One question I’m often asked by new tutors is what the difference is between classroom teaching and private tuition. At first this may seem like a strange question, I mean surely it’s obvious… in the classroom you’ve got 30 pairs of eyes looking at you whereas with tutoring it’s just one (or occasionally 2 if you’ve got a lurking parent). Surely there’s no behaviour management to think about with private tuition neither do you need to think about differentiation or learning styles. No Ofsted, no senior management, no reports…
Well actually there are fewer differences between classroom teaching and private tuition than you might think.
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Lessons still need careful planning
Just because no one will ask to see your lesson plans doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still write them. Of course, they don’t need to be as detailed as classroom plans as you only have one student – and therefore fewer variables – to consider. However, you still need to go into your session with very clear expected learning outcomes and very clear, relevant tasks. Resources still need to be prepared and you still need to consider having a back-up plan or an extension task if your lesson doesn’t exactly follow your intended plan.
You’re still under scrutiny
Of course with private tuition you’re your own boss. You get to pick your hours, the location of your lessons and even the students you teach. You’ll never have an emergency staff meeting to tell you Ofsted are due in tomorrow. There’s no learning walks, book scrutinises or any of the other admin-heavy demands on classroom teachers. But that doesn’t mean you’re not still under scrutiny. Your student will scrutinise you. So will their parents. Their teacher. Their friends. Get it right and you’ve got yourself free word-of-mouth advertising. Get it wrong and the phone will stop ringing. This is one of the main differences between classroom teaching and private tuition.
You still need to plan for behaviour
Face it, how many 13 year olds are there who are independently asking their parents to pay for extra tuition? No, not many. While most students are polite, are engaged with your lessons and do the homework you set, not all are like this. Some don’t mean to be inattentive but for them an hour is a long time to spend in the intense 1:1 situation tuition offers. You need to plan for this and actually having the flexibility of only having one student to plan for means this is very easy to do. You can plan very active lessons for the more kinesthetic learners, play music or engage in in-depth conversation with the auditory learners or provide detailed written sources for the visual learners. As you get to know your students as individuals, your lessons and the activities within them can become more and more tailored to how they learn best. Engaged students behave well – but you need to engage them.
You still need to know your subject
If the classroom is a lonely place when you’re teaching something right at the edge of your own academic knowledge, private 1:1 tuition is solitary confinement. It goes without saying that you need to know your stuff. If you’re tutoring someone in a subject, you need to know it inside out. If you don’t, don’t take the job on. It’s embarrassing for you and not fair for the student.
However, you do have a some leeway. As an English teacher, I always make sure I know the main books on all the GCSE syllabuses but I will occasionally work with a student who is studying something I’m not familiar with. I can plan for this by asking the student during the first lesson what books they’re studying and then reading it myself. In some cases a student may be reading a book you have never read and don’t have time to read at that point. In this case, you need to be honest. You need to tell when you don’t know more than the main outline but you can definitely still help. You could still help them with essay writing skills and revision through them teaching you the main themes etc. As long as you have been above board, students are usually fine with this.
You still need to look like a teacher and behave professionally
As a private tutor, you can command a high hourly rate. Although not at the level of, say, many lawyers or accountants, the tuition you provide still represents a significant financial investment for your student’s family and as such it is important that you instill confidence in those who are employing you. Do not turn up in ripped jeans, however on trend they may be (or not, I have no idea!). Don’t swear. Don’t be late. You know, behave professionally.
These are the main differences between classroom teaching and private tuition. For me, becoming a self-employed private tutor has been a great career move. I get to teach a subject I adore with learners who are usually very engaged and I get to choose my hours. No more missing school plays or sports days.
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