Opening the tutoring session

Put yourself in the student’s shoes. You’ve come to a strange place, you’re not completely confident in your abilities in the given subject, and you’re likely sharing your work with a stranger. You may also feel anxious about the assignment, and the deadline is looming.

Even if the student isn’t visibly nervous or stressed, chances are this still isn’t the most comfortable environment. This is especially true on a student’s first session with you.

The way a tutor begins the session determines how well it will go. The tutor is responsible for setting the tone of the session, putting the student at ease, and eliminating any awkward energy that might exist.

Why does this matter?

Comfortable students are open and receptive to feedback, not defensive. They don’t take criticism personally, and they’re unafraid to make mistakes. They aren’t concerned with being right or wrong, but rather want to learn and improve. Instead of focusing on themselves and how they are being perceived by you, they focus on their assignment and developing their skills.

How do you transform a nervous, self-conscious student into an inquisitive, self-assured one? How do you lay the foundation for your student to be curious, unafraid, and ambitious during the session?

Here are some tips:

  • Begin the session with a warm, genuine smile
  • Introduce yourself, ask the student’s name, and repeat it

“Hi, John, great to meet you!”

  • Ask the student how he is, how his weekend went, and what he’s studying

“Did you do anything fun this weekend?”
“What’s your major?”
“What’s your favorite subject?”

  • Then, segue into what classes the student is taking and which class he’s focusing on today

“What class gave you this assignment?”
“Who is the teacher/professor?”
“How do you like that class?”

Now, you can jump into having the student explain the assignment to you and begin working on that.

The whole process of getting acquainted should only take about five minutes. A common tutor mistake is to feel compelled to jump into the session and use every minute on the assignment. These five minutes of small talk are a minor investment but offer a huge return. Remember, you’re tutoring other people. Treat them that way and get to know who they are!

Building rapport and developing a relationship with your student is the cornerstone of success. It makes the student feel welcome and respected, and these students are more likely to benefit from your guidance and return for more.

Photo by Poodar Chu

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