Making a First Impression

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Juggle Street at 19/4/2020

Find out how to start off strong as tutor.

1. Sort the legal requirements
2. Be on time
3. Look the part
4. Communicate professionally
5. Start how you intend to continue

It goes without saying that as a new tutor, you’ll want to make a good impression and see academic improvement in your students. However, wanting to be an effective tutor is not the same as having experience. New tutors without experience tend to make the same mistakes when they start out. To save you learning everything as you go, here are five key pointers to ensure you get off to a strong start with your first student.

Firstly, you will need to make sure that legally, you tick all the boxes. In most countries, some sort of background check is required in order to work with children. So before you even start, you must make sure that you have this check. You will look unprofessional if when asked for evidence of such a check, you cannot produce it.

I also recommend putting together a tutoring policy of sorts. It doesn’t have to follow any particular format or structure, but it should briefly outline how you operate, how cancellations work, what you charge per hour etc. This way, everything is clearly outlined before you are engaged as a tutor, and you will be spared potentially awkward conversations later on.

2. Be on time

Think about someone with whom you have worked before, who is always late. I’m not talking about someone who was late only once due to an emergency - that’s understandable. I’m referring to someone who is chronically late. When such an individual is repeatedly late to activities you have arranged, does it bother you? In your heart of hearts, it probably does.

Tutoring plays by these rules. If you are always late to tutoring sessions, you will get parents and students offside. Turning up frequently late to appointments is not professional, and it can create frustration for your clients. Families are busy entities, often juggling multiple commitments for multiple children. You may find your sessions cut short in order to get another child to an activity.

Basically, don’t be late. It’s not a good look, and it’s one of those things that people generally find quite irritating and unprofessional.

3. Look the part

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but people still do. As a tutor, you will want to set a good first impression with your student and their family by dressing the part of a professional. After all, playing a role in a child’s education is a big deal, so you should dress to reflect this!

Generally speaking, the gold standard is wearing something akin to what you would wear in an office. If this is just not your jam, or you simply don’t have clothes of this type, I still strongly suggest steering clear of track pants and the like. Don’t turn up in anything ripped, or thongs. Wear something that is comfortable, but looks professional.

As a high school science teacher, I always wear closed-in shoes at school due to the nature of hazards when working in labs. I suggest this to tutors as well. It’s just safer to wear protective footwear in a new environment.

4. Communicate professionally

Before your first session with a student, you will no doubt be in touch with them, as well as their parent(s). Getting the tone of these emails right is key. You want the recipient of your email to gauge your vibe, but you also want to keep it short and to the point.

In the first few emails you send, avoid informal language, abbreviations and emojis. Make sure that your email is formatted clearly, and that you have checked for spelling errors before sending. (There is nothing worse than receiving an email from a tutor full of spelling errors!!)

Here is an example of an introductory email you might send to a student (with their parents CC’d).

Subject: Looking forward to [subject]tutoring this [day of the week]

Hi [student],

My name is [your name] and I will be tutoring you in [subject]. Really looking forward to meeting you.

I’d love to prepare a few things for [day of the week], so if you could let me know where you’re up to in class that’d be great. Feel free to send through any photos of exercises or worksheets you’ve been given. All of that is helpful to me when I’m preparing.

Speak soon,

[your name].

5. Start how you intend to continue

When I was a soccer referee as a teenager, I remember hearing some great advice from a senior mentor. He said, “very early on in the game, as soon as a player fouls or violates rules, even if it’s minor, you call it.” The purpose of this is to let soccer players know that their referee means business, and will not be taken for a ride.

The same is true, to a degree, with tutoring. You want to establish clear ground rules and routines in your first session or two, so that the student knows what to expect from you, and what you expect of them. I learned this the hard way as a new tutor, when one of my students decided to go to the kitchen in the middle of a session to prepare an elaborate snack, right in the middle of an activity we were doing. I was able to stamp this sort of behaviour out, but it was reactively, rather than proactively.

Let me be clear: I am not advocating for hard-nosed discipline of students in tutoring sessions. But as someone who loves this work and finds the students themselves to be great fun, I have had to work harder than most at the discipline thing. Whilst it can be hard to set rules, they are important for the success of the sessions. Don’t underestimate the importance of setting solid expectations in that first session you have with a student.

Once you’re in a routine with your student, tutoring them will be both rewarding and productive. Happy tutoring!