We have all failed some of our students. The ability to face this without fear or self-loathing is essential to a teacher’s professional development, not to mention sanity. This inescapable truth means it’s generally a bad idea for a teacher to act as a private tutor to a struggling member of his or her own class.
Part of the essential magic that tutoring can provide depends heavily upon the tutor as a voice external to the classroom. Tuition provides a safe environment for children to ask every daft question that would frequently spark a classroom chorus of “HOW MANY TIMES HAVE WE DONE THIS?” (probably led by teacher themselves). A tutor provides a fresh voice and a new perspective, a different approach to explaining things and an alternative supply of resources.
My previous school had a strict policy that its members of staff should not tutor anyone within the school, never mind whether they taught the student or not. This policy was somewhat excessive and was certainly far more about protecting “the brand” than it was about pedagogy. I ignored the policy once and once only, when a child who had joined the school late (and therefore missed the boat as far as Latin was concerned) approached me with the request to study Latin; I tutored her (in my classroom after school!) and after two years she had progressed sufficiently to join the GCSE class along with the others; the Head never questioned how she got there and we never told him.
My current school has a far more enlightened approach and I am aware that many members of staff have tutored their own students. I still avoid it, as I believe that any student who is struggling in my class would benefit from a different tutor and I am happy to name alternatives. Two of my students have benefited from an excellent local tutor, who has helped them both beyond measure; I have written before on the advantages of a classroom teacher who can embrace the support of a tutor rather than feel threatened by them, and the fact that I am in touch with this tutor has been immensely helpful to my students.
I have made one exception to my own rule, not for a child who is struggling but for one who is missing my classes due to injury – an entirely different situation. When her mother expressed her openness to the idea of a hiring private tutor to help her daughter keep up, not only was it obvious that I was the perfect person to guide her on what she was missing in my own classes, but I also realised that she lives 5 minutes from my doorstep; in this particular situation, it seemed genuinely daft not to work with her.
Tutoring is an ever-increasing reality for our students, and those of us still part of the traditional chalk face should embrace it with open arms and open eyes. We must be alert to poor tutoring (there is plenty of it out there) and the more receptive we are to the concept the more guidance we can offer parents on what to look for and what to avoid.