A bag of tricks? We have it. The ability to spin various plates simultaneously? We can do it. Keep our balance whilst walking a tightrope? Daily. No, we’re not circus performers, we’re teachers.
Tutoring, along with teaching, is a fine balancing act, and one that needs continuous honing. On one side, you have your educational responsibility – you want your pupils to learn not only their target subject, but also certain morals and values (added to those learnt at home, of course), and you don’t want time wasted in your classroom. On the other, the essence of what makes you a great, memorable teacher- your personality, your empathy, and you ability to engage with and relate to your pupils. Fall too far over into one side and your Miss Trunchbull, the other and you’ll have no authority in your classroom. Getting the right mix of distanced discipline and trustworthy teacher can be tricky – so how do you best go about it?
Every teacher will have their own strategy, of course, but I’ll use this space to tell you a little about mine. As tutors, this balancing act can often be harder than that of a mainstream teacher, as we occupy an educational grey area; we’re not ‘teachers’ as our students know them, but we’re definitely not friends. We want students to feel relaxed in our presence, and to enjoy these optional lessons as much as possible, whilst giving the parents educational value for money. Remember those spinning plates? Yep, we’ve already got a few going here…
If you enter tutoring with no in-school teaching experience, then the first few months can be a steep learning curve, especially if you are a younger tutor. It can be hard to find the right amount of authority to exert whilst keeping your lessons fun and creative, so I came up with a little formula. Obviously this changes according to a student’s age (I’m not going to be using Spanish finger puppets with my 17 year olds, for example…) but the basics remain the same.
I always begin a lesson with a little catch-up with my students – if they’re more advanced we’ll do this in French or Spanish – and this their time to warm up, and also for myself as a tutor to gauge their mood that day, and how much we’re likely to get done. If it’s a day where concentration looks to be scarce, we’ll start with a game. This way you can ease them into learning without seemingly doing any ‘work’ (little do they know that Pictionary just tested them on vocab from last week). Afterwards, we’ll move towards more concrete educational exercises, perhaps including more conversation in the target language if today is proving to not be great for grammar. If it’s a good day, we’ll simply reverse the work and game, and end the lesson on a high note. Simples.
Learning needs to be interactive, and you need to give in order to receive; it’s a reciprocal relationship. In the same way, I believe that your teaching methods need to be a game of two halves, where both fun and solid learning are incorporated. In order to do this successfully, another key tool in our bag of tricks is figuring out what type of learner your students are. Are they visual? Or are they auditory? Would they benefit from role-plays or listening to some French songs? Introducing learning pathways suited to their individual styles will not only ensure you have productive lessons, but also that your students realise that you value what makes them individuals. A tailored tuition service is key.
Teaching, in any form, requires a combination of skills, and a combination of approaches. In an automated world, tuition requires a thoughtful, personalised delivery, where every student has a learning plan that fits them perfectly – one size definitely does not fit all here. Whilst maintaining the balance between dedicated, hardworking teacher and enjoyable educator can be tricky, there is one other teacher in your life that you can always rely on for help – experience.