Teaching Trouble

One of the greatest aspects of tutoring is the wide array of people you get to meet. You could be teaching a CEO in the morning, a retired couple in the afternoon, and an A-Level student in the evening. With this, however, inevitably comes some trickier elements, especially when teaching groups or couples – this could be arguing siblings, lovers’ tiffs, you name it. Knowing how to navigate these situations can be difficult, so in this article I’ll share some of the top tips I’ve learnt along the way.

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Firstly, when it comes to teaching groups of kids that could potentially descend into chaos, variety and activity are key. Children, especially siblings, are likely to bicker – it’s normal behaviour - but it’s important to know how to stop this from interrupting your lessons. Personally, I find that varying the exercises you’re doing will keep the kids engaged, and therefore less likely to become distracted and squabble. For example, as a language tutor I use a mixture of written activities, games and language-based videos to keep the pace and variety of the lesson high.

Depending on the children, a level of healthy competition can also work wonders too, as this means the kids are directing the energy that they might have used to argue into winning the game. Anything from subject-related bingo to a timed quiz can really get the kids to concentrate on the work in front of them, rather than poking their brother/sister/friend in the side/eye/face. A word of warning, though: competitive games can cause some children to be even more combative with each other, so use your judgement to decide whether they are a good idea for your group or not.

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When it comes to groups of adults, or couples, 95% of the time there is no arguing or bickering, and lessons are carried out without a hitch. Nevertheless, there are always exceptions to the rule, and I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve transformed into mediator, rather than tutor. The first point I would make, which may seem obvious, is that it is not your place to get involved with, or comment on relationship dynamics – even those of a group of friends. Much like with the children mentioned above, keeping adult students busy with tasks throughout your lesson can help to avoid any tension or bickering that may occur.

If, however, the disagreements are getting in the way of your ability to teach effectively, there are a few things you can try. First of all, consider that the couple/group may each have different learning styles, which is causing discord and frustration. If this is the case, try and slightly alter your activities or teaching style to make sure that each student is getting the most out of the lesson.

If this is not the case, then at the end of a lesson, sit with the students, and ask for their feedback on their lessons so far, and if they feel there is anything you could do differently to help them learn better. If it feels right, and if it has been affecting you in your capacity as a tutor, you can also mention that you have felt some tension during the classes, and you were wondering if there was something you could do to make the lessons more enjoyable. By keeping the conversation tuition/tutor-related, you are avoiding commenting on their personal life, and remaining professional, whilst still aiming to resolve the issue.

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Finally, if all of the above has failed, and arguments are making lessons unbearable and hard to maintain, then you may ultimately have to walk away from a client. This is, of course, a last resort, and should only occur once you have tried the aforementioned tactics, and had a discussion with the client/client’s parents, but it is not your role as a tutor to be a referee. Of course, some bickering, especially amongst kids, is part and parcel of being a tutor, but continuous disruption of lessons, be that by a child or adult, means you cannot successfully carry out your role as a tutor.

Before any of this occurs, you may want to consider including a ‘Code of Conduct’ on your website (if you have one), or double-checking if the tutoring site that you use to gain students has one. This will set the benchmark for behaviour in lessons, and means that you have a framework against which you can measure potentially disruptive incidents in class. Hopefully these incidents won’t rear their heads and interrupt your classes, but if they do, you now have some tips to help you keep calm and carry on.