How to Choose a Good Tutor
Based on an article published in Strait Times in 2015, nearly 8 out of 10 parents with children in primary schools pay for private tuition in a survey conducted with 500 parents.
In fact, tuition is a billion-dollar industry in Singapore and it is very common seeing many students thronging tuition centres or having private tuition after school hours or over the weekends, especially P6 students who are sitting for PSLE.
There are a few reasons why parents send their children for tuition in Singapore. Many of them see tuition as a mean to improve their children’s grades or to keep up with the syllabus.
There is another group of parents who see it as a way for their children to stay competitive or become even better than those who are already good academically.
Whatever the reasons are, all parents want the best for their children and many would use whatever resources they have to give their children a good head start in life.
In this article, I would like to share with you my humble personal opinions on a few important criteria to look out for when hiring a tutor for your child.
#1 - Mastery of Subject
First of all, the mastery level of subject the tutor is teaching must be excellent. On top of good content knowledge, he/she should be very familiar with the PSLE syllabus and weighting of topics/components so that he can strategise, knows what needs to be emphasized and what concepts or strategies need to be taught.
A tutor who is well versed with the school syllabus and has excellent mastery of a subject will also know what the commonly tested questions are or pitfalls to avoid pertaining to different topics or components.
This is something that can only be gained by years of experience in teaching whether in schools or in enrichment classes.
An experienced tutor, teacher or ex-teacher can save your child time in learning concepts properly and avoiding unnecessary mistakes in their work.
This is because he/she knows what to focus on or emphasize when teaching a new skill and instils good habits/practices in daily work.
One thing to note is that mastery level of subject is not solely determined by number of years in teaching. A teacher or tutor who has taught for many years does not necessarily mean that he/she has excellent mastery of a subject.
#2 - Able to Teach with Flexibility
Likewise, a tutor who has excellent mastery of a subject does not mean that he/she knows how to teach. A tutor who can teach well knows how his/her students learn best. He/she will use different approaches or aids (for example, visual, auditory or verbal) to teach a student.
He will be able to use an approach to analyse and explain a problem to a ten-plus-years-old kid in a concise way. This means not explaining skills or concepts using complicated “adult” methods which the child has not learnt yet or cannot be understood easily at his/her age.
For example, I know of some students who only know how to solve problem sums using algebraic method. Algebraic method is not a bad method, but it is a small segment in the PSLE syllabus and is not the mainstream strategy used in solving primary Math problems sums.
Some of my students told me their parents do not understand models or some heuristics and only know how to use algebra to solve the questions.
The different methods used in teaching a nine to twelve-years-old kid at home, in tuition centres and in schools can really confuse the average students.
A tutor who can teach with flexibility also knows how to level up students of different abilities by pitching learning at a suitable level before progressing to a higher level.
He can pinpoint the weaknesses of a student at different stages of learning and use the right approach to help him.
He can also strategise with whatever time is left before PSLE or examinations and use the limited time to focus on what is best for the student.
In short, the tutor has more than a “one-size-fits-all” teaching approach.
#3 - Connecting with Student
Thirdly, it is important to get a tutor who can connect with your child. Clashes in personalities can put both the tutor and the child in a difficult situation.
The worst part is your child will not benefit or learn much from a tutor who just cannot get along with your child well.
A tutor who can connect with your child can get your child to learn and do his work in a cooperative and willing way. Your child will be more receptive to learn from his mistakes too.
One thing to note is that connecting with student does not mean playing or chatting with him during lessons to get the student to like the tutor. A tutor can be firm yet able to connect with his student.
#4 - Genuine Heart to Help
There are many types of tutors around. Some tutors only want to earn the money by going through the motion.
They do not prepare suitable materials or think beforehand what needs to be prepared to benefit a student at a specific stage of learning.
Some will go the extra mile to compile notes for your child or prepare lessons thoroughly so that he knows how to explain a concept during the tuition session later.
A good tutor who has a genuine heart to help his student will have a good reputation among parents who recommend him by word of mouth to other parents.
#5 - Motivating
Lastly, in my opinion, a tutor who can connect with and motivate his student will be a bonus. It is not easy being a student in Singapore nowadays with so many enrichment classes to attend other than the classes in school.
Many of the students are already tired when they reach home or tuition centres, but they still need to attend extra hours of lessons with their tutors or coaches.
Thus, someone who can motivate his/her students in learning is definitely a plus point.
Personally, I have seen for myself how some very effective tutors/coaches/teachers can motivate their students such that they learn with enthusiasm.
Many students are able to make a breakthrough in their academic achievements when they have tutors who motivate them towards learning. Some can even get A grade for a subject which they used to fail in or dislike.
While it may not be possible to get or find out immediately if you have hired a perfect tutor who fits all the criteria above to coach your child, you can talk to the tutor and your child to know the quality of the tutor or check if your child has really learned from the tutor after a few sessions.
About the Author
Teacher Zen has over a decade of experience in teaching upper primary Math and Science in local schools. He has a post-graduate diploma in education from NIE and has a wealth of experience in marking PSLE Science and Math papers. When not teaching or working on OwlSmart, he enjoys watching soccer and supports Liverpool football team.