A new school year is always an exciting time. This is the start of my sixth-year tutoring with The Access Project and that excitement shows no sign of waning. If anything, it keeps growing every year. I’m in the fortunate position of being able to tutor multiple students, so this autumn will see me start tutorials with two new students as well as dust off the textbooks with two students from last year.

The first tutorial with a student is a memorable occasion and can be quite daunting. I’ve had a dozen or so ‘first’ tutorials and I now feel as though I know what to expect. At my first ‘first’ tutorial, I can remember being much more nervous than I expected to be. There seemed to be so many things that could go wrong. Despite my worrying, and a few stumbles along the way, the tutorial turned out fine (in no small part due to my student who was brilliant).

This week I was chatting with Chanelle, the UAO at Ormiston Forge Academy, and the conversation turned to advice for new tutors about to have their first tutorial. I could list lots of things but here’s what I think is most important:

1.Don’t include loads of course material in the first tutorial.

I think that establishing a good working relationship is the most important aim of the first 6 tutorials. In the first tutorial I try to spend around half of the time just chatting, which can really help calm the nerves on both sides. If you are unsure then prepare a few questions in advance and then intermingle the conversation with some course material and practice questions.

2. Don’t worry if you haven’t received the tutorial topics information from your UAO.

Sometimes this information can take a few weeks to arrive, but this isn’t a problem for those initial tutorials. Instead pick a couple of core topics and use the first few tutorials to gauge your student’s ability. For example, I tutor maths and physics, so I start with some algebra or questions on electricity. All students will know something about these topics, so they are a great place to start.

3. Start easy and ramp up the difficulty.

Your student will probably be even more nervous than you, so try to start with something that they will know how to answer. If they find it too easy, then you can quickly skip on to something more challenging. It only adds to the nerves if you start with something too difficult and then have to back-pedal to something easier.

4. Don’t be hard on yourself, you’re doing a good thing!

It’s very easy to tell yourself that you could have prepared better, or explained things better, or not made that stupid mistake when answering a question. I doubt there are many TAP tutors who haven’t thought that at one time or another. Instead congratulate yourself and remember that, if you keep doing this every week, you will be doing something amazing.

This last point is why I continue to tutor with The Access Project. The positive effect on the students is undeniable and unfolds right before your eyes – their subject knowledge, their confidence, their interpersonal skills, their ambition, all grow massively. It doesn’t happen immediately but by investing an hour a week for a school year (or hopefully longer!) you will see it happen. My five years with TAP have also had a hugely positive impact on my own life. As well as the satisfaction of seeing the students do so well, running tutorials has increased my own confidence and helped to clarify my thinking on maths and physics. When it comes to developing new skills, there’s nothing like stepping outside of your comfort zone! I couldn’t recommend The Access Project more highly!

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