Sunday, January 9, 2011

A European Perspective

I am in Europe at the moment and I am curious to find out what tutors here do to have a successful tutoring practice... in other words, I am curious to know how they do it :)

It seems that most of the tutors are still stuck with the old methods of teaching - "I know everything and my students learn what I say" or "Questions from students on things I have already taught them is a sign that they have not done their homework or memorized the material". Unfortunately, you can see the same methods in private extra-curricular schools where students are supposed to get a "different" learning environment than the one in their public schools. It seems that teachers use the same methods of teaching expecting different results. I have heard so many parents say: "We paid so much for a private tutor and my kid hasn't learned anything more than what they teach at school." And I am not surprised. I tried to explain to a friend of mine that she should have a better understanding of how a private tutor approaches their students and how they teach the material. This preliminary "interview" is necessary in order to set the expectations on both sides.

Another conflict I see in Europe is the fact that word-of-mouth is extremely strong and yet parents and students are not happy with a tutor. So how do people refer tutors to their friends if they are not happy with the service? I mean the concept of "word-of-mouth" suggests good (or bad) publicity and yet tutors get referred although they haven't really been entirely helpful. My only guess is, if a tutor has a certain old fashioned teaching style and has, say, 20 students, 7 or 8 of them will find this style appropriate for their learning style and the results will actually be satisfactory. It could be a match between teaching and learning styles, help from the parents, or short-term learning achieved only for a test at school and later disappears. The rest of the students will struggle with this teaching style. They will not find it helpful. However they will reluctantly continue attending the lessons because 7 or 8 of thier friends find the tutor good. Applying the old fashioned thinking, parents compare their kids to the successful ones and think that their kids are not smart enough to achieve what the 7 or 8 other kids have achieved. In other words, if a tutor is referred by so many (7 or 8) kids, my kids should be able to learn as well regardless of their continued poor academic performance. In fact, their poor performance is due to my kids' lack of learning skills/habits and the fact that they are not as smart as the other 7 or 8 kids. How strange is it that no one even for a second entertains the idea of trying another tutor? Or two? Or three? Finding a tutor is difficult. It is sometimes related to poor qualifications or teaching skills. But most times it is related to a mismatch in learning objectives of the tutor and learning style of the student. Often it is related to a mismatch in personalities if you will. I am amazed how this possibility doesn't even occur to parents or even adult learners.

Somehow in North America, and more specifically Canada, the choice of a tutor is a process rather than a one-time event. Instead of deciding to go with a tutor only because their friends are happy with him/her, students require to meet and talk with this tutor ahead of time. The so-called trial lessons are extremely popular and important. All of my tutor friends offer trial lessons and consider meeting with the student before both sides decide if they want work together. At the trial lesson the student asks questions about teaching methods, homework, etc. The tutor explains what the expectatations are and how they are going to help the student reach their goals. One of the first questions I always ask my new students at the trial lesson is: "Why do you need these lessons? What do you need to learn English for? Is it for work or for fun?". These are important matching points - can we work together and how do I need to approach this student so I can teach them in the best for them way?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pro-D Day - Reward Yourself!

Pro-D and the word "reward" in one sentence? That is a joke, right?!

Wrong! Everyone needs professional development - we are life-long learners after all. But pro-d doesn't have to be the worst nightmare of all teachers. Everyone is scared of "d-day"... as if it's the end of the world. And with its current format it may as well qualify as the end ... of happiness, motivation, drive. It's true. Today's pro-d days are considered the most boring and least antici
pated time that a teacher can spend. Listening to a speaker, participating in a seminar or workshop, reading latest research, etc. How bad can it get? (Forum discussion on pro-d day from

Instead of following the usual format... why not reward yourself with a "me" pro-d day? It is about your own personal development as a teacher, isn't it? Spend the time doing the things your like, the things about teaching that make your happy. This is a well known technique that companies use to motivate their employees and get new fresh ideas to the company. All employees get one day per week or month when they can do whatever they want as long as they come up with new ideas for the business. They go hiking, visit a museum, go to the beach... anything. At the end of the day they bring an idea to the team and describe their inspiration. Why can't this be applied in teacher professional development?

Instead of chasing what is new in the world of education, look for what you need in your own world first and if you can't find it yourself, look for it outside. So go backwards... spend the day brainstorming ideas on how to make your teaching better. What are the things that will make your students happy and motivated? How can you transform your lessons into fun learning experiences? Sit down and mind-map your teaching. Revisit older lesson plans and reflect on what you have already done. Once you determine the areas of opportunity/development, try to improve them. Use your existing knowledge and creativity to add flavour to your lessons.

Then sit back and take a look at what needs to be improved but requires additional knowledge or information you don't have at the moment. This is when research and innovation begins. Search the academic articles and new technologies, innovative ideas and even suggestions from fellow teachers on blogs, forums, and other social media. Watch an educational video, talk to a coworker, go to the library, find out more information and idea that will bring a sparkle in your students learning.

Go back home and revisit your teaching portfolio. See what part of the new information you can include. Consider meeting with other teachers to discuss your findings. See what they have to suggest.

Remember, pro-d is about self-development and discovery. It's not just about learning new things. It's about learning about you and your own teaching. It's about becoming an outside observer of your classroom. It's about motivation and fun. After all, you cannot make your lessons fun if you are not having fun while creating them.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's the "why" that should drive us

Tutors have an amazing power - we actually incorporate everything that education at large should be. I mean, think about it:

1. Smaller classes We usually have one or two students or perhaps a small group of 4 or 5 people.

2. Student-centered It can't get more personalized, student-center than this - tutoring is all about addressing student needs.

3. Motivation to teach and learn Both tutors and students are motivated to teach and learn respectively. I mean it's the students who choose their tutors and it's the tutors who "advertise" to students. Our students aren't usually "assigned" to our class. They called us because they have a learning need and they heard we could help. That motivation makes the energy and learning environment extremely effective.

4. The tutor is a mediator, not a "know-it-all" We are there to facilitate learning, not "make" someone learn something. Usually our students come to us with a specific task in mind, we figure out their particular learning style and we accomplish maximum amount of achievement in a minimum amount of time.

5. ...for a minimum amount of budget Yes, when you think about it, there is never a budget shortage or a crisis to negatively impact learning. How many time have you told your students: "Sorry I couldn't make copies because I didn't have money today".

6. We start with the WHY What is the regular school's principle of operation (and that's why it's so boring too): "We have a school, which will teach you how to be successful in life by predicting where you might have problems later in life - so you MUST come to us" How does tutoring work: "Have you already experienced a difficulty? We have a method to solve exactly that problem you are having. So do you WANT to sign up with us?"

Monday, March 15, 2010

We need to talk... technology

I have heard so many teachers say that their students are too tech-savvy and are way ahead of the game when it comes to using technology and multi-tasking. A teenager can text on her phone, read a book and chat online all at the same time without even losing her train of thought. How are teachers supposed to keep up with that? Are they supposed to be even better than that teenager? I mean, a teacher should know more than the student. Right?

Well actually… no. Learning how to multitask is not something you just go to school for to learn. You don’t get a certificate in multitasking. It’s something that comes with the needs of every day life and the way the world works and changes. A teenager in the 60s would have been perfectly happy to sit down and write a letter on paper, fold it, put it in an envelope, and send it by mail to his friend who lives in another country. Then he would have waited for about 20 to 30 days for a response to come back. While writing the letter though, this teenager would have had no way of doing anything else at the same time, because he had to hold the pen, the paper, and put all of his mind into actually putting the words together so the letter makes sense. If he was watching TV at the same time or was walking around the house, his letter will either look ridiculously confusing and out of focus, or will not be readable because we can’t walk and write clearly at the same time.

Nowadays, however, technology completes a few of these steps for us and we don’t even think about it. You can walk (some people even drive) while writing an email or a text message, which you will send with a click of a button. Less than a minute later, your friend who lives abroad will receive it, open it while watching TV or walking, or driving to the local drive-through ATM, and respond to you in detail before the cash comes out of the machine. How long was that? 10 minutes? Less?

So why are we expecting kids to change? And more importantly, why are we expecting us, the people who merely 15 years ago were happy to have saved for a personal computer for the house, to change? We shouldn’t! Life will continue going in the direction of technology and multitasking because this is the coarse of the future. So instead of trying to understand why teenagers are able to put us down by a simple phrase as: “You haven’t heard of Facebook?” with a look of shock in their eyes, we should look into what we can do to actually use this new “power” kids have today.

So when using technology for learning, we should not stress out about not being able to reach the level of tech-savvy-ness of our students because we won’t be able to. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we need the technology to teach in the first place, and also, if we do, what type of technology will make our teaching more effective? Designing a sophisticated video game is not going to help us teach decision-making any better than using a simple mind-map created with construction paper, scissors and a large sheet of paper to stick all the “bubbles” on. As long as the process is collaborative, your students will appreciate the engagement in the classroom. Besides, remember that you are in charge. You can make a simple tool engaging by altering it, adapting it, and applying it in an effective way.

Having said that, I don’t mean that teachers shouldn’t try to at least be up to date with what technology tools are out there. There are some really good resources that a teacher can use to make teaching interesting and engaging. For example, I have used many podcasts with my ESL tutoring students where I would design my lessons around one topic but I would include different sources and types of information. I found that one of my students was staying at a home-stay family that lived in a very noisy neighbourhood and my student didn’t know how to express her frustration about the situation. She simply didn’t have the vocabulary, confidence, pronunciation, and etc. to come forward and speak with her home-stay coordinator about it. So I prepared a lesson around the problem. I included a textbook passage on “Noisy Neighbours” to focus on vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar. The passage had a few reading comprehension and grammar exercises so we used them in class. I also added a newspaper article about a city’s noisy streets and traffic noise as a discussion piece – we spent almost an hour discussing the article which let her use the vocabulary and grammar while speaking and also practice discussing the topic. I also added a great free podcast in order to enhance listening comprehension, that I downloaded from a website and I also included the transcript of it so my student had a reference to look at when she was listening to the recording at home. The podcast was a story about a noisy neighbour and it was written and read in a funny way so it added some humour to the situation. After all this, my student told me she felt confident to speak with her coordinator and in a couple of weeks she was moved to a new home in a much quieter part of town.

The idea of including different technology into your teaching is not in order to show off to your students that you are tech-savvy. It is to help you teach. So if using cell phones and texting in class is not effective to teach grammar, then you don’t use cell phones and texting in your teaching. It is as simple as that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

As tutors, we are constantly making plans, looking at our schedule, envisioning the near and far future. If we don't manage our time and goals properly we may not advance in our work and it will be difficult to achieve long term goals.

What are your new year's resolutions for 2010?
And how are you planning on achieving them?

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Dear friends,

Thank you for your continuous support throughout the year. We are looking forward to working with you again in 2010. We wish you a prosperous new year full of new exciting projects and financial success! We wish you lots of health, love and true friendships!


Tutors, Inc.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Online Workshop Catalog

Hello friends,

It's been a long wait but the new online workshops catalog is now on our website. Take a look and sign up for the workshops that most interest you. We are preparing a Christmas surprise for all workshop participants.

Details @

See you online! Tutors, Inc.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Huge THANKS to all participants of the Tutors, Inc. workshop this Saturday.
It was a pleasure meeting you and I wish you success in your venture.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need further support.
I'm always happy to help!
Cheers, Teddy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The three basics of being a successful self-employed tutor: Business, Academics & Personal life

You are a brilliant tutor and have a well-established list of long-term students who refer their friends to you constantly. You spend the time to prepare for each of your students and go the extra mile to be original, creative, and even more entertaining so your students learn effectively while enjoying their lessons with you. Your collection of testimonials is growing and now you almost do not even need to advertise… students call you only because they heard of you from someone else. You have turned into a tutoring celebrity keeping a busy schedule and at the same time desperately trying to sneak in a moment for a massage, run in the park, or even a quiet day of reading at home with your phone off.

Now that you have established your business, you will have the opportunity to step back and look at it as exactly… a business.You are your company. The sooner you realize this fact, the easier it will be for you to maintain it and further develop it. A very good start would be to write down everything that you have achieved so far and then list all the goals you foresee that you will achieve in the future. This simple exercise will give you direction – what are you aiming at? More clients? Sub-contracting other tutors? Increasing your price? Improving the quality of your service? Now that you have all answers (please remember that this is only a beginning point for you and your goals and perspective may change with circumstances or as time goes by) you can draw the map, which will get you there. Your map is your portfolio – business, academic, and personal.

Your business portfolio is going to provide the financials and business development information. Create a system of filing every piece of paper that will be relevant to your business. Example of documents you will need:

Revenue spreadsheets: expense and profit
Include both current (where you are) and future (where you want to be in a certain period of time). Record all discounts, sample lessons, promotions, etc. Include everything that brings or spends money from your bank account. The easiest way to keep track of all profit and expenses is by creating invoices/receipts for your clients. Number and date them and file them accordingly – by student name, by topic, or by date. Meanwhile, keep all receipts from your purchases and expenses for accurate calculation of your costs. Remember that as a business owner (even if you don’t have a registered company or business name you must keep these records; in Canada you don’t need to register a company if your revenue is under $30 000/year – consult with an accountant!) you must provide all income sources and write off eligible expenses when you file your income tax. Your business revenue is your personal revenue if you are a sole-proprietor or have a home-based business.

Marketing: Ad campaigns and referrals
Record all your advertising sources and keep track of how students hear about you. This will show you which sources are worth expanding and which you need to stay away from. For example, if you have been paying $100/month for a newspaper ad but no students actually found you through it, you will not need that expense and it is a dead-end source. If you spent 2 days and $200 to print and distribute flyers and 80% of your students come to you with this very flyer in hand, then maybe you should relocate the $100 from the newspaper ad into printing out more flyers and even pay someone to distribute them for you.

Keeping track of all referrals is extremely important. Who sent whom to you? Are you going to give some sort of reward for the person who referred 3 new students to you? Record all relationships of your students who refer other people to you. Maybe you have included a “buddy discount” in your ad campaign and now people are taking advantage of it. Make sure you know whom these people are. Give them incentive to keep sending you students and reward them for “working” for you.

Your academic “map” scripts who you are as a tutor and educator. This is your academic portfolio where you store your teaching materials, research, articles, professional development pieces, ready-to-use materials, demonstration materials, sample lessons plans, etc. This virtual academic bank starts with your educational philosophy and goals, and finishes… never. This is the ongoing work of a professional educator who collects, revisits, reflects, and develops every artifact in it. Your academic portfolio will not only demonstrate your methodology and resources, but it will also help you organize your work as an educator. Remember to include your testimonials in this portfolio. There is nothing better than being able to open a page and show your potential clients what past students have said about you or what gifts they’ve given you. Choose the best format to represent your academic portfolio – paper-based, electronic (webpage, blog, etc.) or combined.

Your academic map will also include your students’ files. Keep track of what you teach. Knowing how your students progress and what you have already taught them is precious. It is very important that you include lesson plans you have already used – did they work? Why or why not? Every student has different interests and personality and you will benefit from keeping a diary of your interactions. Believe me, when you have so many students and so many lessons, you will start to forget or mix up students. This is a normal course of the tutoring process and you are not a robot or computer to memorize every little detail. That is why it is worth recording it instead.

That’s right! Your personal life also needs organizing. As you are your company, you need to make time for work and you need to make time for rest, vacation, coffee time, breaks, etc. Make sure you always have a calendar handy so you can record appointments, dinners, etc. There is nothing more embarrassing than calling a student to cancel a lesson because you forgot you had a hair appointment at the same time. A calendar is an excellent time-management tool which is a lifesaver when it comes to scheduling.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In the news

Tutors work to boost Native students

Dropout rates are higher, test scores are lower than for students overall

Shafts of sunlight stream through the windows and illuminate the four sixth-graders gathered around the table with Kerri Wood.

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Wood is working to solve a vexing problem: Get these kids up to grade level.

Wood is the Indian-education tutor at Tyson Elementary in Mountain View. She is part of a multi-pronged effort involving the Anchorage School District, nonprofits and tribal groups to close the test-score gap between Anchorage's 4,200 Native students and the rest of the district's 48,000 kids.

It's not just poorer test results. Native students have also historically had the highest dropout rate in Anchorage.

Wood works for the school district but her salary is funded by federal Indian Education Act money. The district spends about $2 million of federal money a year on tutors like her. And while administrators say modest gains have been made, the gap is still big.

Last year, scores took a dive. Results in math, reading and writing lagged behind all students by some 15 percentage points.

In December, with the district saying more Native kids are moving into the city from rural Alaska, the School Board tapped the district's own general fund for the first time to increase the number of tutors by a third.

"The needs of Alaska Native/American Indian students are profound," the district said.


Among the grim statistics from last school year's data:

• By the end of ninth grade, only 58 percent of Native students had enough credits to be on track to graduate in four years, compared with 77 percent of all students.

• Only 1 percent of Natives took higher-level high school courses compared with 8 percent of all students.

• Two-thirds of Native students didn't get their diplomas after four years of high school.

The problem starts at a young age.

Many education experts, including former Alaska education commissioner Roger Sampson, say that if a student is not reading at grade level by the third grade, the student's chances of ever catching up are slim. It is an indicator of the future dropout rate, he has said.

Last year, 67 percent of Native third-grade students in Anchorage read at grade level compared with 81 percent of all students.

Educators don't know exactly what's wrong.

The problems are varied, they say. Teachers who reward the most animated students, when Native children are taught to be demure. Kids who show up at school without breakfast. Westernized curriculum that teaches young children unfamiliar words like teacup, cow and sailboat.

In a grant application to fund an upcoming program for Native boys, whom the district consider to be the most vulnerable, the district wrote that many Native homes are not highly verbal. Another problem may be how the students are being taught. Native boys, in particular, are not reached by many of the usual instructional methods, the grant application says.

"We are not understanding the home culture," said Doreen Brown, the district's Indian Education supervisor, who has the job of solving the puzzle. "We are so good at the academic culture we don't understand the home culture. We don't understand the home language. We, as educators, don't understand the experiences that these kids are coming to us with, and it's very different than white middle class. It's not bad, it's just very different."

Brown, who is Yup'ik, knows many of these kids are straddling two worlds, just as she did growing up in Anchorage and graduating from Service High in the 1980s. "My people have been educated for thousands of years, tens of thousands of years. We've been educated, we've survived in the harshest environments. And I can look at my own life and I'm technically only the third generation to go to school. That's not a large amount of time," she said.

Brown is in charge of 45 employees, including Wood. She runs summer enrichment programs and after-school tutoring. She works on dropout prevention. She does crisis-intervention. And she secures federal grant money, or any grants she can find, to make it all happen.

"What are we not doing right? I think one of the strongest components is that we're not making (education) culturally responsive," she said.

"A lot of Native students don't want to be the center of attention. They don't want to raise their hands, 'I know the answer! I know the answer!' "

Before she became supervisor, when she worked directly with Native students, she would have kids practice raising their hands, she said.

Brown says there's not enough money to reach every kid. She has to be selective. In the end, tutors are placed at the schools with the highest population of Natives, and within those schools, it's the kids who score the worst who are tutored.

Brown says there are about 9,000 Natives and part-Natives who are eligible for the Indian Education services. She says her staff is reaching about 30 percent of them.

Asked if she thinks the tutoring is making a difference, she paused. "It can be effective. I think that our students and our parents need a point of contact. ... I would say most of my staff are very overwhelmed."

Research shows that if tutoring is to make a difference, students need to see their tutors at least three times a week for 30 minutes, she said. That's the formula. But sometimes, Brown says, that isn't happening.

Wood, at Tyson, said Native fifth-graders at the school aren't being tutored because of scheduling conflicts, and some of her sixth-graders get tutoring only twice a week.


Back in her classroom, Wood, who is Athabascan, asks sixth-grader La-Vera Wise about the noun she is looking at on the textbook page. "Is it a person, place or thing?"

She moves from one child to the next, reviewing each of the children's work as they locate proper nouns and common nouns. The four sixth-graders are too big for the undersized plastic chairs and low-hung table.

Wood works with 45 of Tyson's 140 Native kids.

She points to a sentence. "Can you find one here? Can you show me?" she asks, goading La-Vera.

Later, Wood explains she circles the children and watches over their shoulders to catch mistakes as they happen. She also prefers to correct them one-on-one, not in a group setting. "You need to create a safe learning environment," she says.

Sometimes Wood re-teaches what the children's teachers have already covered. Other times, she pre-teaches so kids are ready with answers and concepts.

"Sometimes it's setting them up for success," Brown explained of the tactical ego boosts. "It feels good."

Every month, the children are tested and their scores combed over.

"Looking at the data and making adjustments to teaching style is something that we take very seriously here," Wood said. "If things aren't working, we have to change it. And if it's still not working, we need to change it again."

She said the goal is to get the kids up to grade level so they don't have to see her anymore.

La-Vera, who is 13, lives in Anchorage with her stepsister while the rest of her family lives in the Western Alaska village of Upper Kalskag. Her father, Andrew Wise, said he thinks the tutoring is making a difference -- it's one of the reasons he lets her live in the city.

It is important that his daughter graduate from high school, he said. "I put myself through school," he said of getting his diploma. "It made a difference."

Counting Native students

Test score results for ethnic groups are based on how students self-identify. In October, the number of Anchorage School District students who said they are Native on district forms was 4,200.

However, the number of students eligible for Native education services is 9,000. This larger number includes the students who are part Native. On school district forms, some of the additional students might self-identify as multiethnic.

Tutors, Inc.