Updated: Mar 31
Welcome to this new series! Allow me to kick off with two simple tips that you can incorporate into your tutoring practice straight away.
1. Speak with the family (and ideally the student) before the first lesson.
Don't underestimate the positive impact that a little preliminary discussion will have on your first lesson. Chances are that you don't have long (1 hour, maybe 2 hours tops) to make an excellent first impression on your student, and if you don't manage that in the first session, then it's very unlikely you'll be asked back!
Every minute of your first lesson counts, so if you can hit the ground running and make sure that you don't waste too much time on "getting to know you", you'll have more time to showcase your excellent teaching skills.
Remember that parents will be uncomfortable giving out contact details for their children, so don't ask! You should instead ask if there are any convenient times for you to speak with the student before the lesson and say that you will call the parent at the arranged time so that they can pass the phone over.
In this chat, make sure to ask the student about:
their perceived strengths and weaknesses in the subject
which aspects of it they enjoy and which they don't
the way they're being taught it at school
what textbook(s) they are using at school
crucially — if they have a particular topic they'd like to cover in the first lesson or if they prefer for you to choose one. For a less experienced tutor, this carries the benefit of being able to prepare a particular topic in great detail to maximise the chances of that first lesson being a triumph! Even for a very experienced tutor, it makes sense to prepare for a first lesson, and knowing ahead of time roughly what you'll be covering will make that process much easier.
2. Set homework.
One aspect which is often overlooked in private tuition is the setting of homework. No surprise, when children have so many homeworks set by the school and are already undergoing 'extra work' by having private tutoring sessions. Parents and tutors are naturally wary of overloading students, and this is a valid consideration.
However, homeworks do NOT need to be long and daunting! A private tuition homework doesn't need to be anything like a school homework in terms of length or style. The purpose is simply to consolidate what has been covered in the sessions, and this can take as little as 5-10 minutes. You might think "what's the point in such a short homework?", but I would suggest that a well-timed 5 minutes of consolidation can make all the difference in the world!
Doing the consolidation work the day after the tutoring session is probably pointless, because if the private tutor has done their job well then the student should be feeling pretty confident about the material at this stage. But doing it a day or two before the next session (which will typically mean that a few days have passed since the original session) could have two key benefits.
Firstly, enough time will have passed that some of the material will have been forgotten, and yet the effort to remember that material will be pretty small because the consolidation is still happening relatively near to the original session in the grand scheme of things. Secondly, when you sit down for your next session the student will already have refreshed their memory of last week's work, making this week's tutoring a cinch!
Even when the student tells you that they've done the homework and have revised the material from last time, it is still good practice to start with a quick recap of this material (this can take the form of a quiz or mini test), as this is an opportunity for you to check that the student has consolidated effectively and therefore to be confident that you can now progress to the next topic without there being gaps in the prior material. It is also great for the student, even if they are entirely on top of the material and score 100%, because it's a confidence boost for them to prove to themselves (and you!) how much they remember and to see the progress they've made.
Further tips for tutors from Joe will be published in future posts!
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.