Are you flexible? No, I am not asking whether you can touch your toes or scratch your back! I am talking about mental flexibility, the attribute of a good tutor.

A tutor is not a teacher - and a teacher is often an inadequate tutor, because he or she lacks one vital component ... flexibility.

I worked for a top tutorial agency in the UK for some fourteen years; during that time, I helped around 300 students at levels from 11+ Common Entrance to Cambridge A levels and beyond, in around 12 subjects. Few of these students had been badly taught: some, in fact, had been very well-taught, and required little but polishing and morale-boosting to achieve what they were capable of.

So why were the others referred to me? A few had been bullied by the teacher(s), an occasional student needed to catch up due to prolonged illness or parental transfer. HOWEVER... the majority arrived with a common problem: lack of teacher or curriculum flexibility.

They came to me for help of a very specific nature, often confined to a small area within a subject, which neither the teacher nor the textbook(s) could explain in terms that the particular student could understand.

Why? A teacher's training, and typical school textbooks, are aiming at the "average" student, whatever their IQ, and the instruction is given in a class of 30 or more - often many more - students. The student having a specific problem may be the only one with that problem in that class - the teacher may have to go deeply into the problem to identify it, and even if (s)he has the experience to do so, is unlikely to have the time available to explain it.

And that is where the tutor steps in. The tutor can make time to dig into the problem, often by adopting a lateral or other non-standard approach, drawing on years of personal experience, and then put together a solution tailored to the particular student's need, while adding to it the reassurance that he or she is not lazy, stupid, or weird in any way, and certainly not unteachable.

The result will be... one happy and more confident student, and one holder of purse-strings feeling they have received value for money. And that is the bottom line of what a good tutor provides: value and satisfaction.

Janet Y Henderson
JH/ml 2011-03-03(3)09:17

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