Top 10 skills I didn’t know I’d need as a one-on-one tutor!

10 Skills I didn't know I'd need - Blog Photo

When I started my tutoring journey I knew the skills that I would need. I would need to know my subject matter backward and forward. I would need to be organized and friendly. I also knew that I would need to have the skills to keep parents informed and on board with our progress, but there were some skills that I didn’t know I would need! If you’re a tutor I’m sure you can relate to this list!

1) Reading Upside Down and Backward

In our tutoring clinic we sit directly across the desk from our students. Although this set-up is great for working with our students it requires expertise in the skill of reading upside down and backward! It’s a skill that is difficult when you start but over time you barely notice that the words are upside down!

2) Art

When working with students who have difficulty processing oral and written language it often becomes necessary to draw out what you are trying to explain. This can encompass anything from a diagram to a full-on picture. Either way, your art skills need to be top-notch (or at least passable – the students are very kind when it comes to critiques!).

3) Singing

Though not an often-used skill singing sometimes comes into play when finding the stressed the syllable in words or when we’re working on memorizing certain spelling rules to help with retention.

4) Not Rushing Students

Understanding that students process information at different rates is critical to the success of each and every student. Shifting your focus from checking lessons off of a list and moving to the next one to focusing on ensuring students fully understand the content before moving on makes a world of difference to the effectiveness of your instruction.

5) Getting Comfortable with Silence

This is an extremely difficult skill to master and one that many teachers and tutors often overlook. When working with dyslexic students or any students with slower processing speeds it is absolutely critical that you become comfortable with silence. Allow your student the time to process your question before they begin to answer. This means getting comfortable with the silence that follows your question.

6) Guiding Rather Than Giving

I think it is human nature to want to help someone who is struggling but the real learning happens when students make connections themselves. Rather than jumping in and providing the answer when a student is struggling, learn to guide them toward the answer instead. Pose questions that get them thinking and that connect previous knowledge to new information.

7) Being a Great Listener

The students that we tutor have often spent their day in a classroom where they struggle. They struggle to follow along, they struggle in their reading, with spelling tests, with a myriad of other things and by the time they get to tutoring they’re drained and frustrated. Before we start our session we always make time to listen to how their day went and let them vent about their struggles. Sometimes just having someone there to listen helps!

8) Patience

I knew I would need patience to be a great tutor but I didn’t know quite how much patience I would need. As outlined above, you need patience with the process (waiting for them to process the question, guiding them to the answers, etc.) but sometimes you also need patience with behaviour issues. It’s inevitable that you will need to deal with behaviour issues so packing a box-full of patience is never a bad idea!

9) Eye-Hand Coordination

Within our lessons we use physical literacy skills to help students understand the concepts we are teaching. For example, we’ll get a student to build a word by giving them the phonemes in the word but rather than just building the word orally and with index cards we’ll get them to “jump out the word” while using a skipping rope or “throw the word” by throwing or bouncing a ball back and forth with the tutor. As a result, our tutors need to have some eye-hand coordination to help make the lessons fun!

10) Sticker Warden

Now I’m sure most tutors can relate to this one: Sticker Warden. Students love stickers and we love using them for all kinds of things but man oh man, I need to police that sticker bucket like it’s my job!


How about you, can you share any skills that you didn’t know you would need before you started tutoring?


Janet Dorken


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