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Tips for New Tutors

By Jose C | Wednesday, September 28, 2022

I’ve been a tutor at Schoolhouse since August of 2021 and have hosted/co-hosted around 250 sessions. In that time, I’ve grown as a person, met incredible people (Shoutout to Justin D, Varun C, Kareena, and Sam M), and learned how to be a better tutor.

Here are three things I’ve learned that you might find helpful:

1. Don’t worry!

When I first started tutoring, I was excited but also terrified. I suffered severe imposter syndrome and constantly worried: “What if I forget something or make a mistake? What if someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to? Will they see right through me?” After hundreds of hours of experience, making silly mistakes like accidentally putting a plus instead of a minus when solving an equation—I finally realize, it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. I know it’s cliché, but it really is true. Take it from someone who had heard this piece of advice and was worried anyway. As long as you learn from your mistakes–be clearer the next time you explain something, provide more practice problems, or encourage learners to engage with the material–then you’ll always get something out of even your toughest sessions!

It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to every question. Being a tutor means having your knowledge constantly questioned which is an opportunity to grow. The important part of this process is that you learn. Khan Academy, MIT’s OpenCourseWare, Youtube, and Schoolhouse are free and abundant resources. There are also some pretty cool people at Schoolhouse, so don’t hesitate to send a message on to one of the Slack channels and ask for help!

You don’t need to prepare hundreds of hours before a session. Staying organized is often far more important than scripting what you’re going to say. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend organizing your session the way the course/topic is taught on another platform, such as on Khan Academy. If you would like some extra practice for peace of mind, try explaining the concepts to your friends beforehand so you can get some practice before hosting a session!

If you would like to improve your tutoring skills, remember this: practice is your best friend. I’ve come to realize that you will always teach a concept better the second time around than you did the first because your brain is forced to organize your thoughts when you explain things. I was happy to discover that there’s actually a name for this technique of understanding by explaining: The Feynman Method. There are also mentors (scroll down) you can ask for help or advice or do tutor training modules you can do to work on a specific skill like making your lessons more engaging.

2. How can you involve homework and practice problems?

Keep in mind that a lot of your learners can only devote so much of their time to your series. So, you should make your sessions as engaging as possible and be efficient with your time. If homework is absolutely necessary, try to keep it to a minimum and make it optional for those who do not have time for it. If you need to assign a lot of homework, try to go over it in separate “office-hours” sessions.

In some “Experimental” series, it might be appropriate to assign more homework. I’m currently hosting a philosophy series, for example, that requires a lot of reading and analysis. However, I still give the option for those who can’t read all the books we cover in the series a way for them to still take something away from the series.

If you would like to schedule time for practice problems in your sessions/series, here are two ways of doing it: either focus on your lecture content and then go over practice problems in office-hour sessions or plan to dedicate the first 10-15 minutes of your session to review lecture content and consistently do one or two practice questions each time you cover a new topic.

3. Should you host a series or sessions?

Let’s start off with the difference between the two. A session is one-off and focuses on a specific topic, for example, how to solve single-step equations. A series, however, includes multiple sessions and covers an entire course, such as Pre-Algebra.

So, which one should you do? If you’re a new tutor, I recommend hosting a series. I know that may sound overly ambitious, but it’s a strategic move. Hosting a series helps you attract more learners which allows you to gain more experience. It also forces you to develop organizational skills and to commit, which can sometimes help if you’re having trouble getting started.

If you’re looking to work on a specific skill, host a session. It’s more focused and you can do multiple of them to continually refine that skill. The best way to ensure more learners come to a session is to schedule one in response to a session request.

So there you have it! Three tips to help you get started! Don’t hesitate to reach out to a fellow tutor or mentor for any assistance! Good luck!

Thank you Sharon V for editing this article!

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