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5 Reasons why undergarduates make great tutors

22 Nov 2018

5 Reasons Undergraduates Make Great Tutors

Parents searching for the best private tutor for their child tend fall into two camps: those who believe that the tutor must be a qualified teacher and those who believe that this is not a prerequisite and happily hire undergraduates, trainee teachers and even A- level students as tutors.

Who is right? If your child is at S1 or S2, where tuition is likely to be addressing core subjects such as literacy and numeracy, or preparing them for Common Entrance exams, then they should have a qualified teacher who knows exactly how such subjects are best coached and what is appropriate for their age and stage. The same applies to a child who has recognised learning difficulties and needs specialised support.

For students at S3 - S6, the waters become slightly muddier. This is a function firstly of the range of very specific and different needs students have. A 15 year old looking for a Geography tutor may be seeking help with one specific topic and another might need ongoing help to prioritise their study and answer exam questions within a timeframe. Yet a third may seem to need tuition but is actually very capable and needs to build confidence. Alongside this is the necessary development in their attitudes to and approach to learning, from the anxiety driven (over) worker, to the (apparent) ‘would rather be doing anything except studying and you can’t make me’ and a myriad of personalities in between. The role of the tutor at this level is generally much less about formal teaching than about skill or subject specific coaching, delivered in a way that suits the student’s unique personality.

While they will not suit every student or every learning requirement , undergraduates are often excellent tutors for teenagers because of 5 qualities that they very naturally and easily bring to the tuition environment .

1. Syllabus and Subject Specialists

Cynics may protest that in the current period of change to examination structures and grades, there are no syllabus experts out there at all. Whether or not they are correct is immaterial – parents and students still have to choose from the best available.

Undergraduates, who have been accepted to a top university are by definition superb in their chosen subject and often excellent in others. That’s one of the reasons they have been accepted. They are currently studying their chosen subject at the highest level for their age group.

Yes, of course teachers ‘know’ the syllabus structure and content and what examiners are looking for, but they relate to it as teachers, delivering knowledge, understanding and skills. Undergraduates have very recently been on the receiving end of the delivery of that content and the application of those exam requirements as students. As such, they understand, in a way that no one else can, how specific subjects and questions ‘feel‘ to the learner and what the learning challenges are. They have not simply observed from the outside, they have lived and worked through them. They ‘get it’ and if they have the top grades in the subjects they tutor, they will have developed or otherwise acquired their own effective techniques for getting to grips with the problem areas. That is gold dust for parents and students.

2. Wavelength

On average, the relationship between a tutor and student lasts for between one and three terms. The learning process will work better if they engage with each other and develop a relationship of some kind. This is inherently easier to achieve with an undergraduate than with a teacher. Even the youngest teacher is still going to be at least 5 years older than the oldest student and is moving already in a different world with different priorities. Do your squad* speak the same language as your teenagers? Do you know the difference between a (Snapchat) streak and a story? If you don’t, most teachers are in the same boat. And teenagers can be brutal about those who try to be ‘one of them . Undergraduates do not have to try. They are in a similar space, use the same social media channels, follow the same bloggers and vloggers, shop in the same places, stream the same music , stress over the same things. The basis for a relationship is in place from the outset.

3. Peer Influence

There has not been a generation in living memory who have not responded more positively to their peer group than to their elders – or “the olds”. If Mr McCartney, 32, with 7 years teaching experience or Mrs Jones, 49, teaching since before Johnny, aged 16, was born, says that the world will be invaded by aliens from the planet Zogg, it’s likely to be greeted with a response somewhere between apathy and automatic resistance. If Cristina, 20, second year International Law and Spanish at Edinburgh says the same thing, Johnny just might give it due thought and consider it. Nuff said.

4. Enthusiasm

Many, but not all, teachers are hugely enthusiastic and similarly, not all undergraduates are enthusiasts. On balance however, undergraduates by virtue of their age and stage are at a point where life is exciting, learning is fresh new experiences abound and are there to be explored. And that enthusiasm can be delightfully infectious. Add to this the fact that the undergraduate tutor recognises that doing a good job will help them build their client base, whether they are working independently or for an agency. They know that great feedback from students enhances their CV to a degree and in ways that non skilled jobs do not. Most acknowledge that tutoring helps their own competence in their subjects.

5. Core Skills

Key skills in tutoring include the ability to listen, to question, to explain, to plan, to organise, research, evaluate, manage time, and give feedback. Many of these are inherent in the undergraduate’s ‘day job’ so they have little difficulty applying them to deliver top quality tutorials. The savvy ones also appreciate that tutoring develops the skills that they perhaps lack and which will enhance their employability. Indeed, being able to show how tutoring has helped them to develop same is a very handy interview tool.

There is a growing recognition within the private tuition industry that many tutors need training in the skills identified above and this is becoming more readily available. For example, The University of Worcester deliver a two week Diploma in Private Tutoring and Realtime Tutors offer all their tutors a self study, assessed training programme at no cost to the tutor. Those who meet the required standard automatically qualify for a higher rate of remuneration.

There are lots of keen and capable undergraduate tutors out there. Giving them the opportunity of working with your son or daughter may just be a win all round.

*Teenspeak for ‘gang’. Just in case…

"the two tutors we had were great and both of our children felt they had benefitted a lot from having the one to one sessions.  Each of the tutors were friendly, helpful and were good at explaining the subject clearly. Thanks for your help!"


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