Good tutors asks questions as well as answers questions. Every student is different and every student faces unique learning challenges. That means that students require me to approach their learning in ways that best suit their needs. I must adapt my lessons and study materials to meet their requirements. The first time I meet a student I want to spend some of the time getting to know the circumstances that demanded a need for tutoring. After all, I doubt if the family just decided to “invite me over”.
I always (Privately) ask the parent(s) some questions about the student.
Do you want/need a report on progress?
Does student have any diagnosed learning disabilities and how can I properly accommodate them.
Is there specialized instructional support at school, such as a note taker?
When I sit with the student, after proper introduction, I ask the Student:
What are your favorite subjects/least favorite subjects and why?
What are your least favorite subjects and why?
What are your academic strengths/weaknesses?
Do you complete and turn in homework assignments regularly?
Do you need help on test taking skills?
Do you organize your school materials (notes, assignments, due dates, etc.)?
Do you do any extracurricular activities? If yes, what are they?
What are your hobbies and interests outside of school?
What do you hope to gain from our tutoring sessions?
Do you have any questions for me?
Not only do I want to get a “picture” of the student, but I want to break the ice, and understand what the real needs of the student are. I have encountered the situations where first sessions become a “whirlwind” – students and family members are firing questions at me and at each other as if we were in a debate. When that happens, I need to step-up and get control of the process. Certainly, students can be desperate for answers, parents can be frustrated with a perceived lack of process and looking for immediate remediation, but it is unlikely that understanding and learning can take place without addressing the concerns and putting everyone at ease.
The first session is the foundation session, and it has to provide the basis for the following sessions. I feel it is most important that everyone’s expectations are expressed and understood. It may be that I cannot meet the goals of either the student or the family, and I need to display the leadership to express that. I also need to apply my expert subject knowledge to respectfully correct any misconceptions about the tutoring process. For instance, I cannot (will never) guarantee a perfect test score, but I will reassure that I will do my best to prepare the student to take the test.
The first meeting is more than handshakes and smiles; it is the opportunity to establish a long-term relationship, beneficial to the student.