Believe me, I’ve gotten this question more than once – and in the years I spent determining that tutoring was my life’s path, I accumulated a lot of answers. As someone who made regular use of tutors when I was a student, I now feel qualified to answer this question from both sides. Below are my top five answers to this question… but before I list them it seems important to dispel one common misconception from the beginning: deciding to hire a tutor is by no means an admission of defeat. In fact, it is quite the opposite: it is a recognition that whatever obstacle you’re facing in your progress is on its way to being overcome, with a little nudge or perhaps with a slightly different lens. It is a dare to whatever it is within you that harbors doubts. Deciding to hire – or not to hire – a tutor should never be a point of pride (I’ll even let you in on a little secret: most tutors I know have used tutors at some point in their lives). Whew. Now that that’s out of the way:
1) In a tutoring session you have no choice but to actively engage. We all know how easy it is to sit in a classroom full of students and fade into the woodwork, letting our peers answer the questions and doing the grunt work for us while we imagine what we’re going to have for dinner. And we all know that we never learn anything – or at least we never learn it well – by being such passive audience members. When you step into a room with a tutor, you step into the room to have a conversation, not to be “fed” information, and you’ve got to be on for the whole session. This kind of engagement – face-to-face, immediate, and personal – is infinitely more efficacious than the kind of engagement in which a teacher actively presents and a student passively, and unresponsively, consumes.
2) Tutoring often provides a calmer, less stressful environment than a classroom provides. In a tutoring session the power hierarchy is much different than it is in a classroom. The formalities and structures of the classroom disappear, as does the protocol; and students often feel much more comfortable asking questions of a tutor because none of their peers are near to overhear what it is they are struggling with. They recognize they are part of a conversation, and so they feel more at ease about interjecting and trying things aloud for themselves. And when there are no longer other students to compare themselves with, the anxiety of self-awareness – which is so often a stumbling block to real attention – is suddenly gone, leaving students the freedom of attending to their own curiosities.
3) Hiring a tutor is like instant time-management. This answer, in fact, is multi-pronged; and I won’t be able to list all the ways that students save precious time when they decide to meet with a tutor, but here are a few:
1. The one-on-one nature of the private tutoring session allows tutors to more quickly determine the areas of study a student needs most improvement in – something the student him- or herself may not be able to determine. The more quickly these areas are identified, the more quickly the real work can begin.
2. With the right expert, you have instant access to years of knowledge and experience. A difficult math problem may take you 15 minutes to master with an experienced tutor, whereas you might spend an entire day trying to work through it yourself.
3. Regular meetings with a tutor provide consistent deadlines to keep you from procrastinating. I’ve known adults that have chosen to work with tutors – even though they have the capacity to learn the subject themselves – specifically because they know those regular meetings will keep them motivated. All of these, really, are matters of efficiency; which is all to say that making use of a tutor frees up time for other (and, okay, occasionally more important!) things in your life.
4) A good tutor does more than increase your working knowledge of a given subject. While a school teacher is an expert on a subject, someone who has dedicated his or her life to the practice of tutoring has also been focusing on modes and methods of individual comprehension and knowledge-acquisition. A good tutor, in other words, will help you identify how you best learn: knowledge that will be applicable to subjects far beyond the subject you are there to study. While a classroom teacher doesn’t have the time to measure and discern the best learning model for each of his or her students, a personal tutor has the advantage of being able to move in an out of various models and respond immediately to students’ results, until he or she lights upon the one/s that are most conducive to that student’s needs. The tutor might try verbal prompts, bring in material objects, diagrams, or other visuals; he might ask the student to talk through a concept or to demonstrate it; he might even ask the student to pretend their roles are reversed and articulate the problem, and its solution, to the tutor. While it’s no new news that no two students learn by the same methods, the differences between how a tutor and how a classroom teacher are able to negotiate that fact are immense.
5) Having a tutor is like having your own personal cheerleader. This one probably needs little clarification; suffice it to say that when you hire a tutor you are choosing to work with someone who is as invested in your own progress as you are. And it is often knowing that our biggest fans are there, on the sidelines, rooting for us that keeps our confidence high, and keeps us working.
It should go without saying, of course, that even with outside support, success still belongs to and depends on you. But while I recognize that I am where I am today because of my own drive and my own hard work, I also realize it would have taken me much longer – and the ride would probably have been bumpier – had it not been for the tutors I’ve met along the way.