by: Tim Pfefferle

According to Woody Allen, eighty percent of life is showing up. The same is true for tutors. It’s the last twenty percent that distinguishes excellent tutors, separating the wheat from the chaff. As tutors, we have to take advantage of the fact that we have the luxury to focus on a single student. In the classroom, a teacher is faced with twenty different personalities, twenty different levels of ability, and a million different interests. As a tutor, it is incumbent on me to find out what works best for the individual student I’m teaching. That is both a perk as well as a challenge. It means that teaching can be more creative. Every student is different, so teaching methods need to be tailored to what animates my student best. Maybe a painting can help to really get across Napoleon’s march towards Russia. A story about football star Cristiano Ronaldo could be key in learning Portuguese vocabulary. In maths, we know that most of us are terrible at thinking abstractly. So when we talk about geometry, it is often a good idea to have some concrete models at hand to help with imagination. These are some of the options a tutor has at his or herdisposal. In general, I believe that a tutor should not impart knowledge. Rather, tutors should guide students to discover things themselves. In order to do so successfully, I need to know my student, what he or she likes, struggles with, is interested in, and where I need to perhaps push a little bit more. This requires me to constantly adapt and change my techniques. Doing that is how tutors demonstrate whether they belong to the wheat or the chaff.

Language is a window to the world. As such, I really love teaching English. There is a whole range of ways in which teaching English can be a fun experience for both student and tutor. I believe that people learn languages best if they feel that what they’re learning is relevant to them. Think about how children learn to speak their own mother tongue. They do so to communicate, to adapt to their environment, to express themselves. In tutoring, we should try to mimic this learning process as far as possible. That means that stubbornly teaching vocabulary will not get the job done. Rather, as a tutor, I have to get creative in finding out how I can make English as relevant as possible to my student. What I love here is that English provides a lot of opportunities to get creative. It is the global language of entertainment, the lingua franca of business, and also has a lot of history: Shakespeare, Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling come to mind. To teach English effectively, I believe that using as many different media as possible is key. Depending on the context, a newspaper article, a book chapter, a press release, a political speech, or a short story can all be effective in their own ways. In a nutshell, this is what we refer to when we talk about learning by doing. We learn English by doing it. Once you are fully immersed in whatever you’re reading –or listening to – you’ve reached the goal. So what I love about teaching English is that I can have conversations with my students about the topics that they love. To see concrete progress day by day is a the best reward for any tutor.