Top 5 Tips for being a Tutor

We’re coming to the end of what has been a pretty hectic, traumatic and down-right exhausting academic year – am I right?

But there will be some of us who may have gotten some the news that they are going to be a tutor for the first time from September, might be getting a new tutor group or being reintroduced to the world of tutor time!

Now, it’s one thing that didn’t really come up in my teacher training – or, I just forgot. Being a tutor has a kind of muddle through/ learn as you go along kind of approach.

Pastoral approaches are quite difficult to deal with when you are training teachers across multiple contexts and sites, but there are definitely some things that you should be doing to help ensure you’re an effective tutor. It can definitely be time-consuming, but get it right from the start and it does make your life a lot easier in future weeks and months where other demands of a teacher take precedent.

  1. Set the tone from the start

Now, I’m known for being quite stern and strict with students – both my colleagues and students. But they also know they can have a laugh with me, when the time is appropriate. This is all developed from the warm/strict approach to teaching. You want to be approachable and friendly with students, but they also need to know that you’re an adult with authority and responsibility for their safety, so there will be times you can’t be their friend and have to be tough on them.

This is something I have had to really tailor to a tutor group. It’s an interesting dynamic being a tutor, as you’re not really their teacher (unless you do teach them) but you’re also responsible for ensuring consistencies across the school. I’ve played this both ways, been waaaay too friendly and been waaaay too strict. It doesn’t work going to the extremes. You need to find the happy medium – warm/strict is the best I have found.

I don’t hesitate to be tough on tutees, as it is important that they get things right. Take for example, pen-gate. We’ve all been there. A student has got to Period 4 and they say “I don’t have a pen!”. It drives me insane! Met usually with my usually exasperated response “How have you gone all day without a pen!?” This is where the tutor comes in. Tutee doesn’t have a pen – then you’re going to have to deal with me. One, it builds the responsibility into the child to come to school and also deals with the situation before they go about their day. Usually, it is met by parents receiving an email home explaining their child didn’t come to school with a pen … 90% of the time, students have pens the next day and don’t forget again.

Your responsibility as their tutor is to set them up for success for their school day. A consistent, warm and strict tone and attitude is key to this.

2. Tutor Group Ethos

This one, I have to admit, is quite a challenge. Sometimes, you only see your tutor group at the beginning of the day and temperaments in the class can make this a battle that may be tough to win. But, it is still an important one to work on. With my first tutor group of my own – a lovely Year 7 tutor group – I found they were boisterous, competitive and a handful. So, I harnessed this into an ethos around competitiveness and success. I utilised different avenues within the wider school context to ensure this – whether it was academic or sporting. It’s always important to have a team feeling and ethos that helps to ensure that all students in the class feel apart of the team.

Especially for a Year 7 tutor group, it’s important to remember that as they begin to move around the school and have different lessons to each other, that they may get confused or struggle with the change. They have been with one class and one teacher all of their educational lives, that is why creating that team spirit and bond is crucial to giving them a secure place to return to if they need support when out in the big wide world of secondary school.

3. Be Present

I’m not talking about attendance here, but that is also really important. This is more about you being present with them. This is where the majority of your energy will be if you want to get it right, and will be frontloaded at first.

Like I said earlier, your tutees (especially if they are a new Year 7 cohort) are used to relying upon one person or a small group of adults. You need to be one of those people that is emotionally available and present to help deal with situations (within reason!).

They need to know that you will have their back, will support them, be their go-to if they are struggling or they need to chat to someone. It might not always be you, but it is important as a tutor to help ensure that they feel you can be that person. There are many ways you can do this:

  1. Attend sporting events that they compete in.
  2. Attend performances they are in.
  3. Pop into their lessons to see how they are getting on.
  4. Hang around in the corridors/lunch hall/playground when free.
  5. Check on them if they are in detentions.

These are all things I have done in the past, and still do. I have this mantra with my tutor groups that: “They may not see me all day, but they know I am around”. Whilst that does sound ominous, it is more to instil the idea that I am around and about to help out or be that person you don’t want to cross, even if they can’t see me during the day. It helps create a reassurance for the students.

4. Stay in touch (with their teachers)

You may not have the pleasure of teaching your tutor group during an academic year and students can be very different first thing on a morning compared to on an afternoon. Also, students can change from subject to subject. That’s why it is important to keep a breast of what they are like in lessons – are they acting out in English but performing really well in Science? Are they irritable after lunch which affects their lessons? Are they falling asleep mid-morning?

Whilst it is not just your responsibility to deal with these situations, it is definitely important to be kept up-to-speed on situations too. That’s why it is good to check in with teachers, in the corridor, in the staffroom or over emails. It helps you get a feel for how tutees are doing and helps with working closely with Home to see if support can be put in place. But, be careful, don’t take on too much. You’re just a tutor – you’re not a DSL, Behaviour Lead, Pastoral Lead, Head of Year etc. Some things need to be passed on to others before you get involved. Don’t take everything on yourself. Again, I’ve learned that the hard way.

5. Stay in touch (with parents)

This is crucial. Especially if you’re new to a tutor group or you’re a new Year 7 tutor. Parents relish the chance to communicate with their child’s tutor, especially if they have something to say. It also is crucial in forming relationships with parents, which is always helpful in the classroom!

If you’re new to a tutor group or a new Year 7 tutor group, it is good to reach out first on the phone to the parents/guardians. Never do it all in one go. Try to spread them out over the first few weeks: introduce yourself, let them know what you will be focusing on and how they can help support this from home. And then, my main form of communication with home is via email.

At first, I was discouraged from doing so and pushed towards phone calls home, but I have found – in my own context – that parents are more receptive to emails. One, it is not as intrusive as a phone call as many parents can be at work or not like to speak on the phone and two, I don’t have to battle with my accent being hard to understand or they don’t understand English enough to communicate with me.

With emails, and this is a good rule of thumb for all emails, keep them short, sweet and direct to the point. Helps parents to understand your message and saves on any miscommunication (or mistranslation in some cases).

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