Discover exactly what it takes to be a private tutor in the UK...
Post updated 18/06/2015.
At least once a week, I receive an email from someone asking whether they have the knowledge and skills to become a private tutor.
In most cases, it's clear to me that they already have all the knowledge needed to teach their given subject but knowing over email whether they have the skills to work one-to-one with students is pretty much impossible.
Having good subject knowledge is one thing but having the skills to explain complex theories and processes is another.
Classroom teachers for example, may have all the skills needed to manage a class of 20+ students but an entirely different skillset is required to tutor in a one-to-one environment.
Similarly, someone new to private tutoring may already have all the practical knowledge needed to tutor but having the soft skills required to explain things clearly may be another matter. This post aims to act as a response to all those emails I receive every week about what skills are needed to be a successful private tutor.
Above all else, having strong communication skills will serve you well as a tutor. Anyone can make learning sound complicated but it takes someone with good communication skills to explain complex theories in simple terms.
As a tutor, it's part your job to be able to identify your students' learning styles and adapt your teaching methods to suit. For example, some students are visual learners and tend to remember information that's presented in tables or charts. Whereas other learners feel they're more effective when using technology.
In any case, a private tutor should be prepared to adapt their communication style to suit their students, not the other way around.
Just as learning a new subject can be challenging, so can having the patience to explain new concepts and processes.
Rarely do we completely understand new ideas the first time round and sometimes it takes several different types of explanation for us to fully grasp a concept.
As a tutor, it's important that you set your expectations about how long it might take students to get their heads around new ideas.
Although it can to be tempting to push forward with your lesson plans regardless, your students will ultimately benefit more in the long run if you take the time to address any issues as they arise.
Whereas tutors need to deliver information clearly and accurately, they need to do so in a personable way if students are to feel relaxed enough to ask questions.
One way to help students get on board with your teaching is to share bits and pieces of personal information with them. Sometimes breaking down the teacher-student barrier is necessary to get the best out of your learners
Showing your human side can help students relate to you and what you're teaching. It shows them that if you can do it then they can do it too with a little practice.
It's easy for students to assume that because you're a tutor that you must have an increased capacity for learning. By using your interpersonal skills, you'll help your students realise that their ability to learn is actually about how much they commit themselves to what they're studying.
Being organised in your lessons reassures students that you have the ability to help them acheive their goals. Like classroom teachers, tutors should always have a lesson timetable and individual lesson plans to help map out what needs be studied, when.
One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of working as a private tutor is how much organisation it takes to keep on top of administration. Not only do you need to have lessons plans and schedules but you also need to be on top of student invoicing and reporting.
The last couple of years have seen an increase in the number of work scheduling software tools for private tutors and they really do make all the difference. For a small fee each month, tutoring software can help organise your lessons and handle the administration involved in running a private tutoring business.
Younger students in particular are generally well up to speed when it comes to technology and as a tutor, you should be too. Being able to send emails, use apps, work on mobile devices and use virtual classrooms is all par for the course as a tutor nowadays.
Students expect lessons to be able to transfer over on to digital devices so they can learn on the go whenever it's convenient for them. Where possible, try to create digital versions of all your materials and lesson notes to make them easily accessible to students whenever they need them.
What skills do you think are the most important for tutors? Are there any that you think should be added to this list?
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfulawschool/13267866505