What is Tutoring?

Tutoring is an age-old practice. The dictionary definition describes a tutor as a person who gives additional, special, or basic instruction. Other definitions state that a tutor is one who guards, protects, watches over, or has the care of another person. It sounds like a heavy responsibility. It is, and if done properly, it can be one of the most generous and rewarding things two or more people can do. Ross MacDonald, in his guidebook The Master Tutor, refers to tutoring as “an act which facilitates or provides a structure for another’s learning.”

The purpose of tutoring is to help students help themselves, or to assist or guide them to the point at which they become an independent learner, and thus no longer need a tutor. This might sound as if a good tutor would be working him/herself right out of a job. But not to worry – there’s no end to the number of people who need and will benefit from the tutoring exchange.

Knowledge of the academic subject is an essential ingredient for a tutor, however not the most important. Annette Gourgey of Upsala College writes “the most profound education that students can receive in tutoring is not about a specific subject but about understanding how to learn, and about their personal role in that process.”

To be truly effective, a tutor must combine content knowledge with empathy, honesty and humor. Empathy requires a tutor to "read" the emotional states, attitudes and perceptions of their students. Empathy is the ability to see others from their personal frame of reference, and to communicate this understanding to the person involved. Sometimes tutors are so comfortable with the subjects they tutor that they forget what it’s like to be lost or confused. Certainly there’s some subject that baffles you. Try to think of the frustration you feel regarding a subject that’s difficult for you. In order for tutors to establish a supportive relationship with their students, they must be open and honest. Students are often reluctant to talk with a stranger about their academic problems. If a tutor is perceived as genuine and having a strong desire to listen, students will be more willing to open up and discuss their problems.

Integrating Humor in the Tutoring Session helps relax the learning environment. It can also be used to compliment, to guide or to provide negative feedback in a positive manner.

As a tutor, you need to accept the responsibility for your assignment. Tutees generally come to you with a certain amount of respect for your role. It's important for a tutor to develop a rapport with students who seek assistance. Become familiar with methods for Getting to Know the Student.

The tutoring environment must remain a place where students know that they are safe to ask for and receive assistance. Information exchanged must remain confidential, and respect for both the tutor and tutee will be maintained. Tutors and tutees should behave according to a Code of Ethics that will help ensure a secure learning environment.  A tutor is successful when a student no longer depends on tutorial assistance to achieve the intended academic goal. Whether the short-term goal is to pass a class or obtain a degree, the tutor is ultimately successful when a student becomes independent, capable of lifelong learning.

There are many benefits to working as a tutor:

    • Experiencing a new role in the learning process.
    • Experiencing higher levels of thinking.
    • Gaining a clearer understanding of the basic skills of a subject.
    • Increased motivation to learn through helping others.
    • Increased ability to manage your own learning and study strategies.
    • Increased subject -specific knowledge.
    • Increased related, general knowledge.
    • Improved listening and communication skills.
    • Increased understanding of learning differences.
    • Increased understanding of cultural differences.
    • Improved organizational abilities.

There are also many benefits for the students who receive tutoring:

    • A different perspective through individualized and small group learning experiences.
    • A greater connection between teacher and learner through the tutor’s role modeling.
    • Improved academic performance and personal growth.
    • Improved attitude toward subject area.
    • Improved questioning and thinking strategies.
    • Enhanced self-paced and self-directed learning.
    • Opportunity for intensive practice.
    • Improved self esteem.
    • Improved study skills.

There are many benefits to the college:

• Increased retention and persistence.
• Improved rate of completion and success.
• Development of learning communities.
• Measurable positive changes in attitude towards teaching/learning for the participants.
• Improved educational climate.
• Improved ethnic and racial understanding and tolerance.
• Relatively low-cost instruction and learning.

Characteristics of Good Tutors
Intelligence alone does not indicate success as a tutor; but what kind of person, what kind of student you are does. It takes a certain kind of person to be a good tutor. Some of the characteristics noticeable in good tutors are:

    • A positive outlook: The belief that things can be changed through action.

    • A desire to help others: The willingness to become involved with people first
    hand and in depth.

    • Empathy: The ability to feel what another person is feeling.

    • An even disposition: Patience, gentleness, understanding and fairness.

    • An open mind: A willingness to accept other people and their point of view.

    • Initiative: The ability to recognize a problem and to do something about it.

    • Enthusiasm: A passion for your subject, and a wish to share it with others.

    • Reliability as a worker: Punctual, dependable, steady.

When considering whether or not to become a tutor, remember these things:

    • Tutoring is one of the most beneficial things you can do as a LEARNER. It will teach you more about your subject and about thinking than the typical classroom experience.

    • It requires a certain humility to be a tutor. It’s not about you – it’s about the tutee. The more you can focus on the other person’s success, the better the tutor you will be.

    • The best tutors do less talking than their tutees. This is a manifestation of allowing the tutee to take charge of her/his own learning.

    • Tutoring should not be done for financial reward. Most college programs can’t afford to pay tutors what you’re worth. However, the personal rewards are substantial.

    • Tutoring will strengthen your social connection to the campus community. Tutors are universally well respected and appreciated. You will earn a more confident relationship with faculty, staff, and students.

    • Tutoring is a two-way learning experience. You will be responsible to establish a friendly atmosphere that is based on mutual respect .

    • Prepare for the unknown. A tutor never really knows what kind of questions, assignments, or experiences a tutee will bring to the sessions. That’s why it’s imperative to remain relaxed and flexible .

    • Even though you might be demanding on yourself as a student, you will learn the power of patience. You’ll learn this special quality through skilled questioning, listening, and waiting.

    • Tutors are problem solvers. You get to figure out what resources and techniques are needed to enable the tutee to succeed.

    • Being a good tutor is an art that requires experience and application of proven techniques. Mastering this art form will improve the quality of your work and personal relationships for the rest of your life.