Are Tutors Really So Different to Teachers?
For many of you who don’t know, I am currently doing a PGCE. That means that I’m studying to become an English teacher at a secondary school! It makes sense, right? After all, being a teacher is not so different to being a tutor. I’ve been helping students with English since 2015, so it seems like a logical conclusion to my career journey.
Well, that’s not as true as you might think. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that teaching is quite a different skill! While lots of teachers tutor on the side, they have to switch up what they do and how they think to be good at both. Not all teachers would be good tutors. Not all tutors would be good teachers.
There’s a lot that makes tutoring very different to teaching. There’s also a lot that makes them very similar, too! Here is a run-down of these similarities and differences and what they mean for the teaching environment in each. Whether you’re a student who needs some extra help or someone interested in the education field who wants to know which path to take, this post will help you to get to grips with what makes each job unique.
How Are They Different?
Let’s start with the differences between tutors and teachers. There are a lot of them!
I’m not just going to say that “tutors earn more money than teachers”. While that can often be true, it really depends on your unique situation. For a tutor, that means you need to think about how much you want to charge, how many students you take on and whether you work for a company or not. For a teacher, it’s all about your school and area, how long you’ve taught for and the extra responsibilities you take on. Plus, you’ve got to factor in job security and benefits such as pensions. Teachers get the upper hand with those.
If you’re doing either job for the money, though, you’re not doing it the right way. First and foremost, you need to care about the kids. Their happiness and progress need to be your priority. If they’re doing well, so are you.
I have never known either a good teacher or tutor who is in it for the money. Both jobs can be very demanding and students can be hard work. So, if you aren’t in it for the right reasons, you’ll get very miserable very quickly.
In fact, it’s much more about the way tutors work. It’s a completely different environment and students are there for a different reason. As a tutor, I’m there to fill in gaps in student knowledge, explain stuff they don’t understand and remind them of things they forgot. I help with revision, give helpful tips, improve exam skills and find new ways to explain concepts. It’s my aim to enhance student learning, not to replace a teacher. That makes my job here very, very different to when I teach in a school.
Tutors Have a Different Relationship With Their Students
When I work as a tutor, I have a much more friendly and casual relationship with my students. As a teacher, you need to make sure that you’re seen as more of an authority figure.
Of course, teachers still need to make sure that they’re approachable. They need to show that they care about their students and want them to be happy. School isn’t just about producing workers like some sort of human factory. It’s about nurturing the next generation! That means being aware of their unique needs, looking out for them and thinking of ways to make them actually like school.
However, teachers have to manage multiple classes. They could see over 100 kids in a day! That makes it impossible for them to have a close and personal relationship with each and every student in the same way that you can on a one-to-one basis. You have to dish out punishments such as detentions and show that you are an authority figure.
On the other hand, tutors don’t need to wield that sort of power. The only thing that makes us an authority figure is our higher knowledge of the subject. Other than that, there are no detentions. We can’t force students to do homework. We can chat with you about what makes you love the subject and find ways to incorporate your personal hobbies into the lessons. Heck, I’ve even taught a lesson about tension using clips from Netflix’s Squid Game! Just because it appealed to that particular student!
Now, I can’t spend time in a lesson chatting to students about their hobbies. Parents don’t pay me to do that! It’s not professional! However, I can share my own vulnerabilities and feelings to relate to them in a way that a school teacher just can’t.
Teachers Have to Stick to the Curriculum
Teachers have clear curricula that they need to stick to. For GCSEs and A-levels, the curriculum will be set by the government and built upon by a student’s exam board. For the years below this, each faculty/department of a school will come together and decide what they think they need to teach students, with the government’s national curriculum in mind.
That means that teachers are limited in what they can actually do. A student might have a great question, but if it doesn’t apply to the current lesson, teachers can’t spend a whole lot of time on it. They need to cover a set number of topics to prepare students for all of the content in an exam. Of course, they need to be able to adapt and change a lesson if students get stuck early on. However, if 80% of the kids get it, some might fall through the cracks. There’s only so much time that you can go over the basics before it cuts into the time you need for other topics!
Tutors don’t have those kinds of restrictions. We work in small groups or on a one-to-one basis. That means that we can tailor each lesson to every single kid we teach and explain verbs 10 times – if that’s what they need.
We don’t have to worry about a class of 30 kids. So, if a child is fine with one topic but needs help with another, we can put the one they’re ok with aside. It is much easier to get through a great deal of content in a tutoring session because it’s a much more intense environment. Plus, if a student asks a great question, we don’t have to cut off the discussion mid-way through – as long as it helps them to learn!
Tutors Usually Have Much Smaller Groups to Manage
Most tutors don’t teach more than 10 students at a time.
Don’t get me wrong! I’ve seen some huge tutoring classes! I’ve certainly gone up to 10 before, too! However, it is very rare to see a class that’s bigger than that. Well, in the U.K, anyway.
Here, most tutors stick to one-to-one setups or teach in small groups. This allows us to give students a level of attention that teachers just can’t give them in a mainstream school setting. This makes it much easier for us to get a deep understanding of what students are struggling with and how we can help.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The whole “class size” debate isn’t so cut and dry. It’s not like all large classes are bad and all small ones are good. There’s so much more that factors into a good education for a child. Sometimes, a large lecture is good. Other times, it’s small and intensive that we need. It really depends on what the child is learning and how successful the lesson is at teaching.
When it comes to tutoring, though, it is a good idea to stick to small groups. Most students seek out a tutor because they feel confused or unconfident with a subject. If they are struggling with a school subject, they need one-to-one or small group interaction. That way, someone can assess their individual needs much easier and cater for them very quickly.
It is a tutor’s job to fill that need. That’s what makes us so different from teachers. We supplement learning with individual care.
Teachers Don’t Have a Lot of Time on Their Hands
Teachers have so much that they need to do each day. They teach, mark piles of books and plan their lessons. They might have to attend department meetings and training to catch up with the latest theories Plus, lots of teachers also have other responsibilities like looking after a form class or monitoring students during break times. I’m not even talking about teachers who do extra stuff like heads of years, department heads or safeguarding leads!
When it comes down to it, teachers don’t have a lot of time on their hands. It might look like they have a great job with lots of time off, but they spend a lot of that time marking and preparing for other classes! That means the half terms and summer holidays aren’t as free as you might think.
On the other hand, life is a little freer for someone who tutors for a living. I mean, lots of teachers also tutor to make up some extra income. That means that they’re putting yet another responsibility on their heads because their day job isn’t the best paid one in the world. However, if someone is making a living just as a tutor, their lives tend to be quite free.
If you’re smart as a tutor, you don’t have a whole lot of marking to do outside of your paid hours. You can work through the questions with students in the lesson and give them verbal feedback as you do. That’s very beneficial for them and it saves you a lot of time in the long run. Plus, students can sometimes have some work that they’d like you to help them with. That stops you from needing to prepare every single lesson you teach.
Tutors Tend to Lack Job Security
While all that extra time might seem like a great deal, there is a huge benefit to being a teacher that you often don’t get as a tutor: job security.
The fact is that tutoring is a seasonal job. Jobs are thin at the start of the autumn term and pick up once mocks and predicted grades get sent out around January. They hit their heights during the revision and exam periods and then you get next to nothing during the summer holidays.
I’d go as far as to say that tutors respond to stress and panic. The more stress there is, the easier it is going to be for us to get jobs helping people. It’s not just about the cycle of the school year, either! A big event can shake up how students feel about their grades. The lockdown was a very busy time for us tutors since so many schools just didn’t have the facilities to prepare for it with next to no notice. Parents didn’t want their kids to miss out on their grades during such a hard time.
Of course, you might find some parents who are on the ball. They use the summer to their advantage and make sure to book in some tutoring hours when they can. They keep tutoring up all year round so that their child doesn’t just get bombarded with help at the end of the year. However, most parents have a lot on their minds! It makes sense that tutoring isn’t that high up on their priority list.
Tutors have to find a way to do well despite how seasonal their jobs are. Plus, we have to think about cancellations and no-shows, too! I made the website membership here to deal with that and make tutoring affordable.
Students Are More Free to Make Requests With their Tutors
When a child is in school, they don’t really have the power to change a lesson based on what they want and need. Sure, they can make suggestions. However, there are lots of kids in the class. Teachers have to think about the whole class and what would work best for all the kids as a whole. They have lesson plans to stick to and set topics they need to cover. They can’t change the work too much!
On the other hand, we tutors have much more freedom to respond to the requests of the kids we teach. If a child tells me they don’t get how to use semicolons, I have two choices. I can throw out my lesson plan then and there and get some work up on that topic. Or, I can make a note of what they said and plan a great lesson next time. A good tutor responds to these requests because we have the time and small class sizes to do so.
Plus, we can be sure that they’re going to be learning most of what they need to know in class. Teachers can’t rely on the fact that some other person will teach their kids the rest of the syllabus because they could be a child’s only access to education. I can rely on teachers to teach and use my tutoring sessions to fill in the gaps and clear up any confusion. That gives me much more freedom!
That’s why I have so much respect for teachers. Most of them are doing the best they can with the circumstances they have. If they could, I’m sure most would love to take more requests from kids! Their priority needs to be covering all of the material, though.
You Technically Don’t Need Any Formal Qualifications to Become a Tutor
When I started tutoring, I was in my first year of university. Yes, I had done very well in my A-levels and felt ready to pass my knowledge on to other people. However, I didn’t actually have any formal qualifications to my name that would make you say “wow”. I was a good student with good grades. I went to a Russell Group university. That was it.
Over time, I built up some great qualifications to help me on my tutoring journey. I qualified as an EFL teacher, got my DBS sorted and finished my degree. Plus, I had loads of great reviews to back up my teaching style. I still didn’t need a special course or even a DBS to do my work, though! Those were all added bonuses!
There’s a reason why tutoring is such a popular job with students. You can start at any time with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. You just need to show that you know what you’re talking about. Sure, there is a PGCert from the University of Worchester that has come up in recent years, but it’s not mandatory. Nothing is.
On the other hand, teachers need to do a hell of a lot to work professionally. They need to pass an ITT course like a PGCE where they learn about the theory, get a DBS, do lots of writing and spend a lot of time being observed by more experienced people. It’s not even finished there. Once you become a teacher, you have to spend another two years as an ECT, which means you still need to learn and train!
There’s a lot that goes into being a qualified teacher. If you’re a tutor, you just need the knowledge and people skills.
Lots of Students Can Choose Their Tutor
You can’t fire a teacher. At most, you can maybe ask to change classes, but that’s about it. Students and parents can make complaints to the school, but they have no say in who is hired to teach.
With a tutor, though, students and parents have a lot more power. A good parent will consult with their child and find out how they’re doing with the tuition sessions. Of course, they’ll have to use appropriate questions to find this out! They will then use that information to decide if the tutor is right for their child. If not, they have the power to go to someone else.
That means that kids have a lot more power to hold their tutor accountable than their teacher. It’s not a tutor’s job to make the kid have fun. However, if a child just doesn’t respond well to our methods or feels like we don’t understand them, they have the right to look for someone new.
That means that a good tutor will always take note of how a student responds to us. We don’t have a whole class of 30 kids to manage, so we need to look at the cues that tell us how a few students are doing.
To get the best benefits out of tuition, it is best to see how a child responds and take note of their progress. Parents pay good money to send their child to a tutor! So, the child should feel like their needs and progress are valued and taken into account. The fact that students can choose us makes us very aware of this fact.
Of course, that’s not to say that teachers don’t care how students respond. It’s just that they have a whole class to think about.
Teachers Need Good Class Management and Presentation Skills
The leader of my PGCE course likes to say something about being a teacher: it’s like spinning plates.
There’s so much that you have to do in a class! Teach the material. Manage behaviour. Hand out resources. Answer questions. Give feedback. Keep track of the time. Keep expectations high. Make sure that everyone is doing the task. Watch out for disruptive behaviour. Speak in a clear voice. Model good behaviour to the class. Keep an eye out for safeguarding issues. Notice signs that students don’t understand. Roam the class to be able to support students. Adapt the lesson when issues arise.
I’m sure there are hundreds of other things that I didn’t mention there, too!
When it comes down to the difference between tutors and teachers, there are two main things that tutors don’t have to do: manage the class and deal with presenting info at the front of a classroom.
If you’re thinking about going into the education field and you suffer from social anxiety in large crowds, I’d recommend tutoring over teaching. Sure, you need to deal with parents before and after the lesson. Plus, you need to talk to new clients who might be interested in your services. However, you won’t have to stand up in front of a class and deliver a lesson to 30 students. You won’t have to watch out for Naomi and Daniel talking, while Roshan is chewing gum in the corner. Yes, those are made-up names for made-up students.
As a tutor, you sit down at a desk with a few students. Most of us stick to one-to-one classes! So, there’s no projecting across a huge room. There’s no managing the behaviour of dozens of sentient individuals at once. There’s no spinning plates.
Students Are Almost Always Well-Behaved in Tutoring Sessions
There are loads of reasons why students behave better in a tutoring session than they do in school. Here are some of my theories:
- Tutors tend to have much more frequent communication with parents.
- Seeking out a tutor is a sign that you’re taking ownership of your education.
- It is easier to manage one student (or a few) than a whole class.
- Tutors skew on the younger side, so they tend to have much more in common.
- Students don’t have peers to impress.
- The dynamic is very different You often feel like you’re the most important person for your tutoring time – not just one of many.
- Tutors are often brought in when students experience a wake-up call and realise they need to do well.
- Students feel free to ask questions and share their thoughts.
- Being able to commit to tutoring is usually (but not always) a sign of a more secure home life.
Let’s talk about that last one. I am not saying that being able to afford tuition somehow makes your child better than a less fortunate student. After all, I made this website for a reason. I want to make tutoring affordable for students who want and need it. On the other hand, a child who is in the system is much less likely to have access to tutors. The same goes for a child who is experiencing forms of abuse such as neglect or parentification. These also happen to be reasons why students tend to act out in school.
There are loads of resources out there to make tutoring accessible and affordable, such as this very website. However, if you don’t have the support behind you, it will be difficult to access them. If you don’t feel supported by anyone, why would you feel compelled to behave?
How Are They Similar?
“That sure is a lot of differences,” I hear you say. Yeah! There are loads of things that make tutoring different to teaching! After all, they serve different purposes in the education field, so it would make sense for them to not be the same.
However, when it comes down to it, tutors and teachers still do have a lot in common. They both have to teach kids and help them to make their way through the education system. They both invest their time and energy to help the next generation and ensure that students pass the exams they need.
There’s much more than that, though! It’s not just that both teachers and tutors are in the education field and help students to improve their grades. There’s so much more than that! If you want to do either job well, there are a lot of responsibilities and tasks that you need to think about. They can both be very rewarding – if you put in the time and effort that they need.
Here are some of the things that tutoring and teaching have in common. Any good educator will make sure to have these things in mind when they work with students!
Both Tutors and Teachers Need to Have a Good Knoweldge of Their Subject
Of course, the most important similarity that teachers and tutors share is the fact that both of them need to have a good understanding of their subjects. For either job, you will probably have a degree or experience in the field you’re trying to teach! That’s necessary for a teacher and recommended for a tutor. At the very least, though, you need to have an A-level or equivalent qualification in the subject. If you’re teaching a language, you need proof that you are fluent. That might come from the fact that you are a native speaker or that you’ve spent a good deal of time in the country.
Having said that, I teach English and I have an M.A. in History. How does that work? Well, there are quite a few things that work in my favour.
First of all, I started my career teaching both subjects. In fact, I technically still do! They really do complement each other. It’s just that there’s much more of a demand for English tutors than there are for history ones. I had 2 years of experience of English lang and lit at a degree level before I specialised in history. Plus, I have my A-level and TEFL qualifications to back me up. Not all journeys to teaching or tutoring will be conventional, but knowledge is the most important thing!
After all, if you don’t know your subject like the back of your hand, it’s going to be hard to teach it well. Kids ask questions. It’s ok to tell them that you don’t know every once in a while and get back to them later on, but it looks bad on you if you never know. Tutors and teachers need to have good knowledge. It’s essential!
Both Need to Understand the Exam Board
As well as understanding their subject fully, both tutors and teachers need to know the exam board well.
If you study the exam board, you can give kids the best revision resources and advice that caters to their experience. You can make your own exam-style questions to prepare them for the exam. It will help you to answer questions like “how much time should I spend on each question?” Plus, it will help you to know what you need to cover and what you might have to leave out to save time.
While education isn’t just an exam factory (or, at least, it shouldn’t be), tutors and teachers only have a limited amount of time. They have to prioritise catering for the exam board so that students feel ready for what they have to face. You can slot in all other education once you know for sure that you’ll cover what the student needs for their exams.
As a teacher, this is a little easier. Your school will usually stick to one exam board, so you can learn all you need to know about what questions they ask and how they mark the papers. For tutors, this is a little more tricky. You need to check the exam board of each and every student you choose to tutor. That means that you’re stuck following the whims of lots of different schools!
Luckily, most schools these days use the AQA board more than any other. However, there are still lots of others to choose from. Keep that in mind!
If you are a tutor, I highly recommend taking a look at the government’s national curriculum. All exam boards need to follow it and then add extra stuff as they see fit, so it’s a good place to start.
They Both Spend a Lot of Time Thinking About How Best to Teach
When you take a course in teaching, you spend a lot of time thinking about the theoretical side of education. This is called “pedagogy” and has a huge part to play in my PGCE course at the moment. In fact, I spent the first 2 weeks of the course focusing on pedagogy and the cognitive science of teaching before I even set foot in a school! We have to write assignments about how we are going to apply this pedagogical knowledge to a classroom setting. It’s intense!
While tutors don’t have to know what Bloom’s Taxonomy or Rosenshine’s Principles are, they do need to put some thought into how they teach.
Sure, tutors don’t back up their thoughts with studies from big academics with big, important names. They probably don’t know the official name for the methods they’re using (unless they are a teacher in their day job). But that doesn’t mean that they don’t put a whole lot of thought into their teaching methods. It’s just that tutors use their experience and a bit of trial and error to get there.
If you want to be a good teacher or tutor, you need to make sure that you spend a good amount of time thinking about if you’re teaching effectively and efficiently. You need to ask yourself if there is a better way to teach what the child needs to know and adapt when necessary. You should keep an eye out for great resources and make sure you take note of how your students respond to your methods.
Good tutors and teachers are reflective. They take some time to think about what went well in their class and how they can improve it in the future. That will help them to stay on top of great teaching practices.
Good Tutoring Is Built on Good Relationships With Students – Just Like Teaching
So, I said before that tutors have a different relationship with their students than teachers do. I said that you can chat more and find out how to use their hobbies in the session. That makes it seem like I think that tutors need to treat students well while teachers do not. That is not the case at all.
Teachers have a different relationship with their students because they have so many responsibilities and duties in the class. There are loads of kids for them to keep an eye out for and they need to stay authoritative to keep control of the class and ensure the health and safety of every student. Since tutoring sessions are much smaller, tutors don’t have that much to think about.
However, a good teacher still needs to have a good relationship with their students. A child wants to feel like their teacher cares about them, their feelings and their success. Even when you tell a child off or give them a sanction for their behaviour, you need to do it to help them, not just to punish them. Everything you do as a teacher needs to be for the good of the kids in your care. That is much easier to do when you treat them like the human beings they are.
While they might be different, great teachers and tutors alike rely on good relationships with their students. They need to show the kids in their class that they care and they want them to do well. They set high expectations, stay on the alert for struggles, take notice when a student tries hard and reward good behaviour.
All good tutors and teachers will care about their relationship with the kids in their care. That’s why we teach!
Both Have a Responsibility to Safeguard Children
If you have a job where you look after kids, you have a responsibility to safeguard them. That’s true for teachers, tutors, play leaders, childminders, babysitters, after school club staff, summer camp counsellors, nannies, au pairs and anyone else! It is one of the most important duties that we all share.
Safeguarding is about making sure that the kids in your care are safe at all times. That means both in your class and in all other parts of their lives! You have a duty to act appropriately and professionally around kids to give them a safe environment to thrive. You must also look out for signs that they are unsafe in other parts of their lives, such as a change in the way they act or bruises that they can’t or won’t explain.
If you are worried about the health and safety of a child, you must report it to someone who can check up on them and make sure that they are safe. This could be the designated safeguarding lead in a school or company. If you work on your own, check the NSPCC or call the police if you have any concerns.
If you are a teacher, you have to take a course on safeguarding. That’s the law. Lots of tutoring companies also have their own safeguarding policies that they put in place to make sure the kids they teach are safe at all times. We do a new course every year to make sure that we don’t forget how to spot and deal with concerns and what you need to look out for.
If you tutor, you technically don’t have to take a course by law. However, I highly recommend that you do! There are some great courses to help you.
Tutors and Teachers Alike Care About Students
The biggest thing that teachers and tutors have in common is that they both care about the kids they teach. We care so much! If we didn’t, our jobs would become very miserable very quickly. They can be hard. They can make us feel like we have way too much on our plates. Sometimes, we might cry or feel like giving up. The thing that keeps us going is the fact that we care about the kids. We want to see them succeed.
This is especially true for teachers. Let’s face it. Teachers don’t make that much money. Think about how much they have to train and how many years they have to spend in uni. Lots of jobs where you spend that much time in education pay much better than teaching. Then, there’s the fact that teachers always need to train and learn new things. There are lots of theories about why teachers don’t make as much as equally educated people in other fields. I’m not going to go into those, but they are very interesting. The fact is, though, that there is really no point in doing the job for the money. There are plenty of other jobs that won’t stress you out as much and pay much better.
Tutors have to care, too. Their job relies on good recommendations and student satisfaction. If the kids in your class do better than they thought they could do and love the time they spend with you, you’ve done your job right. That means that you need to invest in their thoughts and fears to do well. After all, that’s how you’re going to get them to respond to you well. You get to know them as individuals and join them on their learning journey. How can you not care?
At the End of the Day, You Still Need to Take Control of Your Studies
There is one main thing that I think parents and students alike tend to forget: you need to take control of your own studies.
Tutors and teachers have a lot in common because they are both tools that help a child to do well in their school lives. We can do all we want to convince them that they need to take their education seriously. We try to make learning fun and give them 100 reasons why they need to work hard. Your teacher might practically beg you to apply yourself and turn in your homework. They will often follow through with consequences when you don’t do what they ask of you. At the end of the day, though, they can’t force you to do something if you don’t want to. We are just tools. If you don’t use us, we can’t help you.
We tutors have one advantage with this. If a parent is calling you to ask you for help with their child, it’s a sign that they are taking steps to take control of their child’s learning. That is so much better than sitting in parents’ evening and begging the child’s guardian to please take an interest. If the parent is on our side, things are much easier. Now we just need to get the child involved, too.
Your teacher or tutor can’t sit your exam for you. We can only hold your hand up until you go into that exam hall. Then, it’s up to you to do well. We’ll hope for you. Some of us will pray for you However, it’s up to you to take control. All you have to do is let us help.
Well, that’s it! All of the similarities and differences I can think of! I hoped this helped!