When does the learned become the learner? The space between knowing and not knowing is dynamic; it shifts with each lesson learned and each moment spent teaching. The benefits of being a tutor are staggering, and yet so many of us look over the idea simply because we believe our time to be better spent elsewhere. If you haven’t tutored before, let this be a call to action, beckoning for your attention so that you may benefit from this untapped well of potential.
Whenever we are faced with an opportunity, the immediate question we begin to ask ourselves is, “Why should I do x?” The concept of tutoring is simple enough. We assume that in order to tutor we must be proficient in some capacity within a certain area and be able to effectively teach material to another person, be it a client or a peer. The concept is straightforward, but going from A to B is not so easy a feat. When you sit down with your first student—be it in-person or online—the objective becomes clear; you are to assist the student in mastering a skill. There is no singular best way to do this. Every student is different, and every tutor has their own style of communication. This is the malleable space between A and B. This is the space where you are required to hone in on your own communication strengths.
Are you a good listener? Tutoring will force you to become a better one through patiently hearing your students’ questions and waiting to present a response that is neither too harsh nor too permissive. The objective in tutoring is to create a space in which the student is able to successfully come to the answers to their questions through their own train of thought while also strengthening the student’s own personal confidence in his/her abilities so that, once the session has concluded, they are equipped with a mindset capable of working through more practice and variations of topics covered through the session. The initial impressions of tutoring have begun to become much more real as we moved from the simplistic A to B overview to the malleable space in between.
In order to tutor, one must be comfortable with speaking to others in the correct manner. This isn’t a call to extraversion, but rather a clarification of what is requisite for a quality tutor. The key is not the ability to vocalize one’s own ideas, but rather the ability to draw out the ideas of the student through the vocalization of one’s own perspective. A tutor must be able to analyze what the student is struggling with through both verbal and nonverbal cues exhibited by the student throughout the session and be able to handle these cues with positive reinforcement and motivational encouragement. It sounds easy, but the true difficulty in this is having the patience to endure not voicing the answer after the student repeatedly fails to come to it while also providing unwavering support for the student in spite of this. The role of the tutor is much greater than simply communication alone; it is requisite that a tutor hones the skills of compassion and patience in coordination with effective communication in order to best support and guide the student.
The tutor has proficiency within x area and seeks to assist the student in acquiring knowledge in said area. The ability to convey this requires strategic planning on the end of the tutor. Towards the beginning of the session, a sense of direction is established. The student has described what he/she wants to improve upon; it now comes down to how to move the student in that direction. The tutor has agreed to sit passenger to the student as they embark on a trip on a highway. A tutor must expect delays along the way and be prepared to provide necessary hints (redirection). This is a delicate process in that it requires for the tutor to plan when he/she will assist the student and how frequently. Redirecting too much will keep the student reliant on the tutor throughout the session, and thus the student’s own ability to struggle and progress will grow diminished. Conversely, redirecting too little could increase the student’s frustration level to a saturation point where they admit defeat, a surefire way of damaging all progression. The development of proper thinking strategies in order to best think ahead of and assist the student is at the crux of tutoring.
Tutoring opens us up to our own faults. Among the best learning strategies backed by research is the Feynman Technique. In summary, this learning strategy requires one to simplify information, teach it to another, and then simplify further and repeat the process until it is known well enough to be considered content mastery. As we tutor, we begin to see the faults in our own knowledge, and thus begin to grow further in our understanding of key concepts. This serves tutors especially well in that they are able to improve their own understanding while helping another person learn the material. Additionally, this experience opens us up to the breadth of knowledge that is out there. It is said that if one were to dip their finger in the ocean and take it out, all that clings to his finger is how much he knows. This alludes the ocean to be knowledge and the water clinging to one’s finger to be how much he actually knows. This sense of not knowing causes us to grow more humble—a quality seldom celebrated in today’s age, but needed more than ever.
If you’re conflicted about tutoring, I encourage you to take a chance and try it out. At the very least, you will have tried something new and made some money. That said, I promise you that tutoring will pose an immense benefit if you stick with it and push yourself to go out and improve upon your flaws. If it makes you uncomfortable at first, perceive it not as an obstacle; growth comes from persistence and reflection.
In order to grow, one must be uncomfortable at first, otherwise remaining stagnant is inevitable and progress becomes impossible. May we pursue discomfort for the sake of our progression, lest we grow comfortable and collect regrets over what could have been attained were we to put our best efforts forward.