The best tutors don’t begin their tutoring careers with formal tutoring experience already under their belt. So, what kind of experience is valuable? First, and perhaps most obviously, teaching experience is a huge plus for individuals looking to begin tutoring. Classroom teaching experience helps to develop many valuable qualities that translate into successful tutoring. Those qualities can include the ability to differentiate instruction based on learning styles, time-management, content knowledge, and the ability to remain focused on the task at hand.
But what about those that aren’t teachers? Well, because tutoring involves working with students, any experience working with students is valuable. Maybe you were a camp counselor for two summers in college. Maybe you volunteer as a mentor at an after-school non-profit. Maybe you helped out some friends who were struggling in a subject in an informal setting. All of these things can help develop the most important skill for a great tutor: knowing how to work with students.
Perhaps you just graduated college and never really engaged in teaching/tutoring of any kind. While individuals like this are prone to struggle as a tutor initially, some of our best tutors made it through college without any significant experience working with students. Why? Because if someone recently experienced what a student is currently experiencing, it is easy for them to recognize and relate to any struggles a student may be facing. For example, recent college graduates typically make the best test prep tutors, because they were studying for the SAT or ACT very recently and can relate to students studying for those tests now.
To clarify, when I use the word “relevant,” I mean relevant to the student. For instance, individuals with advanced degrees in math/science subjects with little to no teaching experience typically do not make great tutors. If someone has 10+ years of experience applying calculus or physics to their full-time job, it will be incredibly difficult for them to communicate concepts on a basic enough level for someone who is experiencing them for the first time. So, maybe you have never tutored calculus before but you took a college calculus course last year and you are familiar with learning the concepts for the first time: you might make a great tutor.
Teaching experience and relevant knowledge are both things that, theoretically, anyone can get. However, the kind of personality that makes a great tutor cannot be taught or gained through practice. Great tutors typically have very similar personality traits: a passion for teaching, a positive attitude, and a high degree of patience. When a tutoring candidate comes in for an interview at Educational Connections, the first thing I try to evaluate is their personality. If someone takes themselves too seriously, can’t seem to crack a smile, or just doesn’t seem excited for the opportunity to tutor, then the rest of the interview is usually just a formality.
Whether you are interviewing with a tutoring company like ours or simply meeting a prospective client independently, it is important that you convey an enthusiasm for the opportunity you are being given. You might have the best understanding in the world of how to teach Spanish, but if you cannot engage a student who is struggling and maybe not motivated to learn the subject, you will accomplish nothing. If you are not passionate about either teaching in general or the subject you want to tutor, then tutoring probably isn’t for you.
Another quality that every great tutor possesses is communication skills. Because every student is different, great tutors are able to recognize the personality and learning style of their student and adapt their method of communication accordingly. For instance, approaching a subject in an overly energetic way might be great for a student who is also excited about the subject, but it might be alienating to a student who is struggling in the subject or fails to see its relevance to their lives.
Another aspect of tutoring that makes communication skills vitally important is the relationship between a tutor and a parent. There are different types of parents, but all of them want their child to succeed. If they are going to pay for tutoring, they want to know that their child will benefit from the service. Sometimes parents may have unrealistic expectations for their student. Being able to effectively communicate with a parent through things like setting goals, frequent updates, and listening to a parent’s concerns is crucial. Without effective communication skills, tutors will struggle not only to reach the student, but also to convince the parents that their help is beneficial.
Location, Location, Location
One final variable to the equation for a great tutor is location. Some regions of the country are better for tutoring than others. For instance, in cities like Vienna, Great Falls, and Fairfax in Northern Virginia, there is a large demand for academic tutors. Alternatively, there is much less demand in places like Lynchburg, Virginia where I attended college or my hometown of Anderson, South Carolina. You could be the most qualified tutor in the world, but living in an area with little or no demand for academic tutors means that your skills won’t be utilized.
Even if you live near an area where there is a large demand, your specific location is very important. This is particularly true for in-home tutoring companies like Educational Connections. We will rarely assign a tutor to a student who lives 30+ minutes away. First, driving 30 minutes each way for a one hour session can take a toll on someone and they might ultimately decide that it’s not worth it, causing an interruption in the student’s tutoring. Also, especially in an area like Northern Virginia where cities like Arlington and Alexandria get very crowded during rush hour with people coming to and from D.C., a 30 minute drive can easily turn into an hour causing to delays or cancellations in tutoring sessions. These are risks that we do not like to take when placing a tutor with a student.
There are many more qualities that go into making a great tutor, but if you can master these then you are off to a great start.