Five Reasons Why Tutoring is Crucial Teacher Prep

Much ado about teacher preparation these days.  Just last Wednesday, the New York City Department of Education released Teacher Preparation “scorecards” that raise questions about some highly-regarded programs.  This comes on the heels of the Teacher Prep Review in June by the National Council on Teacher Quality that caused so many reactions – see T4A Director of Programs Aimee Mott’s post for one of the more thoughtful ones.

While reasonable minds may disagree with the ratings and prescriptions each study offers, teacher preparation clearly needs to improve.  The persistence of the achievement gap, the primacy of teacher quality in the achievement of underserved students, and the correlation between teachers’ first-year success and their long-term efficacy provide a combination of opportunity and moral urgency rarely seen in the public policy arena.

One under-rated strategy for teacher preparation – tutoring.  For a host of reasons (five, in fact!), we at Tutors for All believe that leading tutorials can and should be a central part of teacher preparation programs: a pre-requisite for student teaching. We are not alone.  Here are our reasons.

  1. All kids can learn, but many kids don’t with student teachers.   As student teachers experience students not learning, it becomes extremely hard for them to legitimately believe that all kids really can learn. However, if their formative experience involves tutoring struggling students who make hard-won academic gains, teachers will bring that crucial belief through their novice stage. They won’t be satisfied with mediocre outcomes because they’ll know the kids are capable of more.
  1. High expectations are by far the most efficient academic intervention. They cost nothing, and they’re the reason that “no excuses” schools dramatically outperform their traditional counterparts. Maintaining high expectations for an entire classroom is extremely difficult; in one-on-one tutorials, however, pre-service teachers can implement high expectations and watch as they pay huge dividends.
  1. Great relationships are crucial to classroom success. Charles Sposato, founding principal of the Match School, noted that “Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” That being said, it’s much easier to care for two kids and see the fruits of that caring than it is to care for twenty-five, or one hundred, students all at once. Tutorials allow beginning teachers to build relationships and leverage those to drive achievement students and their parents would never have imagined possible.  Once they’ve seen that happen, they’ll commit to relationship building in their classroom practice no matter what the difficulties.
  1. Quality teacher prep programs emphasize valuable practices: planning, reflecting on what worked vs. what didn’t in each lesson, assessments, and utilizing performance data to inform instruction.  But for new teachers, each of these things takes a back seat to classroom management. Too often, these practices are written off as luxuries – while in reality, they’re the very habits that distinguish great educators. By taking classroom management out of the equation, tutorials allow student teachers to see the immediate benefits of best practices and build habits that contribute to long-term success.
  1. Kids learn through a process of scaffolding.  When introducing concepts, teachers provide support to allow students to focus on learning.  Once students have mastered those lessons, instructors remove some of the support to enable students to grow and master higher levels of material.  Crowded classrooms prevent new teachers from successfully implementing the practice. But in tutorials, teachers utilize this process daily and are better prepared to expand it for classroom success.

The truth is that all kids can learn – when teachers combine high expectations, powerful relationships, reflective practice, and the ability to create controlled and supportive environments.  The place where beginning teachers optimally implement best practices – and reap their great rewards – is in one-on-one and small group tutorials.





2 thoughts on “Five Reasons Why Tutoring is Crucial Teacher Prep

  1. Russell Zahniser

    Having taught in a classroom, and then having done some tutoring after leaving teaching, I’ve thought a lot about the contrast between the two.

    As a teacher, I had to plan lessons in advance, usually over the weekend, in order to print 150 copies of each day’s worksheet. Then, in class, I would be lucky to call on each student once in a week, and sitting down with a kid to talk through a problem was out of the question because it would compromise the discipline of the classroom. It usually took at least a week for me to realize that students were struggling and roll out a different approach to the topic.

    Tutoring makes me feel unbelievably nimble in contrast. I know immediately if my tutee isn’t getting it, and I can try out a half dozen approaches in one session if I need to. Scaffolding can be accomplished by providing prompting when they need it, instead of setting a sequence of problems in front of them and hoping that I did a good job tuning the difficulty curve.

    I’m sure that tutoring some Boston students before I started teaching there would have done a lot to help me meet students where they were. But I’m not sure it would have solved the structural problems you list here. Fundamentally, I needed some way for the instant feedback of tutoring to be part of how I taught. Perhaps what is needed is a hybrid approach where teachers can test a lesson in tutorial format with a small representative group of students before rolling out the improved lesson to the whole class a week later.

  2. Mark Destler Post author

    Thanks for weighing in, Russell. I see two important threads in your response. The first concerns the substantially different experiences you’ve had teaching vs. tutoring and their implications for the “tutoring as pre-service teacher prep” concept. The second concerns how teachers in the classroom might teach more effectively if they had the opportunity to test out particular content or approaches in a tutorial setting.

    On the first point, I think we agree more than we disagree. My point is not that pre-service tutoring will produce teachers who can individualize as effectively in groups of 25 as they can working one-on-one or in small groups — would that this were true! It is more that the effective practices learned through running tutorials are fundamentally effective teaching practices and they are much more likely to “stick” with new teachers if said teachers are given the opportunity to practice them in a controlled setting.

    The second point is particularly striking to me because it echoes a theme recently raised in one of my favorite education blogs, here. Agree with you that tutorial-style practice could make a significant difference in educational effectiveness and with Michael Goldstein that said practice (like football) would require collective effort in order to work consistently.


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