Updated: Mar 31, 2020
With COVID-19 labelled "the worst public health crisis for a generation" by the UK government, implementing safe tutoring practices is essential. Our Founding Director gives his advice.
With coronavirus raging around the world, many tutors and clients have been asking us for advice on how to keep their tutoring sessions as safe as possible.
Tutor online if possible
Many of our tutors and students are already fully aware of the benefits of online tutoring and actively choose this format anyway. Those who are currently uninitiated are strongly urged to give online lessons a go, at least on a temporary basis, as this is the safest way of all to proceed.
Not only is there zero risk of passing on or catching coronavirus via Skype or Zoom, but you may also be surprised by just how much this way of teaching has to offer and wonder why you never tried it before!
Safest practices for face-to-face lessons
For those teaching face-to-face (in cases where it's unavoidable and permitted by your country's government), you should give some real thought to how you will maximise the safety of everyone concerned — whether that's yourself, your client, your student, or anyone else at the home. A connected consideration should be how you will make everyone feel comfortable and at ease. The following sections deal with these points.
Issue a Coronavirus policy memo to your face-to-face clients
This suggestion might sound a tad official, but tutors are businesses in their own right, and it is only sensible for any business to have a policy in place for matters of this importance. Clients will respect you for your foresight and will be grateful for your consideration. This is especially true in situations where you teach in their home, which they will undoubtedly see as their one guaranteed germ-free space where they can and should be able to relax without worrying about coronavirus.
The exact tone and content of your memo can of course be tailored to your own individual style; it doesn't necessarily need to be any more than a 'heads-up' text message ahead of your next in-person session. All you want to do is convey that you've thought about how to keep your client and student safe, and reduce any awkwardness that may arise from you behaving differently in lessons going forward, whether that's avoiding doorbells and handshakes (see below), asking more regularly to use their bathroom, or anything else.
You should also politely and respectfully detail anything you want the client and student to do to ensure your own safety and comfort. For example, maybe you would like them to confirm that your student is up-to-date with the latest hygiene advice and to inform you at the earliest opportunity if your student develops any coronavirus-like symptoms so that you can postpone your in-person lessons until the all-clear.
Consider the safest way to travel
To avoid catching or spreading the virus, you should choose a method of transport that enables you to keep a safe distance from others. In some cases that could mean cycling or driving. Try to consider the environment too when making your transport choice.
Knocking the door or ringing the bell
This is your first hazard, and don’t under-estimate it. The door knocker or bell is probably the most frequently touched item with which you are likely to come into contact in the course of a face-to-face lesson. If you haven't packed your antibacterial hand gel (or couldn't find any at the supermarket!), you may wish to telephone the client to let them know you've arrived.
Alternatively consider using a knuckle to ring the doorbell, as you’re less likely to use that to touch your face. The same goes for any other buttons in the home (if relevant, you could use your knuckle to press any buttons in the lift and/or mushroom buttons to exit the building).
Avoid handshakes: it's 'Namaste' or elbow bumps all the way!
Many tutors habitually shake the hand of the parent or guardian as they enter their home to deliver a lesson. Whilst it may feel instinctively unprofessional or unfriendly to stop doing this, there is now enough global awareness of Coronavirus that nobody is going to be insulted if you switch to a more sanitary greeting.
If you've taken my above advice about issuing a policy memo, and have pre-warned your client that you'll be bumping their elbow or Spock saluting them at the doorway, there will be no element of surprise or awkwardness when you do this.
Far from it, you can actually make it fun: get creative and think about the silliest greeting you can try with your students. All the public hysteria surrounding coronavirus is quite concerning for children, so something to lighten up the situation (whilst also teaching them good hygiene practices) wouldn't go amiss.
This one is as much a tip for clients as it is for tutors. I was delighted to see in a recent Latin lesson that the client had thoughtfully put a little hygiene station in their hallway for their visitors. This was much appreciated and a really nice touch! Here's how it looked:
Of course, the benefit and reassurance of this is entirely two-way: the client doesn't want people to bring germs into their home, and the tutor doesn't want to take germs away with them. A touch of antibac for the tutor on their way in (after they have used public transport) and on their way out (after a period of human interaction) protects everyone involved. The client and student should also sanitise their hands after the tutor has left.
If the client doesn't have a 'hygiene station' in place, simply ask them upon arrival (and again upon departure) if you can use their bathroom to wash your hands. This is something else you could forewarn them about in your coronavirus policy memo. Remember to follow the NHS handwashing advice, including turning off the tap with a disposable towel or your elbow!
Sit further away from your student than usual
This one is simple. Try to sit as far away as you can without impinging on the quality of the lesson or making things unnecessarily difficult for you and your student. Not only does this reduce the chance of infection, it will also make both of you feel more at ease and able to focus your minds on the lesson itself rather than worrying about whether the other person is too close.
With this in mind, you should think ahead about what resources and books you are likely to use in each lesson, and whether it's possible to ensure there are always two copies — one for you, and one for the student — where previously you may have shared. Don't be shy to ask clients to cover the costs of any additional books or resources you may need: they will see it as a small price to pay to ensure maximum safety in the lesson.
If you have to review work completed by a student, try not to lean over them. Ask them to pass you the work to mark and then pass it back when you're done. The same is true in reverse — they shouldn't lean over you — so if they need to see something you're writing or drawing, consider whether you can write/draw it first, and pass it across.
Bring your own equipment (pens, paper, digital devices, etc.)
For each of your face-to-face students, devise an inventory of equipment you tend to borrow from them in the course of a lesson, and make sure you bring your own instead. For your own peace of mind as well as hygiene, you don't want to be touching your students' pens, calculators, laptops, iPads, etc. If you bring your own equipment, you have the guarantee of knowing that only you have handled it (or, if you share it with others, that you've sterilised it yourself before using it). In any event, it's more professional not to rely on your students having access to something, in case they forget to bring it or have broken it since the last time they saw you!
Enunciation and enthusiasm are great; spitting is not.
It is a well-known fact (especially among the acting population, many of whom also tutor) that with great enunciation can come expectoration (yes, it's a real word: you can Google it). It is part of the job of a tutor to speak clearly and enthusiastically, but you may want to pay a bit more attention than you ordinarily would to making sure you do so hygienically. I'm afraid the point had to be made, but now let's move quickly onwards...
Educate your student about the situation
It is hard to get the balance right between raising awareness and evoking panic, but it's there to be struck. You should be careful not to say anything to worry your students, who may already be concerned. However, you may want to think about whether there are any ways you can turn a negative into a positive and improve the student's understanding of the coronavirus situation in a way that is relevant to your subject and 'does your bit' for your fellow citizens. Schools are one place the virus could potentially spread quickly, so children do need to understand the risks and how to minimise them.
For example, if you tutor Biology, you could work something into a lesson about viruses. A Politics lesson could look at various governments' responses to the situation around the world. Those who study Economics may enjoy a lesson on the economic impact of pandemics.
In my case, as an Ancient Greek tutor, sadly I can't be quite as practical as all that, but if any of my students want to know the etymology of the word 'pandemic', I will be able to let them know that it comes from the Greek words "pan" ("all") and "demos" ("people"). Helpful...
Educate yourself: keep up-to-date with government advice
You should aim to be a model of hygiene from the moment you step into a client's home to the moment you leave it. Not only is this the safe thing to do as it minimises the chance of infecting or being infected, but it also sets a great example to your student.
Coronavirus is a fast-evolving situation, so you should keep abreast of any developments and consider how they may affect your tutoring practice. Ensure you are fully familiar with the latest coronavirus guidance from the NHS, which currently includes sneezing into your sleeve (never into your hands) and avoiding touching your face (eyes, nose or mouth).
If at any point you develop coronavirus symptoms, you must self-isolate and should alert all of your clients. The responsible thing to do (if you can't move to online teaching for whatever reason) is to stop tutoring for as long as necessary, even if it comes at a financial cost.
That's it for now
Stay safe, and above all stay calm! We'll update this blog post with more advice as and when it becomes appropriate, and feel free to send us your tips and ideas via the Comments below or on social media.
Blog Post Crafted by Joe
Subjects Taught: Latin, Ancient Greek
Background: Joe Hytner owns and runs Titanium Tutors, managing our assessors and staff. Joe graduated from King’s College, Cambridge in 2009 with a degree in Classics and then trained as a teacher at Queens’ College, Cambridge, graduating in 2010. Whilst setting up Titanium Tutors he taught Latin on a part-time basis in three schools — Parkside Federation, Impington Village College and South Lee School (where he started up the Latin department from scratch). Joe has also taught Latin and Ancient Greek to numerous Cambridge University undergraduates.
Fun Fact: Joe has read Harry Potter in Latin from cover to cover.