to draw from to find the best learning approach for your child.
What are the qualities of a great tutor?
It can be very hard to find the right tutor for your child. Not only do they need the right qualifications and expertise, but they also need to engage your child in topics they find difficult. When you recognise that your child is ready for a tutor and you start looking, the amount of choice can be daunting. Focusing on the qualities you are looking for can help to narrow down the choices:
A great tutor will have expert knowledge in the subject they are tutoring. Whilst this may seem less important at the primary phase, this is a common misconception. All learning is part of a process of gradually accumulated knowledge and understanding. A subject expert can see the big picture, even at the early stages of the process. They will better be able to judge where your child needs consolidation and where they need challenge. If they are making mistakes, a subject expert will have a much greater understanding of why these mistakes are happening and the variety of ways they can be addressed to avoid further problems later on.
At the other end of the scale, school examinations (GCSE and A-level) need the authority and confidence of a subject expert. The difficulty of the content, the breadth and depth of knowledge required, and the specific demands of the examinations require detailed and subject-specific knowledge.
This knowledge does not just relate to the factual details. A subject expert will understand the requirements of different exam boards (for example, AQA, OCR, Edexcel, Eduqas/WJEC) and precisely what examiners are looking for in different question types. They will ensure that a pupil is doing the most valuable and focused preparation and will understand common areas of weakness and lost marks.
Finally, a subject expert will be passionate about their subject. Teachers choose to teach a subject because they enjoy it! A passionate subject expert can re-enthuse a learner who has become disengaged with the subject more so than almost anything else.
Your child is unique, with individual requirements and ways of learning that work best for them. Nevertheless, they will have to cover the same curriculum content and ultimately sit the same exams. Experience with the education system and experience with young people will guide a tutor to find the best method for supporting your child to make progress.
It is very likely that if a child has difficulty with a particular skill or topic, the tutor will have seen many other pupils find that content challenging. They will have strategies and resources to break down the issue into smaller steps. They will be able to confidently reassure the pupil that what they are doing might be difficult but offer meaningful praise for taking small steps toward progress. Experienced tutors will see patterns, meaning they can connect a pupil’s strengths and areas of challenge with other parts of the curriculum, so the pupil will be better prepared when a new topic comes up.
Experience will also guide an experienced tutor to observations that might arise from tutoring. Whilst a tutor cannot usually diagnose additional needs, they will be in a better position to identify indicating signs that a child may have a specific learning difficulty that would benefit from further investigation. They will do this sensitively and professionally and will be able to talk with you about possible steps you could take.
Ability to Engage:
Subject knowledge and experience are crucial for a successful tutor, but this needs to be balanced with the ability to engage a pupil in learning.
Unlike in the classroom, this engagement can be completely individualised. The best tutors will keep your child focused from the very start. They will plan activities at just the right length and degree of difficulty to challenge your child without overwhelming them. They will keep up a friendly but professional ongoing conversation with your child, showing that they listen to what your child says and demonstrating that they are invested in the child’s success and progress, interests and strengths.
A great tutor will create an environment where the child looks forward to their lessons and where the lesson itself seems to go very quickly. They will be able to gently but firmly steer a distracted child back to the learning and create a space where a child who is frustrated or upset can talk about their concerns safely.
A good tutor will come to each lesson with a plan for learning and resources ready to engage the pupil. However, a great tutor will also be able to adapt the lesson intuitively to suit the pupil’s requirements.
It may be that the pupil announces at the start of the lesson that they suddenly have a test tomorrow and want to go over a particular topic. Or it may be apparent whilst the tutor is teaching one topic that the pupil actually needs to consolidate something else before the new topic can be fully explored. Or the pupil may be slightly unwell, tired or otherwise dispirited and need a slightly amended plan to get the most out of the lesson.
None of these situations should daunt an experienced tutor; as soon as it becomes apparent that a change is required, existing resources can be drawn upon, new plans created, and the pupil can still receive a great lesson that best meets their needs on that particular day.
Of course, there are many other qualities that make for a successful tutor:
- clarity of expression
- quality of feedback
- a good sense of humour
- an understanding of what the school environment is like for children and young people.
The importance of these qualities, alongside those outlined above, reveals just how challenging the role of a tutor can be. Qualified teachers with classroom experience who also successfully tutor will have all these qualities in abundance. Engaging a tutor from Principal Tutors will ensure you have the professional experience a qualified teacher provides with the other qualities that facilitate the best environment for your child to make progress.
At Principal Tutors, all of our tutors are qualified teachers with expertise in the UK National Curriculum. You’ll get feedback after every single session to help you feel in control of your child’s learning and progress, and you can even download resources and request a recording of your tutoring session to help you remember key points later.
To learn how tutoring can help your child give us a call on 0800 772 0974 or you can request a tutor using our online form.
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