tutoring blunders

When a parent pays for one-to-one tutoring they expect value for money.  Every minute of the hour, tuition is important and we mustn’t waste time.

Be Prepared

Over prepare – don’t under prepare. The worst mistake anyone can make while tutoring is to turn up to a lesson unprepared. Let’s be fair, most of us have done it at some point.

Ok, we can wing it to a certain extent but once you’ve done it once or twice, you soon realise the error of your ways.  Ideally, I like to always have an extra thirty minutes of ‘material’ with me as a ‘just in case’ precaution.

I remember doing the ‘subjunctive’ in private French lessons with a 12-year-old girl on one occasion and being caught unawares. I swear she was the brightest child I’ve ever taught and she certainly had a flair for languages.

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What would have taken the average pupil at least one lesson to grasp, she had mastered within twenty minutes and there I was almost twiddling my thumbs.  I never made that mistake again. If anything I over-prepared for every lesson I ever gave her subsequently.

Don’t Cross Boundaries and Over-Share!

A teacher is always a teacher.  A private tutor is always a tutor.  Yes, you can chat at the beginning of a lesson to get your pupil settled in and obviously when you draw a lesson to a close you can relax and indulge in a bit of chit-chat.  However, there’s such a thing as too much chatting when you’re tutoring.

Now I’m a talker and always have been and I know I have to rein myself in. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, I think the expression ‘talk the hind leg off a donkey’ was made for me.

However there’s such a thing as too much chatting. Now I’m a talker and always have been and I know I have to rein myself in.

One time I particularly remember makes me cringe whenever I think about it.  A senior engineer in his fifties turned up at my house for his weekly hour-long conversational German ‘lesson’.  He had a new client in Bonn and although he had a grasp of the language, he didn’t feel as confident as he wanted to.

The five minute rule

As a busy businessman, his time was precious yet I wasted the best part of his lesson, talking (albeit in German) about the fact I’d just failed my driving test. The thing is I talked and didn’t give him much of a chance to get a word in. It was only in the last ten minutes that he got the chance to ask me to help him translate a document and by then we simply didn’t have time.  I failed my pupil badly on that day.

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I start talking about one thing and then end up going off on tangents, chatting about something completely different. Aware as I am of my shortcomings, I’m now very strict about the ‘5-minute rule’.  No more than five minutes at the beginning of the lesson, to unwind and pass the time of day and then down to the business in hand – the lesson!

Aware as I am of my shortcomings, I’m now very strict about the ‘5 minute rule’.

I start to draw things to a close then, five minutes before the end of the lesson, to give me time to recap and give the pupil time to ask last-minute questions. The stopwatch on your mobile phone is perfect for warning you when your lesson only has five minutes left.

Private lessons are for teaching and learning, NOT chatting!

Don’t Promise A Grades

As teachers, we like to think that we can teach and that the pupils we teach will learn and improve. One thing we know from experience is that you can’t make someone ‘brilliant’ if they’re a solid, plodding average grade person.

You can teach them more than they know already, you can give them one-to-one attention, you can give them confidence and you will without doubt be able to give them the tools to pass their exam or whatever the aim is.

Ultimately though it depends on the pupil.  They need to work too. They need to put in the hours and they need to revise.

Ultimately though it depends on the pupil.  They need to work too. They need to put in the hours and they need to revise. Piano teachers teaching excellent pupils with a flair for music will recognise what I’m saying here. Everyone needs to practise and you, the private tutor, cannot do that for them. The best musicians put in hours of practice every day.

My mistake

As a newly-qualified teacher, I remember foolishly telling an anxious mum that I was convinced that her Year 12 daughter would get at least a B in their English Literature exam, and with lots of work would get an A.  How was I to know that, intelligent and capable as she was, the girl was going to go completely off the rails for reasons completely beyond my control, and that she would end up having to resit the whole year in all her subjects?!

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So if your pupil is only getting Cs in chemistry homework and just about scraping a pass in his or her exams, don’t guarantee they will get an A* in their GCSE or A Level. You’re the one who will look a fool and the parents who are paying for the one-to-one tuition will feel ripped-off and badly cheated.

Make sure your pupil (and their parents if appropriate) knows that you’re entering into a two-way partnership. They need to work just as hard as you.

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Your pupil needs to work hard too!

A good tutor really can make a difference.  Avoid the pitfalls above and you’ll be halfway there!

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