Top tips for tutor time

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One area of schooling in which teachers often feel massively under-prepared is how to successfully lead your tutor group. Helen Peter has just released a book on the subject and offers some practical tips to help get new tutors started in September.

Do not be concerned if you are feeling nervous or ill-prepared for the job of form tutor. Whether you are in a vertical or horizontal system, or have a different title, tutoring is seriously neglected in initial teacher education, despite the importance of the role. 

Generally, the status of the tutor is relatively low in the hierarchy and very few secondary schools flag it up in their job advertisements.

However, most teachers and many support staff will be expected to take on this role alongside their subject-teaching or other work.

What’s a tutor for?

According to the National Association of Pastoral Care in Education, the tutor should be the key person who:

  • Links the student and home.

  • Connects the student with school staff and with other students.

  • Monitors academic and personal progress of the students in their tutor group or form.

  • Provides information to other staff about their tutees.

  • Co-ordinates the way the school can meet their students’ needs.

Ideally, the tutor group and base become, literally, a home for the student, where they can belong and be known and relax as an accepted member of a warm, supportive team within a large, labyrinthine, potentially frightening institution.

The tutor’s role is complex, but, essentially it is to gather knowledge about each student, form a strong, positive relationship with each one and their home, and build the team, while modelling sound habits to support them to progress, develop and learn, throughout their time at secondary school.

It is often the small things a good tutor does to show that they care that can make a huge difference in students’ experience of secondary school. 

Things like finding lost pen drives, PE kits, calling home for a missed letter, wiping up tears or listening to an upset child, or helping to resolve bullying or a tiff between friends, are all part of every tutor’s normal school week.

Ultimately, it is about caring and showing that you care – going the extra mile (as you would want any adult caring for your own child to do) to help your students feel supported so that they can do their best in their studies.

Tutoring – the basics

“A form tutor is a teacher whose subject is the pupil herself,” (Marland and Rogers 2004). Every day it is likely that you will: take the register (twice), check uniforms, and give out notices or information to individuals or the whole tutor group.

In addition, most days you will probably find yourself:

  • Having some kind of banter or interaction with your students. You will probably talk to them, and listen to their chat to pick up on any current issues.

  • Dealing with various problems, including missing PE kits, late homework, detention disputes, lost locker keys, mobiles or letters from parents, and Child Protection issues.

  • Keeping an eye out for anyone who seems upset, especially quiet – or indeed noisy.

  • Being given letters, notes, forms (even if they are supposed to be given in elsewhere).

  • Lending out equipment such as pens and pencils (and maybe even money).

  • Running, or being involved in, some kind of activity, assembly, tutor programme, or whatever is on that day!

Less often, fortnightly or perhaps termly, you will also probably find yourself:

  • Checking that planners are completed and signed.

  • Holding a tutor group discussion of some kind.

  • Processing and recording your students’ merits, awards, detentions, homework, problems, complaints etc.

  • Meeting to mentor or coach one or several tutees’ academic/school work.

  • Dealing with a student’s home in some way – letter, call, email, text, planner note.

  • Discussing one or several of your students in depth or writing and answering emails about your students’ progress and behaviour.

  • Helping to prepare an assembly.

  • Taking part in some kind of House event.

  • Receiving or giving feedback to student council.

  • Doing something for your chosen charity.

Starting out as a tutor

If you are becoming a tutor in September, here are a few hints for you.

Do your homework

Before you even meet your new tutor group, it pays to do some homework. You need to be aware of school policies on uniform, chewing, coats, entry to rooms and so on, as well as having an accurate and up-to-date list of names from your pastoral head.

You cannot possibly be expected to read every file, but it is worth asking for pointers on any looked-after children, or those with SEN or disabilities. The SENCO should have sent everyone a list of students, and these will probably have a brief pen sketch or at least a few notes available for staff, from the end of the summer term. A quick five-minute chat going through your list can save hours poring over files.

Prepare your tutor base

Make sure you have visited and have keys or access to your tutor base and the ICT set up there. This probably won’t be your teaching base, so you will need to find out whose classroom it is and establish a positive working relationship with them and any support staff involved, such as the technician or cleaner, from the beginning.

Support from your year/house

You should have some kind of tutor meeting on the first INSET day back, so you can collect your register, lists, information, timetables, design technology and PE lists, planners, letters and so on. You will probably need a small wheelbarrow to carry it all, so do collect it all in good time so you can plan and be organised. 

At the beginning of term things can be chaotic and last-minute changes mean that things are often mislaid or inaccurate, so do be fully prepared – but expect the unexpected!

Checklist for the start:

Laptop, register or list of your tutor group, seating plan with labels, spare pens and pencils, planners, hard copy timetables for each student, lists of addresses and parental information for checking, forms and letters to be completed or taken home for signature, lunch arrangement letters, how to add money on your cash-free system, maps, locker key arrangements, medical information, equipment, tuition or uniform orders or forms, bulletins to be handed out, transport information, camera, box of tissues.

The first session

As a new tutor you need to establish your personality and authority on the group straight away. For a new year 7 group, this will probably entail you having to collect the students from the hall, (where you will have the opportunity to observe and watch out for any nervous or isolated students, any big personalities, etc), and leading them to your base.

Older students will probably turn up at the door and may try to enter without you in a random manner. 

Beware that an established (vertical) group may seem quite challenging, so prepare, be firm, do it your way, but be prepared to flex later and listen to the students’ ideas too.

A seating plan can help to show that you are in charge of the room and it helps you to learn names quicker. However, this is up to you, as a new year 7 group is much easier than an established group, who may be used to sitting in set places with friends and resent any change. 

The point is that you want to establish your authority and learn who they are, while encouraging them to work together as a team. A plan can help you to break up any cliques that may seem unhealthy or exclusive.

Getting them into the Base

Even though your role as tutor may feel slightly different from that of a subject teacher, the fact that you are in charge is paramount. Give your signal for silence. Do not shout. Practise how you want them to do it if you need to, then praise them and make a joke if anyone is out of turn, but show that you mean business. Show that you are human, smile, have a sense of humour, but show very clearly that you are in charge. 

Establishing your routines

Do beware of talking too much at the start. The students are dying to chat too, so put them in pairs to get on with the essentials together and try asking not telling, when you can. 

Humour works well, as do quizzes and games to lighten the otherwise boring administrative bits. For instance, having a couple of year 9 characters visiting each tutor set in appalling uniform and giving points for each infringement noted, is more fun and memorable than droning through correct uniform lists.

If you make a good early start to your preparation as a tutor, everything else should flow relatively seamlessly. Good luck!

  • Helen Peter is a practising teacher, educational consultant and researcher. She has taught for 30 years and has a particular interest in excellence in pastoral care, emotional literacy and achievement for all. She is based in Bath.

Making the Most of Tutor Time

Making the Most of Tutor Time, A Practical Handbook has been written by Helen Peter and is available to buy now from Speechmark or elsewhere online. The book costs £65 and the ISBN is 978-1906517595. For more details,  search online or visit http://bit.ly/18hzzfk

 


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