Choosing the Right Tutor or Consultant
I've been back on the private teacher market as a student these days. I'm studying Chinese, as you may know, and I've been talking to a few teachers who have been recommended to me. I haven't been on this side of the private exchange for a long time, and the process has been enlightening. A lot of the below have seemed intuitive and necessary to me for a long time, but seeing other teachers out there has made me realize that not everyone approaches students the same way, and many consultants and tutors are less professional than they should be.
So to help out any fellow learners or applicants looking around, here are a few pointers for students on what to be aware of during that very first consultation with a potential teacher:
The consultant should always ask you about your goals, experience, and expectations. After all, the meeting is about you and helping you get the most of your time and money. If she does not ask you what you want and how you want it, see that as a red flag.
However, as much as the consultant wants to hear about you, she must be able to respond to your expectations and goals in kind. Are they reasonable expectations? Attainable goals? Does the consultant think, honestly and realistically, that she can help you, and if so, how? If she has enough experience and expertise, she will be able to concisely and confidently answer these questions. She should also be busy enough (and smart enough) to turn down your business if she is not right for you.
During your first meeting, the consultant should listen as well as speak. If you feel you are leading the conversation, that is a bad sign. However, if the consultant is rambling on and on, that is also not good. The meeting should be a dialogue. The consultant needs to take the lead and ask the right questions but also give enough content and response. You should feel as though you're the topic and the center of attention.
Do a little work together. Bring some material. Is it a language class? Have a quick conversation and see how the teacher responds. I did this with a Chinese teacher recently and noticed that she focused on my sentence structure and vocabulary, but she never once commented on my pronunciation or tones. Let me assure you: this is not because my pronunciation and tones are pitch perfect. Needless to say, I was a bit wary of that teacher.
If you are looking to study English writing or work on an application essay, bring a short piece of writing. Ask for the consultant's initial reaction to the piece. Does she focus only on theme? Grammar? Content? Length? Word choice? Fit for that university? Make sure that you're getting the consultant who either knows it all and can help you in every way, or at least make sure the consultant can focus on your weakness.
Note: in order to find the best consultant or teacher, know the field, and also know what your own weaknesses are. Know yourself and what kind of help you need, before finding someone to help you.
Finally, ask the consultant how a typical lesson or session goes with other students of hers. If she has a structure and a systematic approach, rest assured you've found a professional. If not, then keep your wallet tightly closed.
Speaking of wallets, always be up front about money from the get go. Ask for references if you want to check, and make sure the price is consistent and fair. Always ask about discounts as well. If you lower transportation time for the teacher, if you do one longer session instead of multiple shorter sessions, if you do a group lesson, if you refer a friend, etc. you may be able to book yourself a lower rate. The most expensive consultant is not always the best, but at the same time, a well qualified professional will know her worth and stick to it.
Happy hunting and good luck with all your learning adventures!