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5 things that make a good maths tutor

Following on from our previous blog on why university students make excellent maths tutors, in this blog I will list 5 traits that every good maths tutor has. Having hired over 30 tutors since starting Metatutor, I know a good maths tutor when I see one. I am leaving out “being good at maths” from this list, because that’s rather obvious!

1. Patience

As a maths tutor, patience is vital. You will naturally find most of the questions you are doing with your tutee easy, so it’s very important not to reflect this with your expectations of the tutee. You should not expect them to pick things up as quickly as you did when you were their age, nor should you expect them to work things out as quickly as you can.

2. Articulateness

When you are tutoring maths, the words you choose and the way you convey these words are very important. Again, as a tutor you find the topics you are explaining easy, so to you it doesn’t really matter how it is explained. However when you are teaching a student about inequalities, for example, this may be the first time the tutee has ever heard of it. So you need to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who has never seen it before in order to be able to convey the message effectively. And you may be explaining something to somebody who really doesn’t understand the topic, so you need to ensure the way you explain it is easy to understand. Another important point is avoiding use of jargon – meaning words that you use but aren’t commonly used, that your tutee is unlikely to have heard before.

3. Personality

This may not be the first thing you associate with a maths tutor, but in my opinion it is incredibly important. As maths tutors, we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking that all of our tutees love doing maths – clearly this isn’t always the case! If a tutee struggles at a subject and doesn’t particularly enjoy it, having a personality and being able to joke around will make time fly by a lot faster for the tutee. This will make up for the tutee’s lack of interest in the subject and will perk up the session, increasing the tutee’s motivation in turn. You should try to make the lessons feel less like lessons and more like some time spent with a friend with a little bit of maths thrown in! This leads to much better results.

4. Judgment

Maths tutoring is not one-size-fits-all. It’s definitely more a case of horses for courses. There aren’t specific ways to teach something that are guaranteed to work for every student. Sometimes, a method that works for one student won’t work for another. So you need to be able to judge when something isn’t working and know when you need to try something else. There are different types of learners that respond to different teaching methods. You will also need to be able to judge time very well. For example, if you have a student who has 5 months until their exam, spending 3 lessons on pie charts is probably not the best use of your time. In that scenario, if something hasn’t made sense after a couple of attempts, you are best placed moving on to another topic. But how quickly you move on is a judgment call depending on the importance of the topic and the overall context. So there are lots of things to weigh up – this is why having good judgment is a really important trait.

5. Flexibility

Following on from the previous point, flexibility is also very important. I see our tutors as “maths agony aunts”, meaning that the tutee can bring up any aspect of maths that is bothering them. This means our tutors need to be quick thinkers and able to answer questions that they may not have prepared for or even seen before. It also means they need to be flexible in their plans. For example, I may have prepared to spend the session working on Venn diagrams but on my arrival my tutee may say “We started doing standard form in school yesterday, and I didn’t understand it. Can you help me with my homework?”. And instead we will work though a worksheet I have never seen before, which requires me to be a quick thinker. This is really good to hear as a tutor, as it shows that the tutee wants to learn and is willing to admit when they struggle with something. This helps us to help them.

So those are the 5 most important things that I look for when recruiting new tutors (excluding being good at maths!). If you would like to start having sessions with one of our tutors, book in a free taster session.

If you are a university student who wants to become a tutor, drop me an email to sam@metatutor.co.uk.

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