By Lewis Howell
⏱ Wednesday 9th August 2017

When you're sitting across from your tutees, trying to help them get that C grade, or a level 5 in their SATS, or even just improving their overall reading ability or their times-tables, you can really start to feel the pressure of helping them attain the best grades possible.

'If they don't get their Maths GCSE then they won't get on to the course they want to at College, so they'll drop out of education and turn to a life of crime, their parents will blame me and come and find me and shout at me, society itself will unravel and it's all because I couldn't help make them understand simultaneous equations.'  So goes the stream of consciousness for far too many tutors, they put too much pressure on themselves and in doing so, the danger is that they lose sight of what they can realistically achieve with a pupil and what they should be aiming to achieve with the pupil in the first place!

As tutors, we often start working with a pupil in a subject area which they have been struggling with for at least 5 years.  It's important then to always acknowledge your own limits and carry with you a bit of humble-pie at all times when tutoring.  If experienced teachers have spent literally hundreds of hours working with a pupil, trying to help them improve their creative writing or their grasp of algebra, then right from the get-go you should appreciate that with the limited contact time you're going to have with the pupil and the difficulties they have previously had with the subject you're not going to fix everything overnight and turn a pupil who was struggling with basic numeracy skills into the next Dr Brian Cox.  This is fine though, no one is asking you to work miracles.  Any progress made with a pupil is always going to be hard-fought, gradual and the result of a cunning combination of perseverance and creativity on your part.

Making miraculous progress in terms of grades and learning levels is also often besides the point.  As tutors, providing focused small-group support, our aim should always be to improve their confidence in the subject area and to help them enjoy learning the subject, so that after they leave school they will not be put off Maths, English or whatever it may be for life!  This is particularly in important when tutoring children of a younger age, as ensuring a positive learning experience for them can help them discover a passion and talent for a subject that might never have occurred otherwise.

I was talking to one of our best tutors recently, a pony-tailed ebullient character who shall go unnamed- and he reminded me of the importance of the right kind of inspirational language when talking to pupils about the aims of a session and the targets for the wider tuition with the pupil.  The conversation made me realise a mistake I had been making when talking with my pupils about aiming towards certain grades in their GCSEs rather than discussing with them what they wanted to get out of studying English and what it as a subject could do for them.  It's obviously vital as a tutor to always bear in mind the level a pupil is working and what areas they need to improve upon to reach their target grades but you shouldn't let these specific targets figure too heavily in your sessions.  Instead be sure to talk to your pupils about the importance of them always applying themselves 100% to whatever it is they may be doing - even if it's studying Shakespeare! - and that any employer will be attracted to an individual who is keen on improving all aspects of themselves, emphasizing this combined with stressing the relevance of the subject to their own ambitions is a much healthier way of motivating your pupil than merely reducing a whole educational adventure to a series of capitalized letters.

For goodness sake then dear anonymous tutor, stop expecting to work-miracles, focus on making your pupils more confident in the subject, help them to actually enjoy learning the topic and always stress the importance of them doing their best rather than talking about grade boundaries with them.  Thanks for reading and good luck with your tutoring!