What makes a good tutor?

We posed this exact question to our new cohort of tutors asking them to draw a gingerbread cut-out of a tutor. Bearing in mind it was quite early on a Saturday morning for our university students, their answers were insightful: a heart for kindness, ears for good listening and a tree to signify nurturing pupils.

Perhaps the first quality that comes to mind is a brain for knowledge. However, contrary to popular belief, research finds that this is not the most favourable quality for pupils. According to YouGov, ‘just one in eleven pupils (9%) feel that a teacher being knowledgeable is priority’ and the quality ‘being kind (27%)’ came out on top (Waldersee, 2018). Similar research from a larger Tes survey revealed that ‘“funny” won by a landslide’ concluding that ‘the ability to amuse was not just an important attribute, but something that determined whether a teacher was truly great’ (Ziebart, 2017).

Even our pupils prioritised personality over knowledge – preferring tutors who were helpful, kind, and strict (but not too strict). The best tutors we’ve worked with have found a way to strike this balance by focusing on how their building a relationship with pupils, not just the amount of information their giving.

Here are some tips we’ve put together:
  1. Getting to know your pupils: It’s not just about joking around with them, but also demonstrating a genuine interest in their lives. One way of doing this is having them share a bit of news each week, giving you the opportunity to follow up next time.
  2. Giving pupils the opportunity to take ownership of the classroom: Instead of determining classroom rules ahead of time, give pupils the chance to develop them. This will foster greater buy-in and you’ll find them reinforcing them amongst each other with out the need for you to intervene constantly.
  3. Picking your battles: Before disciplining pupils, consider whether their behaviour warrants it. Is this truly a disruption or is the pupil trying to communicate something that they don’t have the vocabulary to? By getting to know your pupils, you will be better placed to make these judgments.
  4. Reinforcing without disciplining: There are many ways you can reinforce classroom rules without disciplining pupils. For example, you can narrate what is happening in the classroom while pupils are working to highlight good behaviour and offering pupils a chance to amend their bad behaviour without confrontation.
  5. Maintaining authority can be fun: You don’t have to be a dictator to maintain authority. Find ways to relate to your pupils and have fun with them, so that they trust you and respect you when you do need to take the reins.
Let us know on social media what you think makes a good tutor!

Special thanks to Alex Virlan for her contributions!


Waldersee, V. (2018). What Pupils Want from Their Teachers. YouGov [online]. Available at: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/education/articles-reports/2018/09/03/what-pupils-want-their-teachers [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].

Ziebart, G. (2017). 25 Traits That Make a Perfect Teacher. Tes [online]. Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/25-traits-make-perfect-teacher [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].

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