Do tutors 'teach'?
Classroom teaching vs private tutoring; different contexts, different outcomes
The dictionary definition of teaching - ‘to instruct or train someone or give someone knowledge of something’ - reflects the very basics of the profession.
But modern teaching involves so much more.
It not only involves imparting knowledge or instructing students on a given subject. It means students participating in group and individual activities in a way that inspires and motivates them to learn. With this expanded definition of teaching in mind, in this article I explore two teaching contexts - classroom teaching and private tutoring - and share my view of the critical differences.
I have experience teaching classes of varied sizes and ages, including classes with ten or so energetic five-year olds, forty teenagers, and a class of 5 students in their forties and fifties. Teaching these classes has meant tuning into multiple needs in the classroom to ensure that all students remain motivated and focused.
My lesson plans applied to the entire class and were designed to meet a set of common learning objectives. Typically, some students would struggle to keep up while others would progress at a faster pace. For these students, I would try and provide extra resources and feedback where possible.
With classes of 30+ students, this was not always easy! With exams looming, it was essential to keep lessons progressing at a regular speed to ensure the entire curriculum was covered in time. This limited my flexibility to revisit certain topics, continually engage with students who were struggling and ensure others were being sufficiently stretched.
The benefits of classroom teaching cannot be overlooked, however. Group activities in a classroom setting can be a fulfilling and enjoyable way for students to engage with a topic and learn soft skills such as teamwork, diplomacy and persuasion, all of which will prove useful in adulthood. Peer support is also valuable, particularly in the lead up to exams.
Private tutors have the benefit of teaching students in much smaller groups, and typically, one-to-one. This gives tutors the flexibility to set bespoke learning objectives relating to areas the student wants to progress or improve. The one-to-one environment affords tutors the opportunity to listen carefully to the needs of the student, and build their skills and confidence.
Despite group activities being mostly absent from one-to-one tutoring, tutors can nonetheless integrate a variety of activities into lessons, drawing on the student’s particular learning style. This type of bespoke teaching can rapidly increase a student’s proficiency and confidence in a subject.
In my experience, private tutoring also provides students with time to discuss their strengths, weaknesses, what they enjoy and what they find challenging about a subject. This enables an excellent rapport to develop. It also allows tutors to support students achieve their learning objectives and, importantly, increase their confidence and motivation about a subject.
From classroom teaching to tutoring
If you plan to make the leap from classroom teaching to private tutoring (or do both), keep in mind the skills required for each context and the different outcomes you are likely to achieve.
Private tutoring can mean more flexibility in terms of teaching style and hours, but it also requires greater time spent understanding and adapting lessons to the particular student’s needs. This typically means frequently communicating with the student and their parents or carers about progress. It may also need you to “read between the lines”, detect when a student is not responding to your teaching style, and adapt accordingly.
Many former classroom teachers will be experts in adjusting the tempo or energy of a lesson. However, many may not have had the opportunity to develop lesson plans tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of a particular student. This is an aspect of private tutoring which many, including myself, consider the most fulfilling.
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