Tutoring is often a topic that sparks lively debate in the staff common room, and not without good reason. All too often it appears that tutors are working against, rather than supporting teachers, a situation in which no one wins, least of all students. Over the past three years I have been lucky enough to witness first hand the positive impact that greater collaboration between schools and the tutoring community can have. We have had to listen hard and learn fast.
One of my good friends is both a teacher and a tutor. Over coffee she told me about what it’s like working as both. One student in her class recently asked her: “Miss, do you have a degree?” She responded that she did, and asked why. The student replied: “My tutor has one, and he asked me to check if you did.” Another time a student told her flatly that he didn’t need to learn something because he’d already covered it with his tutor. The student then promptly failed that section of the next test.
“Being a teacher has shown me that tutors, far from being helpful, can sometimes be a real hindrance.” She tells me. “Many of my colleagues got into teaching to actually help kids. It’s hard not to sometimes feel like someone hiring a tutor is some kind of reflection on you not doing your job.” Her insight helped us a great deal in developing training for tutors at Tutorfair.
My first students were handpicked by their teacher, who chose some of the more disruptive students he felt might benefit most from some extra help. Much of our lesson time was centered on the idea that working hard itself was more important than the results, however those results were more likely if they worked hard. After a few initial sessions, which focused on reinforcing the basics, revising things that they otherwise wouldn’t have had time to cover, the results were incredible. The groups re-integrated into their normal lessons and they became far more engaged, their confidence had improved dramatically and their grades had jumped.
While I would love to take credit for this amazing transformation, the simple fact is that this is the power of one-on-one and small group learning. My mother, a teacher, often remarked that she wished she had a little more alone time with some of her students, but usually didn’t have time to do.
One student in her class recently asked her: “Miss, do you have a degree?” She responded that she did, and asked why. The student replied: “My tutor has one, and he asked me to check if you did.”
By working more closely together, the tutoring community can also help schools or colleges find great tutors for subjects that traditionally have been a challenge to find teachers for, whether it is Russian or coding. We are certainly seeing more schools realise that engaging collaboratively with tutors allows them to be much more nimble and offer students even more choice.
I often remind my fellow tutors and myself that we need to look at tutoring through the filter of being a support mechanism for mainstream education. The exciting prospect is that through a more collaborative approach between schools and the tutoring community, there is huge potential to improve educational attainment and offer more choice. The big test, however, is if we can shift opinion in the staff common room. I am confident we can.
Mark Maclaine is Director of Education and Co-founder at Tutorfair.