Managing Tutoring Expectations - Apr '18

By Matt Thompson, MTA, Online EFL Tutor
The exam preparation period is full steam ahead right now and can be an especially busy time for tutors. Both student and parent expectations can be higher than usual so how should tutors manage these expectations? What if they’re unrealistic or your student isn’t putting in the effort? My name’s Matt Thompson and after tutoring for more than 12 years, I’m on a mission to learn (and share on my blog, Smart Online Tutoring) the answers to questions like these. That’s why I love attending The Tutors’ Association webinars as they’re always packed full of actionable info and advice from expert tutors.

I joined TTA Board Directors Adam, Ana and Richard and Member Lucy Parsons on one of their excellent monthly webinars and here’s what they had to say about managing tutoring expectations:

How do you deal with unrealistic expectations from a parent?

If you have a parent who thinks their child is good enough for a particular school, but they’ve left it too late before the exams to start tutoring sessions, an initial response from the tutor could be: “There are no guarantees, but I want to meet your child’s needs”. You may prefer to avoid a lengthy discussion with the parent in front of the child, instead calling the parent afterwards to discuss with them their, and your, concerns. It’s important to have separate discussions with the students and parents. Tutors are not school consultants; if you feel the discussion is going beyond your expert knowledge as a tutor, refer them to someone who knows more.

It’s also our role as tutors to make the goal realistic for the student. If it’s obvious that a child isn’t going to make it into the desired school, move the goalposts; aim high, but identify several back-up schools. Benchmark at the beginning of the first session and aim to turn the student around within the next 5 sessions. Then review the progress of the student and identify where they are and where they can progress.

What can tutors do if the student isn’t putting the effort in?

Identifying a student’s learning style is essential if we are to give maximum help with their learning. If they love watching YouTube, use some of these for their prep. If they need motivating, help them find a motivational video. We are motivators as well as tutors and we have to emphasise to the student that if they want to get somewhere, they need to work hard.

Our goal as tutors is to remove the need for tutoring. Often our students don’t have the skills they need to be a better student, so we need to give them these skills. For example, one way to help your students to continue learning might be by getting them to use sticky notes as a way of revising new content. Get them to stick these flashcard style notes around the house and replace them with new ones once they’ve learnt what’s on them.

How do you communicate progress at the end of the session?

Leave time before the end of the session to discuss progress. Tell the parent what they’ve done, what they need to do to consolidate and what you’re going to do next time. This only needs to be a few minutes, but is invaluable. We need to plan, possibly provide homework, and measure progress; letting parents know there is a plan and how it is progressing is reassuring – and lets them know that they are working with a professional.

Alternatively, make it clear that you have to leave immediately when the session finishes, but agree that you will update them at specific times via email and calls (this could be after 3, 4 or 5 tutorials).

Whichever route you choose, setting this expectation at the beginning of the tutorial program helps parents to know what to expect – both in terms of what you will, and what you won’t, do. (The Tutors’ Association can provide tutors with pro forma contracts you can give to the parent which sets out these parameters).

Should you offer support to parents for timetabling their child’s study plan?

Yes, but get the child to plan their own schedule, rather than having the parent telling them what to do and when. Spend some time on this because putting together organisational structures - and learning to stick to them - are among the key soft skills that can move students from C and B grades to A grades.

Should you offer crash course learning?

If you do, make it clear with a verbal agreement that you will only do so if they work on a medium-term goal after any short-term cramming. 5 hours is not enough to do anything significantly educational so aim to encourage a more appropriate learning schedule for the future.

The Tutors’ Association webinars

For more details on upcoming webinars from the team at The Tutors’ Association, check out their events page. Membership to The Tutors' Association offers access to these monthly calls for free (plus a host of other great benefits). Membership benefits and details can be found here and to join, click here .

Matt Thompson is an online EFL tutor and the founder of Smart Online Tutoring - an online resource that provides quality content and coaching for everyone interested in starting and running a successful online tutoring business.

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