What Does a Tutor Do?

Tutoring is the oldest method of instruction in the world. When Plato and Socrates held discussions with small groups of Greek scholars, they were tutoring. European nobility in the Middle Ages and Renaissance era hired tutors to teach their children. We’ve been tutoring for millennia, and in comparison to tutoring, schoolroom instruction is in its infancy. But what does a tutor do, and how does tutoring differ from classroom instruction? Read on to find out how tutoring stands apart from everyday teaching methods.

What Is a Tutor?

A tutor is a subject matter expert who passes on knowledge and skills in either one-on-one settings or small groups. In the past, tutoring was a luxury only available to the wealthiest families. Today, successful tutoring programs are available nationwide through schools, churches, and nonprofit organizations, while video conferencing has made it possible for students to access private tutoring services online.

Modern tutors work closely with students of all levels, from kindergarten to college, improving academic performance in all subject areas while also helping high school students get the best possible results from SATs, ACTs, GREs, and other standardized tests.

What Is the Difference Between a Teacher and a Tutor?

While both tutors and teachers are instructors, the two professions are very different. Both push students to improve and learn, but the tactics they use are very different.

Teachers must teach a set curriculum to large classrooms of students. The average U.S. high school class includes 17 or more students, with the largest classes sometimes holding 30 students or more. Faced with large classes, a set curriculum, and limited time to cover all the subject material, teachers have to teach to the overall needs of the entire class, rather than to the personalized needs of individual students. These limitations can result in students not receiving the attention they need to master key concepts, while more advanced students may find the pace of the class slow and unmotivating.

Teachers are further restricted by the need to teach with standardized tests in mind and are under pressure to meet particular academic benchmarks that do not always mesh well with student progress or skill levels. A good tutor isn’t bound by these restrictions.

What Does a Tutor Do?

Tutors are often hired to improve academic performance, but they are responsible for so much more. Rather than simply reviewing school work, a good tutor works closely with each student to identify their needs and assess their understanding of the material. The tutor guides the student through discussions that help them learn how to apply the material.

Take math tutoring as an example. Rather than show the student how to solve a particular problem, the tutor helps the student understand the key concepts that make it possible to solve the problem. Doing so provides the student with skills they can apply moving forward.

The goal of tutoring is not just to improve academic performance, although that is naturally a concern for students, teachers, and parents. In reality, good tutoring teaches students the habits and behavioral patterns they need to become lifelong, independent learners.

As students realize their learning potential, their self-esteem improves. Small classroom successes build on each other, bolstering the student’s self-confidence. The student realizes they can apply their newly learned study skills and critical thinking to other classes, hobbies, and careers. The ultimate goal of good tutors is for students to reach a point where tutoring is no longer necessary because they have learned how to excel independently.

What Makes a Good Tutor?

Naturally, a tutor must be an expert in their field, but knowledge alone doesn’t make a good tutor. You can be a great scientist or athlete, but unless you can effectively pass that information onto your students in a form they understand, you won’t make an effective tutor.
Tutors need proper training; they need to be taught how to tutor. They should also be lifelong learners, exemplifying the mindset they instill in their students. That’s one reason why Revolution Prep tutors commit to 30 hours of professional development a year — to ensure they’re always learning and refining their abilities.

In addition to knowledge and training, personality is an important consideration when hiring for a tutor position. Your student’s tutor should be passionate about learning, eager to share their knowledge, and willing to approach each student with an open mind. Good tutors are patient, empathic, and have an even disposition. A gentle sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.

Look at it this way. Gordon Ramsey is an excellent chef. He’s world-renowned. Now, would you want to be taught how to cook by Ramsey, or at least by the personality he uses in his reality shows? Of course not. It would be a kitchen nightmare. While this is an extreme example, it demonstrates how important tutor temperament is to a successful tutoring session, especially for students who have already had negative learning experiences.

Choosing the right tutor is one of the best ways to assist students. We recommend talking to an a Revolution Prep team member about your student’s needs, strengths, and weaknesses to learn how tutoring can improve their academic performance, study skills, and self-confidence.

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