What I Learned from Tutoring Online for 18 Months

It’s late August of 2021, and I am now working with all of my students in person, some masked, some vaccinated. I’m almost ready to cancel my expensive subscription to Zoom, but I probably won’t, because I am open to working with some students online who live too far away for in-person tutoring. Nevertheless, I’m sitting and taking a deep breath and, like many of you, reflecting on the experience of the past year and a half.

Reflecting on the past 18 months.

Here are some of the things I learned about working with students online.

  • Curriculum matters.
    Keeping the attention of a student can be challenging. Keeping his or her attention by video is even harder. While engaging and interesting curriculum always is a good thing, it’s even more essential online. I spent a fair amount of time hunting for engaging curriculum that would work digitally, and the investment of time was worth it.  An engaged mind can focus and learn.
  • Students should turn their cameras on.
    Many students were in the habit of turning off their cameras because of bandwidth issues in their household. I found it disconcerting to try to teach a someone with a voice not attached to a face.
  • Yes, parental supervision was required.
    To state the obvious, it’s easy to get distracted on a computer, and doubly so for children with attention issues. While I did my part, having the parent nearby helped keep the most distracted students on task.  
  • Humans like being around other people.
    With the exception of some introverts, we humans like being around other people. I mean really being around them, not just staring at them through a computer screen. The past few weeks working with students in person feels amazingly rewarding. Those first few sessions felt like the first time the sun comes out after a long Seattle winter (I grew up in that gray city). We all did our best to connect to each other through the screen, and I’m not discounting the benefits of doing so, but—sigh—it’s nothing like being there.
  • Humility helps.
    I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and over the past 18 months, the number of answers in my toolkit was sometimes small. It’s difficult to understand a student’s point of view sometimes and even harder through a screen. I did my best to listen and to try to understand what they were feeling and thinking. Sometimes I think listening to a student is one of the greatest gifts a tutor can present.

That’s it for now. I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to try to help families through this ordeal. And grateful that it is somewhat over (for now).