Common Tutoring Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

10 minute read

Whether you are just starting as an academic tutor or you’ve been in the business for some time, tutoring is an art form. Tutoring can be developed and built upon to ensure student success. As an academic tutor, it is your responsibility to help students learn and excel in their academics and this goes beyond being an expert in your field or a specific subject. Our goal today is to dissect common tutoring mistakes and how to avoid them so that you, as a tutor, can create an effective road plan that minimises obstacles to your student's educational success.


Not building a personal (professional) relationship

The first lesson can be nerve-racking, not only for you as the tutor but also for your students. As much as it is necessary to present yourself with confidence and as someone possessing expert subject knowledge, relatability is often overlooked but essential in getting the most out of a tutoring experience. Tutors often make the mistake of not establishing a personal relationship with their students. From the surface, it makes sense to view tutoring as a transaction between you and a client; you provide academic support and get paid for it. But, like any working environment, finding commonality makes working more enjoyable.


You may be a tutor that is worried about this, as you don't want to appear too casual or curious.

Ultimately, your goal is to lead your students to academic success, so building a personal (professional) relationship should look like this: 


  • Ask your student what they enjoy doing outside of school: this helps you theme your lesson material around what they find interesting to make the content more engaging.


  • Ask them how they feel about having tutoring sessions: this helps you understand their sentiments towards tutoring and enables you to gauge what their motivations are, if academics is something their parents care more about or if it is something they feel passionate about. 


  • Ask what their favourite subject is at school (this is age specific and most appropriate to ask primary and high school students): This helps you get a personal understanding of how they view the subject they are being tutored for. The student may be signed up for Maths tutoring but they enjoy English, therefore such insight is crucial because it allows you to contextualise the need for tutoring and how it can have an impact on them later on in life. 


  • Ask them to tell you about something they excel in (this does not have to be school related): This is a confidence-restoring strategy; being able to guide your student in sharing something they are good at sets the tone for the tutoring session with positivity. Some of your students may be a bit hesitant to open up about this, so you can lead the conversation by talking about something you are good at; try not to speak on the subject you have been hired to tutor as the purpose of this conversation is to help your student build a sense of confidence around you. Possessing this specific information about your student may also help you reflect at various moments along the tutoring journey, particularly when your student feels unable to put what you've taught into action.


  • Ask your student if there are any things they’d like to work on with you: Although there may be a justification for why you are here in the first place, do not assume that the path to take concerning how you conduct your lessons and what areas to focus on is obvious. One effective way to personalise tutoring sessions is to invite your students to express their points of view; there may be gaps in the jigsaw that need to be filled, and this aids in doing so. Your student will recognise that this is a journey between the two of you and that you value their thoughts and feelings, demonstrating that you are not here to overwhelm them with knowledge.

Over-promising but under-delivering

While you want to put your best foot forward by leaving a great first impression, one of the most common tutoring mistakes is setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and your students. The danger here is that it sets your student on a pedestal. If they are unable to satisfy the expectations you place for them, they may feel disappointed or believe they are unable to achieve their academic goals. These poor outcomes also leave your student feeling misled or regretful for entrusting you with their educational development.


So the burning question is, how can you set realistic expectations with your students without selling them dreams and coming up short? The easy solution is honesty; be truthful based on your assessment of your student's ability and present academic situation (grades, performance, etc.). Setting attainable objectives can help you avoid disappointment on both of your parts. This is accomplished by running diagnostics for your students. 


Diagnostic tests are generally used to evaluate a student's present knowledge and abilities to identify their strengths and shortcomings. A realistic and effective plan thereafter may be created to address any learning difficulties and establish attainable academic goals. Although a diagnostic evaluation of your student may not be appropriate for the first lesson, we advise tutors to carry it out during the second lesson to help make their job as a subject instructor more manageable and with a clear goal. 


Additionally, since how you conduct lessons influences how well your student performs during tutoring sessions, it is vital to avoid being restricted. To help your student succeed academically, we strongly advise you to concentrate on raising student motivation and engagement levels; while altering your teaching style and adjusting your strategic approach.


Therefore, instead of over-promising and under-delivering, be flexible and open to adjusting your teaching practices, managing expectations about student progress, and having a positive outlook on your student’s success even when things don’t appear to be going well. We encourage you to set expectations from lesson one with an understanding that these are not fixed but subject to change depending on developments in your student’s progress.

Not keeping parents in the loop

You have a responsibility as a tutor to give lesson feedback on student development to the student's parents or legal guardians if they are under 18. Excluding parents from their child's educational journey is another common tutoring mistake.


What it looks like to exclude parents from the conversation:


  • You withhold information concerning the course of the lesson.
  • Parents are unaware of any developmental milestones their child has reached.
  • Parents are unaware of any academic shortcomings that could be hurting their child's overall effectiveness.


Although you will be focusing on developing a transparent and personal working relationship with your student, a task that must be fulfilled and nurtured; parents need to be involved. It is your responsibility as the family tutor to provide more insight into their child's educational journey. As a result, they are kept up to date on what is going on to help them support their child. Despite how cliché it sounds, honesty is always the best policy


An added benefit of this is that parents may use the information you share with them to come up with questions or even requests for the formal education teachers of their children. Ultimately, this is a practical strategy by which their child may be adequately supported, both in school and through private tutoring, thanks to having a comprehensive understanding of their child's academic needs. 

No formal learning plan and overly structured lessons


Making a learning plan is an art that can be continuously developed and improved, much like tutoring. But, developing a learning plan isn't a strong point for everyone. Having no formal learning plan and being overly structured are two opposite ends of the spectrum. We have outlined what these two common tutoring mistakes look like and the issues that accompany them.


No formal learning plan:


While some tutors can improvise and start teaching right away, others require more time after a diagnostic evaluation of their students to devise a roadmap. Whichever category applies to you, learning plans are made to maintain consistency and keep you and your student on the same page. Therefore, the common tutoring mistake here is omitting to prepare a detailed lesson plan to help direct the session.


Without a clear strategy, you may find yourself dealing with a variety of difficult situations, for instance, mismanagement of time, assigning too many or too few tasks, or not allowing enough time for questions at the end. A lesson plan will help you to avoid these common tutoring mistakes. One of the most important advantages of creating a lesson plan is that lesson progress can be measured and tracked. One of the ways to verify that your teaching tactics and approaches produce quality and progressive results is to evaluate how sessions are planned and conducted; thus, never underestimate the value of preparing in advance. Without preparation, there is no structure, making measuring and keeping track nearly impossible. This brings us to our next common tutoring mistake: overly structured lessons. 

Overly structured lessons:

Although productive sessions require planning well in advance, overly structured lessons can be a hindrance to your student’s academic success. 


What do we mean by overly structured lessons?


  • You have too many rules for how each session will be facilitated or the structure of each lesson is too rigid with little to no room to adapt.
  • Your student does not have a window to ask questions and explain things because you only focus on teaching everything and anything you know about the subject.
  • You do not take into consideration the interests and motivations of the learner when thinking of a lesson plan.
  • You use the same teaching method for each lesson without inviting the lesson appraisal of your learner (to understand if the method works for or against their educational strengths and weaknesses).

How can you avoid this common tutoring mistake:


  • To stop your student from feeling restricted, invite them to reflect on lesson structure and tasks set from each lesson.
  • Schedule time at the beginning of the lesson to revisit previously discussed concepts and topics to assess your student’s understanding.
  • Include tasks that are themed based on the motivations and interests of your student, this is something you should have explored during your first lesson.
  • Although lesson materials must be prepared ahead of time, make sure that these are used to support the overarching objectives of each session. Don't depend too much on them since some encounters you may have during the lesson may compel you to shift gears in how you respond to any questions or remarks the student raises.
  • At the end of each session, ask your student what themes or content areas they would want the two of you to discuss in the following lesson; this way, you are tackling problem areas and assisting your student in reaching their academic goals.


Tutoring should be enjoyable for both the tutor and the student; therefore a mix of structure, freedom, and discipline is vital. This common tutoring mistake ignores unique learning methods or enjoyment - students already follow strict lesson set-ups at school!

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