By Lewis Howell
⏱ Wednesday 9th August 2017

I feel that I am an experienced tutor.  I've worked in schools from Salford to Ashton, Moss Side to Hyde, from 10 year old boys to 19 year old girls, from groups of pupils to 1:1 tuition, from kids who love English to kids who despise it with every fibre of their being.  And yet still, there is a prospect that makes every bone in my body quiver with sheer terror, makes me question my very existence, my own physical presence on this football we call planet earth... What if the Avengers 2: Age of Ultron isn't as good as I'm expecting it to be?

But there's a rather daunting prospect when it comes to tutoring, too.  Many people seem to feel the same way.  It's an exciting, yet apprehensive part of tutoring, which is quite simply inescapable.  Can you guess what it is?  No?  Want me to stop beating round the bush and just tell you?  Yes?  Ok?  Ok.

Well, in a nutshell, it's the first session you have with a new student.  Or rather the entire premise of starting off with someone new.  No matter how many tuition sessions you've done before, the very fundamental function of tutoring at The Tutor Trust is the fact that we do tend to tutor multiple children, and we will always be changing pupils.  And that, as so many people will agree, is indeed a nerve-wracking experience.

Now there's plenty you might do in advance; you may have had that introductory meeting, found out the pupils' name, age, learning levels, etc.  But it's still intimidating to walk into a school and sit at a desk waiting for what is currently a blank face to walk in for their first tuition session.

If you've been tutoring long enough, you'll realise by now that, after the first- and maybe also the second- session, you'll already be enjoying the sessions and building up that rapport with your student, and by the time your tuition is to end you'll be truly sad to see the back of them.  In most cases this is true, I hope.  There will inevitably be at least a point where you feel more comfortable with your tutees, and there will come a moment when you're not apprehensive when walking into the building.  I know that I definitely get nervous upon the first tuition session I have with a student- knocking knees, trembling hands, having to sip water every 2 minutes due to an oddly dry throat, the whole shebang.  I also know that I will, often, even by the end of that session, already like the kid immensely.

What to do about that first session then?  As with a lot of aspects of tutoring, it's really a fairly personal, judgement-call kind of scenario.  I know some who like to play ice-breaker games, some who dive straight into tuition, and some who spend the session mapping out what to do in the weeks to come.  Often it comes down to the student; those who are readily enthusiastic and really appreciate the opportunity of tuition will be more willing to share with you the things they're eager to learn about in weeks to come, whilst if you try that with some pupils who are more reluctant, you'll be met with some rather awkward silences.  It also depends on how many pupils you have- if there's more than one, do they already know each other?

I often find that the most important thing to come away from that first session with is quite simply, a mutual understanding.  I like to be able to come away from the session knowing how my pupil feels about the subject; do they like it or not?  What subjects do they like?  What do they find particularly difficult or interesting about the subject?  It often helps to try and discern some of their personal interests too- a lot of writing exercises I tend to do are based on things that interest them, so it's always useful to know things like their favourite sport, or colour, or film etc.  But I also like to come away knowing that they know what to expect from their next session.  If we feel nervous about the tuition session that we're teaching, then there must be a possibility that the pupils are at least a little apprehensive about it as well.  Sometimes they plain don't want to be there.  I like to view the first session, then, as setting a precedent for the pupil.  To show them that I'm there, I'm interested in them and their education, to show them that there's no question too stupid for them to ask, to show them that they're sessions where we can have fun, but also where they need to learn and where we need to focus.  Ultimately, I like to feel that at the end of the session they have a kind of understanding of what I'm like as a tutor.

So I've found that personally, I like to do a combination of things in my first session; I like to chat to the pupils, maybe do some ice-breaker activities, and overall get a feel for what they think of the subject.  I like to set them exercises so I can see for myself how they work, and I like to find out if there is anything they want covered in the weeks to come.  Essentially all the above, I realise.  Ah well, a well-rounded approach is a healthy one!

Essentially, the first session with a new pupil will always be a scary thing, and I think in a way that's helpful.  If you're more nervous about something you're likely to over prepare rather than anything, which can only be a good thing.  It's just important to bear in mind both your aims for the session, and the fact that once it's over, then what's to come will mostly be some really good experiences, hopefully for both you and your pupil.  After all, you know what the perfect antidote to those nerves will be?  A damn good first session, that's what!