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How To Find A Professional Online Tutor

Deciding to get a tutor for your child is a big decision and it

can be a significant investment of both time and money. There are so many tutors to choose from; how do you find a professional tutor who is right for your child? Here are nine things to consider when making this decision.

1. Safeguarding

Teachers in schools are subject to legal requirements around criminal records checks. There is no such legal requirement for tutors. Tutors can choose to get a criminal records check for themselves from the Disclosure and Barring Service. As a parent, I would want to know who my child is talking to online so I would ask to see a DBS certificate. I would also do a bit of background research online. If you Google them, most professionals will have an online ‘footprint’ showing what they’ve been doing in recent years. By this, I mean information which is publicly available, not what the tutor is saying about herself on her website or Facebook page. If you Google me, for example, you will see links to newspaper articles from when I worked at Wakefield College and you’ll see reviews and testimonials from former students.

2. Credentials

Don’t make any assumptions about a private tutor’s background, experience and qualifications. Ask questions and ask for evidence.

There is no regulatory body for tutoring so absolutely anyone can set up and call themselves a private tutor. This means that you will get very different experiences from different private tutors. Some will have teaching qualifications and some won’t. Some will have delivered qualifications in schools and some won’t. Some will have a qualification in the subject they are tutoring and some won’t. There’s no right or wrong here, but there are some decisions to be made by you as the parent. Do you want someone who is a qualified teacher or are you looking for someone who is more of a peer mentor? Do you want someone who has taught in a school? It’s all about personal preference but your choices should be informed and any decisions should be made consciously.

3. Honesty

Tutors who make claims about the grade your child can achieve, without ever having met the child, are just not being honest and this is likely to be a marketing ploy to lure in new clients.

When starting a new tutor/student relationship there are three main factors which will impact on expected progress and outcomes.

  • It can, and should, take a while for the tutor to assess the student’s strengths, gaps, misconceptions, common errors and areas where understanding is shallow. Students with several gaps and misconceptions may need extra time to rectify these before they can make further progress.

  • An effective tutor will assess how well the student assimilates and retains new learning, recalls prior learning and applies learning in problem solving or new contexts.

  • The student’s engagement in and between lessons will impact the speed of progress and the ultimate outcome.

A professional private tutor should have regular, honest communications with you, the parent, in relation to all three of the above factors in order for you to make a judgement on whether the private tuition is meeting your expectations.

4. Integrity

A professional private tutor will not tutor your child if, in her professional opinion, she is not a good fit for your child’s tutoring needs.

Some tutors are excellent at meeting the particular needs of students: some are dyscalculia specialists; some are skilled at stretching students to achieve the highest grades and some are particularly good at developing students’ confidence. Some tutors will have the skills to work with students for whom English is a second language and others will have strengths in working with students with Asperger’s Syndrome. If a prospective tutor claims that she can do all of these and more, it might be worth a moment of scepticism as it’s very difficult to be a specialist in everything!

5. Professionalism

For some tutors, tutoring is their profession. By this I mean that they approach it in a professional manner: they invest in training to keep up to date with developments in how their subject is taught, they ensure that their resources are of high quality and they provide tuition in a professional environment.

Reliability and punctuality are the basics. A tutor who cancels at short notice or on a regular basis is not committed to your child’s learning.

For me, a tutor who tutors from their bedroom with their bed in the background is not presenting as a professional. Similarly, tutors who tutor while their baby or toddler is having a nap are not offering their full attention to your child. Some tutors cram lessons in back-to-back and then excuse themselves partway through a lesson for a comfort break. On the other hand, a professional tutor will leave a small gap between lessons in order that their personal needs do not detract from the lesson.

These are my own views on professionalism and may not be shared by others; they are based on what I would expect if my child had a tutor.

6. Understanding Learning

Tutors should have a thorough understanding of how children learn. Personally, I’m a big fan of Lev Vygosky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and have been since completing my initial teacher training in the early 90s. The ZPD is defined as:

“The distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.” (Vygotsky, 1978)

There are a few essential factors that are critical to the success of this learning process:

  • The presence of someone with the knowledge and skills to guide the learner

  • Social interactions that allow the learner to observe and practise their skills

  • Scaffolding provided by the mentor or teacher that help guide the learner through the ZPD

Your child has been learning in some form or another since their birth. Tutors are not starting with a blank slate so they may use diagnostic teaching methods in order to make best use of the time available. Diagnostic methods enable tutors to pinpoint precisely where teaching and learning should be focused. In this way, tutors can help students to ‘unlearn’ misconceptions in an efficient way.

It is my belief that online tutoring works best when students are active participants. Some tutors will spend an hour talking and your child is expected to learn in this way. I believe that maths, in particular, is learned through ‘doing’. In my sessions I use a lot of questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out underlying assumptions. Students are very busy during our lessons and it is a pretty intense hour.

I teach for understanding, rather than rote memorisation of techniques. Understanding allows the student to apply learning in new, problem-solving contexts. Students who have only memorised a technique can only apply this in questions which follow an identical pattern to previous questions. GCSE exams, in particular, are written to test this understanding and will often present questions in unusual ways to achieve this. There are some key facts which do need to be memorised, and I explore with students which techniques work best for them.

7. Technology

This one is pretty fundamental. Professional online tutors have fast and reliable internet connections. They are also skilled in the online platforms and tools they use in their sessions. I have seen tutors who say they tutor from coffee shops or in their car using a Wi-Fi hotspot. Again, it’s a personal choice but I would want to know that my child’s tutor had invested in the equipment and space to minimise the chance of any disruption.

8. Subject and Qualification Knowledge

It’s very easy for a tutor to say that they have subject knowledge in a particular area at a particular level, but how do you make a judgement on this? Again, this comes down to asking questions and asking for evidence, for example, ‘how many students have you taught this particular specification to?’ or ‘what qualifies you to teach this particular subject?’. Qualifications change, topics move in and out of qualification specifications and expectations of what is taught at different levels change. Ask for details about what the tutor does to keep abreast of these changes.

9. Communication Skills

It is vital that your child can understand her tutor and can communicate easily with her. Tutors live all over the world and come with all sorts of accents and dialects. Some people have great subject knowledge, but they struggle to explain it to students operating at lower levels. Some tutors have great explanations, but they mumble or repeat themselves so are not easy to listen to. Some tutors may be great speakers, but they are not that good when it comes to listening to young people. You may have no problem communicating with the tutor but ask your child and make sure that they understand and feel understood.

This might seem like a lot of work but getting the right, professional tutor for your child will ensure that you are not wasting your time and money or your child's potential.




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