Tutor: Practice For Something Greater

Earlier this week, as I started working with a new test prep student, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of déjà vu. Technically, though, this event didn’t qualify because I definitely experienced all the beats of a first session many, many times before.

Build rapport and confirm student history? Check.
Review fundamentals of the tests and effective preparation? Check.
Dive into our SAT/ACT English curriculum? Check.

Working through the same introductory and English curriculum I’ve been assiduously refining over the last fourteen years for the umpteenth time made me feel a little bit like a rock star belting out the same standards night after night for years or even decades. Do performers and tutors feel the same way when playing our hits?

I seem to have misplaced Eric Clapton’s number, so Reddit served as a suitable resource to find answers to a question I knew had been asked before: How does it feel to keep playing the same song again and again every live performance?

Chaplain Rob Menes shared a valuable perspective on adding variety to repetition:

“I am a musician, and I give live performances, largely of exactly the same words and music: as a cantor, I have led the Jewish prayer service 3 times a day for 10 years. Easy to calculate, it is over 10,000 times.

“Every time I lead a service, the music is different. Because I bring something new to it every time. Every day, a different idea, a different word resonates with me and I emphasize it. There are small variations that I can slip in as well, and I can engage people in the congregation using various techniques (dynamics, tempo, timbre).”

Singer David Leigh added additional nuance into the value of iteration:

“I’m an opera singer at the Metropolitan Opera spending a lot of 2017 singing the same role, Commendatore in Don Giovanni, over and over again. He sings a little bit earlier in the opera, but basically you get one (VERY famous) scene at the end.

“My expectation was that I’d be a little frustrated, traveling to different places and singing the same, relatively brief role. That hasn’t been my experience at all. On the contrary, there’s sort of an amazing thing that happens when you do this over and over again: it makes you realize that it’s easy. In a way, doing something repeatedly empowers you to actually have a genuine experience each time you’re doing it, because you’re not worrying about it, which isn’t really a typical feeling on the first time you perform something.”

These insights resonate with me as a tutor. Teaching my Math curriculum so often that every problem and punch line is memorized actually frees me to focus on my students in a way I cannot with new material. Plus, the more I teach, the more I understand what I’m teaching, which then inspires improvements to instruction.

Test prep tutors cycle through students much faster than most subject or language tutors, but we all benefit from carefully crafted lessons or modules we can deliver again and again (at the right times, of course!) Your instruction will always be new to your lucky students, but you’ll be learning deeper lessons alongside them.

As the great motivator Les Brown said, “Everything we do is practice for something greater than where we currently are. Practice only makes for improvement.”

— Mike Bergin

Tutor Tastemaker

Ludo Millar is a tutor based in East London who focuses on teaching English and Maths (and training other tutors).

What are three resources your practice depends on?
Firstly, my fellow tutors. They are the most productive resource a tutor could hope for, so make sure you’re speaking to, and learning from, other tutors as much as you can. Secondly, and following on from the first, the Qualified Tutor Community in which tutors freely share all kinds of tips, tricks and resources. And finally, Zoom.

What is one more resource you strongly recommend?
Twinkl (an incredible platform for educator-generated, multimedia resources)

What is one insight every tutor should hear?
Spreading yourself too thin across subjects and areas may seem like a smart move from a marketing perspective; but it’s actually in narrowing our scope and fine-tuning our niche that we appeal most effectively to students and parents. Rather than listing every subject that you could tutor, try offering fewer subjects, better.

Tutor Tips, Tools, and Thoughts

Metacognitive Talk Guides Students to Discuss Their Thought Processes
What are the best ways to get students to speak up?

The Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons
Do you know everything you should about copyright?

“When do we get to the marketing part?”
Basically, you should already be there.

Meditations on Preparation: Goals
Looking for inspirational quotes about setting goals?

The Nature of Ambition [Comic]
If you are lucky, you’ll find something you love doing. Then what happens?


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