The Role of the Private Tutor
Teachers will often tell you that a private tutor should not be necessary. Naturally, they may be somewhat sensitive and perceive the engagement of a private tutor to reflect on the quality of their own teaching. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The role of the private tutor is to complement learning in the classroom. ‘Complement’ is the key word here: private tuition is not a substitute for learning in the classroom and in no way reflects upon the quality of teaching in the school; it is simply a different approach, to which many pupils respond very positively.
I know from experience that a great deal of the classroom teacher’s energy is expended in behaviour management. Even in what might appear to be the ‘perfect’ lesson, with exemplary behaviour, an awful lot will be going on beneath the surface. The teacher will be expending enormous amounts of energy to ensure that all pupils are engaged, ‘on task’ and deriving maximum benefit from the lesson. The teacher must constantly ‘read’ the classroom. The pace of the lesson will have to be varied, as will the means of delivery of the material and the extent to which the pupils are instructed to work independently. Inevitably, the lesson cannot be tailored exactly to the needs of each individual pupil: a compromise must be struck.
The unique feature of private tuition is that the tutor can focus 100 percent on the needs of the individual student. One of the greatest benefits of individual tuition, I find, is the opportunity it gives me to explain the material properly, exploring it from every angle through a two-way dialogue with the student. By focusing on the needs of a single student, I can tailor the material exactly to their level, without having to balance the student’s needs with those of the rest of the class.
Due to the individual attention they receive, students are much more focused and engaged when taught one-to-one. Once I have earned their confidence, many students who might otherwise be afraid to ask questions in the classroom (or even, sadly, express enthusiasm for the subject) become highly animated and engaged in active discussion, allowing us to explore the material thoroughly and in proper depth.
Teaching as a private tutor affords me the freedom to teach using the methods I judge as being the most appropriate. I make no secret of the fact that I advocate the use traditional methods in the teaching of science, in which difficult, abstract concepts are introduced and explained by the teacher. A good teacher will know from experience where misconceptions and confusion are likely to arise.
I have yet to be convinced of the benefits of the progressive, trendy teaching methods currently in widespread use in our schools, particularly those in the state sector. Rather than being concerned with teaching the material effectively, these methods tend to be more about the requirement of the teacher get a box ticked (‘evidencing’ in the ghastly, modern parlance) as part of their ‘professional development’. Some pupils may say that such lessons are fun - after all, they have an easy time of it, engaged in role play, making posters, composing raps, watching videos etc - but sadly they learn very little science.
Particularly in chemistry, there are some key concepts and principles that it is essential the students understand properly from the beginning. Misunderstanding of these principles, which are laid down early in both the GCSE and AS/A2 courses, can compromise all future learning. I have seen too many students whose inability to make progress at GCSE and AS/A2 level reflects a deficit in their understanding of the foundations of the subject. As an experienced tutor, however, I am used to encountering such problems, which I am usually able to diagnose and address quickly and effectively.
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