Lorelei Yang
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Wonky consultant with a passion for words
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If you have a knack for a particular subject, monetizing your expertise as a tutor may appeal to you. Tutoring officers a few key benefits — such as flexible hours and the ability to work for yourself on a part-or full-time basis— that makes it appeal to a broad range of people. If you're looking to get started as a tutor, here's how to get started.

What does a tutor do?

In short, a tutor helps a student improve their academic performance. To do this, they'll help the student with homework, test preparation and understanding new concepts. They may work with students virtually (via video chat) or in person. Tutors may work with students one-on-one or in small-group settings. Tutors may be hired to help students who are struggling in school or who are trying to get ahead to accelerate their learning. Some tutors are generalists, meaning they address any and all topics students are struggling with, while others are subject-specific, in which case they tutor students in a particular subject.

What are the qualities of a good tutor?

A good tutor needs certain qualities in order to be successful. These include:

1. Good interpersonal skills.

A successful tutor needs to be able to successfully interact with a range of people, including the parents of the students they're working with, the students themselves and sometimes their tutees' teachers. Each of these types of interactions requires different skills, so a good tutor needs strong interpersonal skills to be able to manage different types of interactions.

2. A strong grasp of the topics they're tutoring.

If a tutor doesn't know the content themselves, it's incredibly difficult for them to teach it to their tutee. Therefore, it's of the utmost importance for tutors to have a strong grasp of the topics they're tutoring. On a related note, they also need to be intellectually honest with themselves, so they can recognize when they're out of their depth.

3. The ability to explain ideas and concepts clearly.

Knowing the subject they're teaching isn't enough for tutors to be successful. They also need to be able to successfully impart their knowledge to their students. Consequently, it's very important for tutors to be able to explain ideas and concepts clearly so their tutees can understand them.

4. Patience.

In cases where a tutee is seeking a tutor's services because they're struggling in school, odds are good that they'll need extra help to grasp certain topics. In such cases, a tutor needs to be patient so they don't get frustrated with the tutee when it takes a while for them to grasp a concept.

5. Adaptability.

Since every tutee's learning style and needs will be different, a successful tutor needs to be highly adaptable, constantly adjusting their approach to meet each student's needs. 

How do I start tutoring?

To get started as a tutor, begin by assessing your existing knowledge. Are there any subjects in which you're particularly well-credentialed? For example, are you a graduate student in math (in which case you could certainly get hired as a math tutor for students of all ages) or a subject-specific teacher in a K-12 setting (in which case you could tutor students in your subject area)? If there aren't specific subject areas that are your strengths, are there standardized exams (such as the SAT or LSAT) in which you achieved particularly impressive results? Or, finally, are you fluent in a language that people want to learn (the answer to this is always yes — there's always someone looking to learn any language)? Figuring out what you're best suited to tutor is the first step in getting started in the profession.

Next, consider how you'd like to work as a tutor. Do you want to work as an employee at a tutoring company like Kumon? Or would you rather work independently? There are advantages and disadvantages either way. If you work at a company, you'll enjoy the benefits of guaranteed pay (likely on an hourly basis), a steady client base and a strong brand establishing your credibility from day one. On the other hand, working at a company will make it harder to set your own hours, and you'll likely earn less on an hourly basis than you would if you were on your own. If you work independently, you'll get to set your own schedule, work as much (or as little) as you'd like on your own terms and probably earn more per hour than you would if you were working at a company. On the other hand, working independently means you'll have to find your clients on your own and you'll need to establish your credibility without the benefit of an established brand behind you.

Once you've decided how you'd like to work as a tutor, either apply to a tutoring company or strike out on your own. If you're going the self-employment route, you'll need to advertise your services and identify a range of places where you can meet with tutees.

Tips.

Get to know your tutees. 

Establishing a good rapport with your tutees will improve your interactions, help them be more comfortable with you (and therefore feel more comfortable asking questions when they're confused) and make your time together more enjoyable.

Be on time and prepared for appointments.

Nothing is a greater threat to your job as a tutor than being late or not being ready for appointments. When students or parents pay you to provide tutoring services, they expect that you'll show up on time and ready to teach. Failing to meet these basic expectations could seriously jeopardize your tutoring relationship.

Employ best practices in teaching.

Successful tutors employ tested best practices in teaching to ensure that they're teaching their students in an effective way. A few useful tactics include:

  • Asking open-ended questions (e.g., "How do you do multiplication?") instead of yes/no questions (e.g., "Do you understand multiplication?") to assess learning
  • Switching up your teaching style and explaining the materials in a variety of different ways
  • Turning questions back on the tutee and asking them to react to information or propose approaches to solving a problem
  • Asking questions with varying degrees of difficulty
  • Being enthusiastic about the material

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Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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