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5 Stars: Admitting Limitations and Mistakes

Welcome to another blog about key ideas that I think contribute to a 5-star rating.

No matter how good you are, eventually you will be asked a question that you don't know. I have a very extensive range of knowledge, and yet I find myself being asked questions beyond my limits weekly. I am often reminded of the Orkin commercials where customers keep asking the most random questions, assuming the Orkin man can answer them.

The truth of the matter is that tutors are humans too. One of my mottos is that "One of the greatest strengths is to know one's own weaknesses." It's never fun to admit that you are unsure of something, but it saves a lot of pain later on. In my experience, often times students still want to know your best guess, which you can then give them. Most appreciate it even more when you are honest that something is beyond your knowledge, at least directly. Sometimes, when I am more sure, I will give my best guess with a qualifier of it being only an educated guess.

Similarly, tutors do eventually make mistakes. I know I've made my fair share of them. Again, the best route is to be open about them. I have sometimes texted a student afterwards when I realized the correct method. It does call attention to the mistake, but it is in the student's best interest to know how to do things correctly. If you don't notice a mistake but the student does (or returns with it wrong), apologize. Try to learn from the mistake and possibly take the time to look at it, understand what you did wrong, and explain the correct methods. When the mistakes are larger, think of discounting a session as an act of apology, or at least offer it (some will outright refuse to let you discount it).

The main idea is to admit that you are a human, that you have limits, that you do make mistakes. Students all too often put tutors up on a platform. If you fall off of it, it's a long way down. It's far better to admit to yourself and to your students when something is beyond you.

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