Tutoring vs. Teaching: What’s the Difference?

by | Apr 19, 2021 | Articles

Having been a classroom teacher for over twenty- five years, and then having moved almost as a logical, reasonable and rational progression into the parallel field of online tutoring, the question I find myself getting asked most by parents and students alike is: “What is the difference between teaching and tutoring?”. The second most common follow up question being: “How can tutoring help my struggling child, when so many teachers have tried and failed?” Well, let’s examine these two questions, and for those parents who may unfortunately have experienced teaching at it’s worst, and not yet had the opportunity to experience tutoring at it’s best, I’ll break down the basics for you.

The Classroom Teachers Dilemma

These are very valid concerns, posed by loving, supportive parents, for whose children the education system is perhaps not functioning efficiently as a well-oiled machine, smoothly and seamlessly, as a result causing untold stress for the frustrated parents and overwhelmed students alike.

You see, having worked as a classroom teacher myself, I know and believe, that teachers are the most self-less, passionate, caring and invested bunch of professionals I have ever had the pleasure to have interacted with! Their challenges are different from those faced by tutors, and therein lies the crux of the matter. They are given a mandate to deliver and ‘teach’ a fixed curriculum or syllabus in a limited period of time. Teachers have two objectives: Firstly, to engage student interest by making the learning material as interesting as possible, and secondly, the greater challenge being, to ensure that as many children as possible in the group comprehend and grasp the concepts being taught.

Sadly, with these goals, which many would say are difficult to achieve, I myself and other teachers in the field, have found that teachers are often most effective in enabling real learning in those children considered to be of ‘average ability’, and others, who may learn in different ways, unfortunately fall behind or ‘by the wayside.’ This inability to teach to students varied learning styles is due to the pressures teachers face on a daily basis to structure learning for the majority, given limited time restrictions, and the large size of the class. Therefore, adhering to the motto: ‘No student left behind’ becomes more and more an unrealistic desire, rather than being an actual reality for many teachers.

How Can Tutoring Help?

Tutoring, on the other hand focuses upon and is founded upon, a whole different set of objectives. A fundamental and immediately obvious distinction between teaching and tutoring is of course: teachers teach in groups, tutors ideally work with students on a 1:1 up to a 1:3 ratio of tutor to students, to achieve beneficial learning outcomes.

Online tutoring companies of the highest standard which adhere to best practices, will not group a big class-sized bunch of students together on a zoom call at a scheduled time, and imagine that the outcome will be successful. It will not. It’s a shame that many companies which sacrifice learning in order to profit in this upwards of a billion- dollar industry, forego standards, principles and any pretense of having a student’s best academic interests at heart, in the race to make a quick buck!

online tutor with headphones on laptop

Secondly, imagine a tutor as a doctor, or rather a specialist in their field. As a doctor goes through extensive training and grows more qualified and experienced over time, similarly a tutor is a professional educator who can assess the particular and unique gaps in learning, or remedial measures required to promote effective learning and fill those gaps. The best, most effective tutors do not re-teach the curriculum to students, but rather teach students according to their unique learning styles and abilities.

The goal is to identify each child’s strengths and weaknesses, and utilize techniques, resources and a teaching style which will optimize a child’s learning, in the most effective and successful manner. Tutors are not ‘reinventing the wheel’, we are finding and implementing ways in which that wheel of learning can become stronger, more stable and able to move through ever more difficult terrain, in the most efficient manner!

Great Tutors Teach to the Student’s Learning Style

Thirdly, an important practice of great tutors is to manipulate the material being taught and reframe it in a context that the student can understand. We aim to remove barriers to learning and adjust the pace of teaching and learning to match each child’s understanding of the material being taught. As a tutor, I can say with confidence that when tutoring a student, feedback regarding understanding of a lesson is immediate, unlike in a classroom scenario, where feedback may be delayed, and be available only when test results are subsequently shared, or quizzes taken.

The Importance of Great Teamwork

The value of relationship building between parent, student, and tutor is indescribable! Teamwork and establishing strong channels of communication is essential when structuring a student’s individual learning program. Effectively relaying concerns you or the tutor may have, as well as sharing necessary information pertaining to your child, always bears fruit. Once trust is established between all parties concerned with a child’s progress, and it is evident that everyone is playing on the same team, this has been shown to have immense influence upon the rate of student progress over time, as well as increasing their level of commitment towards tasks, and their motivation to overcome obstacles. As a specialist doctor would examine your medical history, similarly a tutor can customize the most successful tutoring program for your child, based upon how much academic history is shared. A thorough and detailed assessment by the tutor of learning gaps, is a natural progression then, on your journey towards your assigned tutor developing the right learning program for your child.

Full length portrait of a male teacher isolated on white background

The Best Tutors Are Invested In Helping Your Child Succeed

As tutors, our ultimate objective is to ensure that each child begins to identify and successfully employ their own learning style in everyday academic tasks, and independently use the tools and techniques learned through working with a skilled tutor.

The outcomes and benefits to parents and children of working with a great tutor can be amazing, including but not limited to: less stress at home, greater confidence and self esteem exhibited by your child, a growing ability to think creatively and problem solve, successful integration within the mainstream classroom, culminating in an increasingly positive attitude towards, and love for learning.

Great Tutors Expect Great Outcomes

These are just a few of the many affirmative outcomes and positive developments you can look forward to and which you should most certainly expect, when you put your child’s future in the hands of a great tutor, and a reputable tutoring company that cares, understands students needs, and is invested in each student’s success.

Zehra Naqvi headshot

Zehra Naqvi, M.Ed

I am a tutor at Creative Drive Tutoring & Writing Services. I describe myself as: ‘A Professional educator, & Reflective Practitioner of Education.


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