How To Train Your Tutors


This is a deep subject, perfect for long and thoughtful conversations along with plenty of written documents, but here’s a start at some essential guidelines for tutor training.

First, make sure that safety is the priority. Tutors should have a background check and also have an in-person meeting with a staffer, either one-on-one or in a small group. This helps the staff be personally familiar with new volunteers—and flag circumstances that are unusual but which may not show up in a background check or online volunteer application. If an in-person meeting with a prospective volunteer gives you pause, take a moment and settle your concerns before moving forward.

In the same way, make sure that tutors know they’re not in a position of sole responsibility for the students they are tutoring. Tutors should know that they’re obligated to steer their students away from inappropriate topics (drug use, violence, sex). They’re forbidden from spending time alone with a student or contacting a student via email, phone, or social media. They’re also charged with raising issues to a staff member if a student should say or do something troubling. Before they ever begin, tutors should understand that rules like these keep everyone safe.

Tutors sit one-on-one with a student and relate to them about their homework and more. So, it’s vital that the guidelines below are observed.

Train your tutors to keep in mind that these interactions should be student-centered. Even though students will ask tutors about their lives and their opinions, it’s best to keep the focus mostly on the student and their homework and writing projects.

These conversations should also support the idea that asking for help is normal (and fun!). The ability to ask questions and receive help without feeling stigmatized is a key ingredient in how a student may approach their future academic life and even their career. Tutors should emphasize the joy in asking, in answering, and in working and learning together.

Remember that a student’s parents and teachers are to be honored always, even if what you hear sounds disagreeable. This means that even if you hate the “new math” it’s not your place as a tutor to weigh in on that; it’s your job to roll up your sleeves with the student and figure it out together. Think the parent’s 7:30 pm bedtime rule is a bit much? It’s not your place to comment.

Finally, the best tutoring sessions are a great series of questions and answers. Tutors should be trained not to provide the answers but to urge students forward when they develop their own solutions to the problems presented in their assignments. Asking “Why do you think so?” and “How does that work?” gets students thinking. Saying, “Let’s look back at your teacher’s instructions,” or, “The textbook should tell us more,” helps center the conversation so the student has the best chance of getting their homework done independently with a tutor’s caring support.