Don't Forget to Ask

My latest thoughts have again been inspired by one of those little surveys WyzAnt like to ask their tutors. This time the question was about what we, as tutors, think parents should ask of us before hiring us to help their children. A seemingly innocent, simple question which, nevertheless, left me thinking.

To be honest, I hadn't really considered this before. I do a lot of the asking in the other direction: I ask parents what grade their child is in, what the class is, whether there is anything special about the class, the school, the teacher or the child I should know about, how easy or complicated their schedule is, how their student is struggling in the class and why exactly they are looking for a tutor. I ask the students themselves a whole lot too, ranging from what they think about their teacher, to how often, when and where they study, to what they do during the class. But I had never really stopped to think about how important it is to be asked good questions by the parents, too.

Of course, part of the reason I don't think about this is simply because I instead consider what information to provide, without being asked. But the two things are not necessarily the same thing. As a tutor, I have learned to gauge a student's understanding of a concept from the questions they ask. It happens quite often that a student asks a question they consider very simple, a minor detail, which leads to a very in depth discussion of some very basic, key concept that would have made things much more complicated, had it been left unexplained. Questions help me uncover deep rooted conceptual problems. They also help me learn about the way of thinking of a student, by showing me that one certain way of explaining something didn't quite work, and I should think of another one. In summary, a student's questions help me get to know the student much better.

Just as knowing my students well is an essential part of my job, so is knowing their parents. Of course, I won't interact with my students' parents as much, and their learning style doesn't really affect me, but they play a very important role in my students' academic lives, so knowing them is also very important. And just as I can learn a lot about a student from their questions, I can also learn about their parents. Yet, sadly, not all parents ask as many questions as I wish they would. Apart from the basic inquiry about my experience teaching a given subject, and more mundane details such as schedules and the like, few parents ask anything else. This means I have to get to know them slowly and incompletely via the limited interaction we have in the few minutes before and after a lesson, if they are there at all!

As a teacher, I always encourage my students to ask questions to me and to their teachers at school, so they can learn as much as possible. Today, I would like to encourage parents to do the same. Ask us questions to get to know our teaching style, what our thoughts are on how we will structure lessons, what we think about your children's learning styles, or even simpler and more personal questions just to get to know us as a person. A lot can be learned from a question, as well as from the answer to it. Let's make sure we all learn as much as possible.

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