How to Become a Successful Tutor

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A few months ago I was asked if I would be willing to tutor a group of students (in reading) who are preparing to transition from public to private school this Fall. The students involved are a part of a local Students2Scholars program of which my grandson is also a part of. I have to admit, I was a little reluctant at first due to their ages (12-14) but I decided to take on the challenge because I believe this is all a part of my calling. If I chose not to do it, it would be a slap in God’s face and a disservice to those young people who truly need help.

What has been surprising to me is the fact that I am the only African-American tutor in the group, while there is only one white student participating in the tutoring session. The majority of tutors are retired. I don’t know if it’s because no one else was asked or if schedules didn’t permit others to give of their time.

I just finished up the 5th of our six-week tutoring session at the Boys and Girls Club of Durham, NC and I have loved every minute of working with the group! Have I been successful? I would say yes and here are some of the reasons why:

You have to meet them where they are: Not every child learns on the same level or in the same way so you have to figure out the best way everyone can start out on the same page. Once that has been achieved, you can start working to bring everyone up to where you’d like to see them academically. This will require some one-on-one and PATIENCE.

Be INSPIRED by them: Showing your excitement and encouragement for their enthusiasm and willingness to TRY is a big deal. Allow yourself to be inspired by their accomplishments, no matter how small they might be. For example, during one session, I made each student read a passage of a short story out loud—which none of them had never done before and were very reluctant. But once they did it, many expressed the ability to better comprehend what they read and have told me they are doing it on their own time. Fist bumps for everyone!

Be a good listener: When I was a child adults around me would always say, “Children should be seen and not heard.” Well I don’t agree with that when it comes to tutoring. It’s important to pick up clues from what a student is saying so you can get a sense of where they are emotionally at the start of a session. As I said earlier, all kids don’t start on the same level. Also, if a child is expressing frustration over not being able to understand what is being presented, it’s up to you to help them push through it with some extra attention.

Be willing to share your own experiences: By sharing information about your learning experiences as a child, you help the students know they aren’t alone. I remember one time I was asked if I would cover a session on math. I told the students, point blank, that I hated math in school but it helped me learn how to balance my check book when I became an adult so I did find some value and I would never allow anyone to cheat me out of the change I may be owed at the grocery store. Sharing experiences and lessons learned go a long way in building a rapport with your students.

Stay in Contact: When a student realizes you have taken a genuine interest in their academic success, it usually motivates them to do better because they want to make you proud. Drop by their school on occasion. Call them to see how they’re getting along and reach out to their parents for updates and to offer additional assistance if your schedule permits.

You don’t have to have a degree in child psychology or have graduated at the top of your class in the subject you’re tutoring but you do have to care and show them that you do.

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