Friday, October 15, 2010

What is a tutor?

When a child comes to see a tutor it is important that they do so willingly. To make a tutor time interesting therefore is the most important aspect after deciding exactly what it says the child's needs to learn. One of the easiest ways to make it pleasant children is to create an atmosphere in which they feel at home. A place where they go to study after school, which is neither home nor school, it is something halfway between the two.
The responsibility therefore, for the tutor is to make sure, that the atmosphere fits the bill.
One thing that I have always playing in the background is a radio, quietly tuned in to a local radio station which plays music. If it plays a mixture of modern and may be the last 10 years of music, then the child is attaining the sort of sounds it is most likely to hear in the home. At the same time it is different from school, which is invariably silent.
The next difference is the layout of the room. I am lucky enough to have a dedicated road but many tutor is do not have this luxury, and adapt an area of what is quite often the dining room, into an area where they work with children. So how do you make it not look like a house, not look like your home, but make it homely enough not to be a school?
I use my office. In it there are desks as you would imagine. There is also a filing cabinet and a very large storage cabinet, again as you would imagine. There are also computers, albeit laptops, and the layout of the room is such that on one side of the room there are two desks put together with their own chairs, and on the other side a much larger desk which is invariably cluttered with 'my stuff'. On the walls are postcards, all of which have been given to me by past students, showing all the different places they have travelled. So it is pretty much a classic office; simple, functional, and to the point. But, they have learned to associate this room with fun, excitement, challenges, being stretched, and new things they've never seen before.

I am often asked the question, can anyone be a tutor? And on the surface I can imagine people would think oh yes, anyone can do that, after all, all you are doing, is sitting down with one child, and showing them how to do something.

No! That is not being the tutor.

That is being somebody who does the work for them. In fact, that isn't much better than some of the not so well trained TAs I have seen in some of the school's, when I have gone round doing assessments on support and facilitation.

So what is a tutor?
• A tutor is somebody who knows the subject well, and has at least 15 different ways of explaining the same thing, without at any time doing the work for them.
• A tutor is someone who has access to different ways of approaching a subject, being through games, the Internet, books, pen and paper, apparatus, and just general chalk and talk.
• A tutor must be someone who can listen through what the child is saying and hear exactly what the child is struggling with.

I will give you an example. A girl sat in the class that I was observing. She seemed to be struggling with the work she had been given. She looked at it and played with her pen, but at no point did I see her create an answer for any of the questions. The teacher, being a little bit twitchy because there was an official visit in the classroom observing her, bustled over and asked what the problem was. Being flustered, the teacher wasn't hearing through what the child said, “…but I can't see it!"
The teacher kept re-explaining and re-explaining in exactly the same way each time until the child with great frustration, said," you don't seem to understand I just can't see it!"
Now you have probably guessed the problem was she literally could not see the page because she had a bad headache and it was making her eyesight blurred. The teacher being flustered by my presence was unable to hear through and ask pertinent questions like why can't you see it? If she had followed through logically, she may have got to the root cause. She may not, but what the child said was misinterpreted.
Now this is a very obvious example but it gives you an idea of how children can say one thing, and as you are probably aware, can mean something totally different. This is very true in education, and a tutor must be very aware of this, because it is something that I believe tutors should be able to access; the true area of where the child is struggling. Not, ‘but it can't do algebra’, more that it may not understand the concept of replacing numbers with letters. Not, that ‘it can't do long multiplication’, but that is multiplication tables aren't sound enough for it to move on and use them in a more complex format.
That is what you employ a tutor for.

So you have a tutor.
• What is the atmosphere like at the place your child attends? Is it like a halfway house or is it something else?
• Is your child happy to go there each week?
• Does your tutor break through your child issues, quickly pinpointing exactly where the problem is and giving both you and the child methods of how to eradicate the issue?
• And most of all does your child like to tutor, because if the child doesn't like to tutor, it doesn't matter how good the tutor is, the child will never get as much as it can do from that tutor because there will always be a barrier of, “I don't like them!"

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