Are you on the fence about hiring a private tutor? Start with Should you pay for a private tutor? to determine whether this is a worthwhile investment for you.

Anyone can be a tutor. I started helping my friends with math homework in high school. It was informal and free, but for me, it was rewarding. However, to be more marketable to the masses, a professional tutor often has a degree in the subject they’re tutoring, coupled with years of teaching experience.Notice I said “professional”, which provides no indication of quality.

The hallmark of a great tutor isn’t necessarily in the difficulty of their degree or even the number of awards they’ve won, but how effectively they communicate concepts of varying difficulty to students of all levels.

After a lot of thought, I’ve boiled it down to the one quality that separates top tutors from the rest of the pack.

Great tutors understand their target market and don’t try to be everything to everyone.

As with shoes, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to tutors. This might come as a surprise, but the Math Olympiad champion who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Yale may not be the best option to tutor a high school student struggling to pass Algebra 2.

With such an impressive resume, not only will their tutoring rates be through the roof, but also chances are they won’t be able to articulate the more basic concepts in a way the student can readily grasp. This is not meant to belittle the tutor’s ability, but the reality is they probably have not struggled with the basics in a long time, if ever. Instead, said tutor should focus on the extremely high performing section of the market, perhaps catering services to advanced students serious about math competitions.

A tutor working in the right target market will be able to better relate to students in that market. This ability is the key to teaching effectively at any level. If I can understand why my student is confused, then I can tailor my explanation to address the source of their confusion. I often teach the same concept multiple different ways. Every time a student struggles with a particular approach to a problem, I take it as a challenge to come up with new methods of solving that problem.

Please take special note that I’m not saying highly accomplished individuals are never effective tutors at lower levels. The point I’m trying to convey is an impressive degree doesn’t necessarily correlate directly with quality of teaching. If it were that straightforward, life would be too easy. The truth is, more often than not, finding the right tutor for your student takes work and a little bit of luck.

Good tutor vs. great tutor
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