During my academic journey, I’ve had a lot of teachers and tutors! Going to a public school, a private school, and then a well-known selective entry school in Melbourne, I’ve had a whole range of educators throughout my growth.
Over four enriching years, my voyage into tutoring has been nothing short of a quest, encompassing the guidance of over 100 eager minds in both intimate one-on-one settings and vibrant group environments. Ceasing my tally at 100 seemed appropriate; numbers pale in comparison to the impact each student has had on my understanding of the true essence of teaching that I hope to share with you.
Yet, as I ventured into hiring tutors to perpetuate this passion for education, an uncomfortable realisation dawned: a noticeable decline in educational standards. In this article, I aim to illuminate the important qualities that distinguish exceptional educators from mediocre ones. Beyond the conventional traits of passion, experience, and academic prowess, I delve into some of the unconventional qualities that define the essence of an extraordinary tutor.
Pioneering 'Unachievable' Goals
Navigating the realm of ‘unachievable’ goals has been a recurrent theme in my tutoring odyssey. Students often present aspirations that conventional standards might label as impossible. However, in my vocabulary, ‘impossible’ has been deleted. I’ve completely marked it out in my dictionary, and it finds no residence in my teaching philosophy!
When a student comes to me with what seems like an insurmountable and unachievable standard with societal norms, my first inclination isn’t to truncate them into more ‘reasonable’ goals. Instead, I emphasise the need to scale up our approach. For example, if a student dreams of jumping multiple grade levels or mastering a complex concept in a short time, it’s not my place to lower their sights. What you should look for instead is a tutor who maps out an ambitious yet actionable plan!
I’ve discovered that this planning stage acts as a powerful motivator, as it allows the student to see the broader scope of what their journey could encompass. They choose the climb, and we provide the safety ropes and checkpoints to prevent them from falling. If a tutor shuts down a student’s goal without allowing for the plausibility of it happening, they are not worth your time and money! We shouldn’t scale back on a goal; we should scale up our approach and determine if it’s feasible from there.
Matching Learning Styles
I am a firm believer that a good educator should be very comfortable with their subject matter. This surpasses typical excellence in the sense of knowing everything related to the subject or text. The quality I am talking about is understanding how the student learns and modifying the approach to best fit their learning style. There have been multiple instances, even last week for my lessons, where the ‘normal’ method of teaching a concept that satisfies 95% of students doesn’t seem to be sufficient for the student I am teaching.
When encountering this challenge, most educators follow a predictable path: ignoring dissatisfaction; enforcing wrote memorisation; giving a half-hearted alternative explanation that still doesn’t satisfy the student; or telling them to look it up themselves in their own time. Much to my dismay, this seems to be the norm for most teachers and even some tutors. In my opinion, this demonstrates that the educator doesn’t understand the student’s learning style and will not be a good fit. As time progresses, these small holes in understanding can create bigger problems later on.
You might be wondering, “Alright, Vinko, what’s the alternative then?” Great question! I’m glad you asked! For me, it’s about finding alternative explanations that work better for the student. If algebraic reasoning fails to resonate, I pivot to geometric analogies. If that doesn’t connect, I relate it to real-world applications. If there are still problems with understanding after that, then I recognise something most teachers fail to pick up on. The persisting difficulty in understanding signals a much deeper-rooted issue—an underlying gap in foundational understanding. Recognising this marked a pivotal moment in my evolution as an educator. Once the root cause of the issue has been identified, we go on a little journey to fill in the gap and build up from there.
Albeit, this wasn’t a quality that I was gifted with as an educator from the beginning of my tutoring journey. It was something that I had to build from the ground up—the quality of not being satisfied with just one explanation. When I had my first handful of students not understand a concept through my explanations, I realised that there was a problem with the way I approached teaching these students. They needed something more than just the glove that fit everyone else; they needed a different style of teaching to match their style of learning.
Let’s set the record straight: I’m not advocating for an embrace of failure—far from it. Yet, amidst my years of instructing and guiding students across diverse academic spectrums, I stumbled upon unconventional wisdom. Working with the most challenged and the brightest minds in Melbourne, I’ve observed a crucial factor distinguishing adept students from the rest: their approach to mistakes and feedback.
Typically, students fixate on the ‘right answers,’ emphasising their correctness on tests or acing those long-answer questions. Contrarily, the high-achievers dwell on the few marks they missed, gauging their success by minimising ‘silly mistakes’. However, the truly exceptional ones, the ones who excel in exams and eventually become outstanding tutors, possess a unique trait—they dissect and analyse their mistakes, valuing each one.
Thus, the third quality of a phenomenal tutor is born. In essence, it’s the symbiotic relationship between mistakes and learning that propels students to extraordinary academic heights. An effective educator harnesses errors, leveraging them to foster resilience and pursue excellence. If a tutor undermines your performance without offering constructive strategies for improvement, it’s time to seek a more supportive guide.
In my classes, mistakes on tests and practice questions serve as guides for the final exam—like cheat codes in a game. Every error acts as a warning, directing attention to potential pitfalls. Some of my more creative students even personify their mistakes on paper, becoming witty reminders: ‘Watch out for me next time!’ which I always find amusing. We savour every error because we realise that it’s just saved us a lot of time trying to figure out where an issue may arise. They not only illuminate our path to improvement but also serve as friendly guides, nudging us towards success. An exceptional tutor recognises that mistakes are the blueprints for success.
In sharing these insights, I hope they shed light on the qualities pivotal in choosing a tutor. I firmly believe these principles redefine the norms, shaping the landscape of educational excellence for both tutors and students alike. They characterise a tutor not merely imparting knowledge, but sparking profound transformations, navigating the personalised journey of education. These attributes signify more than academic guidance; they empower students to conquer mountains, fostering a mindset beyond conventional learning. They mark the essence of an exceptional tutor, illuminating the path to academic mastery and nurturing an enduring passion for learning. Wishing you the best as you carry these nuggets of wisdom forward.