While the obvious reason for finding a tutor is to learn a skill, finding someone who can work well with you is often more important. In my experience, the most successful tutoring comes about when both the tutor and student are in sync with one another.

Many times a potential student will ask for a tutor who is patient. This immediately tells me that they are feeling insecure about learning this new concept, and want to know that they will be treated with compassion and consideration. As a tutor I know that the biggest thing I can do for a student is to help them see how smart and capable they are. Too often earlier learning has left some negative feelings about being taught, and I know to tread gently when I uncover this.

Understanding and the mastering the material I have prepared will follow naturally once I have reassured them that we will go at a pace that is comfortable. I also explain that we will stop and go back over the material as often as needed, and until the student feels comfortable with what they are learning.

Unlike a classroom where the learning pace is set for the group, a good tutor will keep the pace geared to that one student before them, and will listen as much as they talk. In addition to this, a good tutor will quickly change to an alternative ways of learning if a student isn’t understanding the concept. It may take several different explanations before the concept becomes clear, but the look of joy – and frequent high fives – are a wonderful sign of comprehension!

So before you start hearing the lyrics for Jane and Michael Banks’ song from Mary Poppins in your head – the lyrics are below – consider what personality qualities you respond to best. Is it important to you that the tutor is calm and organized? Someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously? Alternatively, what personality types have you found it to be most difficult to work with in the past? You might want to avoid tutors with those traits as you are taking these sessions to learn, not to end up feeling anxious or unhappy.

But how do you do this? You email or call the potential tutor before you begin to work with them. If you are working through an agency then academic qualifications and background clearances will already have been obtained, so this isn’t a job interview. Instead it is closer to a dating service, and as a result, the only way you will find out if you are compatible is by talking to one another – either by email or on the phone. Ask questions like, “Will you be patient with me if I find this hard to learn?” or “How will you help me if I am having difficulties?” If you like the answers you receive, then it is a good sign that you will be able to work together.

As a tutor I also find this a useful process to decide which students to accept. If my gut reaction is that I don’t feel comfortable with a potential student I will decline the work. If either of us feel uncomfortable then successful tutoring is unlikely to take place. Sometimes there is fear that masks the real personality, in which case I have found that humor often helps. If we end up laughing together during this preliminary period it is generally a very good sign!

So, talk to your potential tutor and trust your gut reaction to them. If you think it is a good match, schedule a tutoring session and see how it works. It is also helpful to explain the goal for what you want to learn so the lessons can be tailored to your specific needs. With all this done, relax and enjoy the tutoring session!