One of the attractions of an education at Oxford and Cambridge is the opportunity for a one-to-one session with a tutor each week. A student might sweat and swot to prepare, for example, an essay that will be read with trepidation to an audience of fearsome critics consisting of the tutor and perhaps a few other students. Why is such a procedure considered an ideal to which all other institutes might aspire? One reason might be that it appeals to the ‘egos’ of both the institution and the student: the student because he or she is regarded as important enough to merit this treatment and the institution because they are uniquely qualified to nurture such talent. Whatever the case, the system will work because there is an initial and often arduous effort from the student before any help is given. Who would disagree that there would be a much smaller benefit if the tutor merely directed the student and in effect did their thinking and writing for them? Who would disagree that, employed in such an appropriate way, teachers are invaluable?
For a student to get the most out of any teaching, including private tutoring, it follows that preparation is essential. Some considerations would include:
- Notes, flash cards, mind-maps etc.
- Using textbooks, the internet and other resources for examples to test understanding
- Exploring past paper questions
- Forming a study group
- Making a list of topics that require clarification
- Not wasting time with ‘intractable’ questions; concentrating on understanding fully the more manageable elements of the syllabus.
I think that any good teacher or private tutor should have the following attributes:
- A deep, thorough understanding and love of their subject
- A passion for lucid, incisive communication
- A pride in their students’ achievement and thus high expectations
- An affection for all of their students regardless of ability.
Such a teacher will have no difficulty dealing with often rigid and arid syllabuses. They will be a master of the smallest detail and so act as a guru in preparing students for examinations. Alas, too few students exploit their wisdom. Every student should take the responsibility to ask himself or herself the question, have I really exhausted the opportunities offered by my current school and its teachers?