For as long as there have been teachers, there have been tutors. Conventional thinking defines "tutoring" as an addition to schooling in order to aid a student in whatever he or she is not fully grasping during school hours or a system to accelerate a student's learning curve in order to get a head start on their higher education.
I prefer to think of "tutoring" as any teaching that occurs outside of organized schools. This would include one on one tutoring (hands down the best kind), group tutoring, and homeschooling. Some consider the word "tutor" as a loose synonym for "teacher", except that "teacher" has an inherent qualification status attributed to it while "tutor" does not. It's strange that this distinction exists since most people hire tutors to help their children understand what their teachers have failed to convey.
I have had close to twenty years of schooling and easily over a hundred teachers, and the number of teachers that I thought were "good" is five. Of course, my definition of "good" might be different than yours. I rate a teacher as "good" if he or she makes it enjoyable to attend their class. That’s it, plain and simple. One might consider this as extremely subjective criteria (and rightfully so), but since I’m an incredibly objective person, I assure you that all of my teachers have gotten a fair shake in my personal rating system.
For example, the grades that I have gotten from my "good" teachers have been A's, B's, C's, D's and F's, so my rating is clearly not a function of what grade I received. I've had good teachers in courses where I hated the subject matter (Medieval European History for example). However, through their superior teaching skills, "good" teachers have managed to change my jaded opinions of these subjects to those of a more positive nature.
The difficulty of the subject matter has also never factored into my rating system. I have taken some of the most difficult subjects imaginable (Partial Differential Equations, for example), and even though the subject matter was insanely difficult (actually causing some students to vomit and/or blackout during lectures), I enjoyed every minute of class due to the quality of the teacher. Of course, taking everything into consideration, I can also admit that my standards (in general) are incredibly high, which lends itself to my percentage of "good" teachers being so small.
I believe tutors and teachers are quite dissimilar, except for one important trait: They exist to convey something that they know to others. At least, that's what they're supposed to do. A teacher's realm is the school, and a tutor's realm is generally everywhere else. When I was a senior in college, there was a time when I "tutored" fellow classmates who were lagging in subjects where I was excelling, but since I was not getting compensated in any way (besides finding inner peace), I now consider it more "helping" than "tutoring".
Being a teacher doesn't preclude you from being a tutor and vice versa. When I was in grade school (a very small private school), mathematics came so easily to me that the math teacher stayed after school and tutored me in the following year's subject matter. In fact, when I was in the sixth grade, I was learning tenth-grade mathematics.
Of course, when I entered a large public high school, I was not afforded the same luxury. The only way to get a jump on future material was to take AP (advanced placement) courses. Passing an AP high school course would give you college credits and let you skip those courses in college. Once you're in college, if you have the motivation, it's much easier to get ahead. Most colleges require a certain amount of credits for graduation and set no limits on the number of credits you can take per semester (although most colleges understandably limit the number of credits you can take during your first semester).
Although the percentage of "good" teachers in my educational history is quite small, I have discovered that it is not that far off from the opinion of the general public. Whenever I come in contact with a child (a family member or the child of a friend) and ask them if they like any of their teachers, I rarely get an affirmative response. Regrettably, when I delve deeper, I learn that the ratio of "good" teachers to "bad" teachers and the reasons why these kids think their teachers are "good" or "bad" are much the same as when I was a kid.
The majority of tutors exist because sub-par teachers exist. That's the bottom line. There are other reasons why someone would need a tutor (perhaps a slight learning disability is present, or perhaps the mere exercise of having someone check your homework is helpful in building your confidence), but the dominant reason is a lack of student-teacher communication. Naturally, the student should bear some of the blame for a lack of student-teacher communication, but a teacher's job is to communicate with his or her class. Some teachers think that if they get up in front of their class and read from a book, then they're teaching. That's lecturing, not teaching. When a teacher can't teach, and the school is in denial about their ability, and fails to get rid of them, then finding a tutor is a logical alternative.
Tutoring has been growing at astounding rates, regardless of economic trends, for two main reasons: Skepticism of the quality of education in organized schools and concern for the child's safety while in school. A Google search for "Tutor in Las Vegas" yields eight million results. If you are looking for a tutor, do your homework (no pun intended) and make sure that you choose wisely. Having your child deal with a bad teacher is bad enough. Add a bad tutor to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster. Use every resource available to find the very best tutor for your child.
--Editor, Tutor Pros
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