5 Questions To Ask Your Child’s Prospective Tutor
It’s normal to feel anxious about choosing a tutor. You want to be confident that they are competent, reliable and a good ‘fit’ for your child. You want to know that there will be a demonstrable improvement in results. You want to make sure that your money is being invested, not wasted.
There are some very obvious questions to ask and many sources to help you, however here are 5 key question areas which are often overlooked and can really help you pinpoint the right tutor.
- Are they syllabus and exam savvy?
Ask the tutor what syllabus they studied.
This is critical, as familiarity with the syllabus and exam structure enable a tutor to give a student the right focus and support. Just compare the GCSE Biology content between the Edexcel and AQA syllabuses and you will see different approaches to the same subject. You may have to drill down further than this, as the topics studied may vary within a single exam board. AQA A level History, for example, gives between 13 and 18 subject options for each unit. A tutor who is an expert on the Reformation in Europe may not be quite so hot on the development of Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century
2. Can they address your child’s key challenge(s)?
Identify for yourself the biggest challenge you would like tutoring to address in respect of your child’s learning.
Ask the tutor how they have addressed such situations in the past and with what degree of success. Experiential questions (how did you?..) rather than hypothetical (how would you?…) questions make it more difficult for the applicant to ‘spoof’. If however they have little or no tutoring experience (not necessarily a problem – see Point 5 below) then the answers to necessarily hypothetical questions should be probed for specifics eg ”So what kinds of practical work would you do?” “What kinds of questions would you explore?” “Show me how you would explain that to a student.” Answers to these more in depth responses should give you a sense of genuine practical understanding.
3. Are they flexible and responsive to your needs?
Ask the tutor how they recommend managing the tutorials and the relationship with the student and carer. The applicant’s response to this question may reveal much about their attitude as well as their competence.
Do they answer with questions about your preferences, the student’s priorities and desired outcomes or simply give a prescriptive ‘one approach fits all’ answer? The former indicates a readiness to work flexibly and a genuine interest in meeting your needs.
If you are given the opportunity to express your preferences, do they accept them without question or do they make sound practical suggestions and recommendations that could improve the process? Perhaps your views are spot on, but a readiness to question them and enhance them shows an understanding and confidence about what does and does not work.
Do they raise the question of practical matters such as feedback, assignments between tutorials, sharing the student’s work for review, communication with the subject teacher? These are further indicators of a competent tutor who recognises that they are just one part of the student’s learning experience and is willing to fit into the whole.
4. Are they compatible with your child outside of academic interests?
Ask about the tutor’s non-academic interest and hobbies. Perhaps this sounds irrelevant but common interests can make a big difference to the quality of the relationship between a tutor and a student. They make it easier for the tutor to engage the student and to draw analogies and develop examples and practical work that help the learning process. Using the dimensions of a football pitch as the basis for a maths example will resonate much more with a football fan than bland references to geometrical shapes and sizes without any context. So, while the existence of shared interest is not a ‘must have’ it can be a ‘very useful to have’.
5. How effective are their key communication skills – questioning, listening and delivering explanations?
This is a question to ask yourself. Experience in tutoring is often assumed to be desirable and while it can be an advantage, experience alone is no guarantee of expertise any more than lack of experience suggests lack of competence. Whether or not they have experience, the tutor’s ability to engage you in a conversation by asking relevant questions, their attention to and use of your answers and their ability to explain things simply and clearly are the critical skills you are looking for. If the tutor demonstrates these in an interview, you can be confident about their ability to do it in a sphere where they are interested and well qualified.