Young students, while they may not have the knowledge or experience of an adult, are highly perceptive. They can tell if you’re pretending to be engaged or interested, they can tell if you’re frustrated or want to be somewhere else, and they can tell if you’re finding the subject matter dull.
Your job is to create an environment which allows your student to explore, to enjoy the learning process, and to be comfortable with making mistakes. Patience is your most powerful tool, and I would go as far to say as it is essential for anyone who wishes to deliver outstanding lessons. If you lack patience, then teaching on a one on one basis is not for you.
Progress is non-linear and intelligence is highly subjective (especially when it comes to children)
In theory, weekly tuition should result in steady, incremental progress from week to week. In practice, however, meaningful progress takes a much less smooth approach.
Our current system rewards students who are the quickest to pick up and retain the knowledge and information being delivered to them. Students who do not immediately “get” whatever is being taught are often left behind and deemed less intelligent.
Not immediately understanding the facts or information provided, however, is often a sign that the student is thinking a little deeper, and is not making assumptions which the majority of other students do without a second thought.
Such students often have the potential to be outstanding academically – though they take longer to reach a certain level in comparison with their peers, they end up progressing far beyond the plateau reached by other students who do not naturally think as deeply.
All students generally make progress in a non-linear way, that is to say there are plenty of periods of seemingly slow progress followed by sudden spurts in improvement. This is particularly the case with the so-called “slower” learners, who often display the most potential.
It’s not about you
In a traditional classroom set up, the teacher is in control and is the focal point of the lesson. In a one to one lesson, in some ways the opposite is true. Certain students are particularly receptive to the lesson being a collaborative experience, whereas others are much happier to work on their own for short periods of time. Either way the lesson cannot be a one way interaction where you are essentially asking your student to absorb as much information as possible. Such a process is too passive and neglects one of the key functions of a teacher in a one on one lesson, namely that of a facilitator.
What it means to be a facilitator
One of the most common reasons for students struggling to make progress is their own belief that they are no good at a particular subject. A critical role played by the tutor therefore is not so much in instructing students on the exact details of solving problems and acquiring skills, but rather in removing the obstacles which are preventing students from progressing.
Accordingly, one of the most self-defeating things a teacher can do is to “rob” the student of the chance to solve the problem by themselves. There is no substitute for the student actually overcoming a challenge or completing a task of their own accord, especially one which beforehand they were totally convinced as being beyond them.
When a student learns in this way, their actions speak for themselves, and it is the teacher’s function to facilitate this very process. You are there to offer support along the way, to guide the student through challenging processes and concepts, but never to get in the way of the student’s direct experience of learning through their own actions and with their own sense of motivation.
When enough instances occur whereby the student consistently and successfully tackles problems which they had perceived to be too difficult, the student no longer needs an external source of motivation and confidence – they themselves have made the progress, they have overcome the obstacles, and they can do it again. This is where a tutor can have their greatest impact, in enabling their students to experience a mode of learning which is uniquely supportive, challenging and fruitful.