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Math Transition from math student to math tutor

  1. Jan 2, 2017 #1
    Hello PF forum,

    I'm currently an applied math major and am in my 3rd year. I've completed Calculus 1 - 3, Discrete math, and the introduction course to linear algebra at state university.

    I did well in linear algebra and was engaged in it.
    I was engaged in discrete math but some of the topics I struggled in.
    In calculus I did not have very good study habits so I wouldn't rate myself very strong in calculus.

    So I wouldn't consider myself a bad student nor a great one.
    And I've been considering getting a job as a tutor for high school algebra and precalculus and all the subjects before that.

    Reasons for wanting to be a tutor:
    One reason I am looking at this job is that during my discrete math class, we had an online study group and I liked helping people when I could, and working through problems together.
    Another reason that I want to be a tutor is that it would help me strengthen my foundation.
    Lastly, I have never had a job so I thought this would be a good starting point. But maybe I am wrong here. I am open to your opinion and advice.

    My question are this:
    -How much of a difficulty will it be coming into this job with no experience leading groups/tutoring, and also being a very shy,quiet person? Will this be a deal breaker for the person hiring, or is it something that they would give me a chance to develop?
    *both jobs say they will give training.
    **I should add one of the jobs is tutoring a small group of college students and the other job is tutoring a small group of k-11 grade.

    -I am confident in my math skills up to and including precalculus, minus the trig identities but I figure that is easily reviewed. But does my lack of confidence in calculus imply I will struggle tutoring pre calculus?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this. Also I wasn't sure whether to put this under math or job skills so I just put it under math.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 2, 2017 #2


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    You could be a tutor. Some schools require that you earned an A grade in Calculus 1 & 2 if you want to tutor there. If you are not confident in tutoring Calculus, nothing stops you from at least reviewing on your own, and maybe you can let the Mathematics department assess you; otherwise you may need to retake Calculus 1 (and 2) to earn any required A grade. In whatever case, if you are strong enough in Pre-Calculus and Intermed Algebra, and probably also Trigonometry, you may be qualified enough to tutor those. Check with the Mathematics department about what their tutor requirements are.

    Your other worries are not too important. You can learn to lead a small group. Your shyness is not a problem, but you must learn to communicate and find a clear objective for the help that each student or group needs.
  4. Jan 2, 2017 #3
    Thank you for the reply. It gives my confidence to apply for this job and made things clearer on how to proceed. One follow up question: I can apply either as a tutor for a university or a tutor for a start up tutoring company near where I live. Would you advise me to apply to one over the other? Or is either choice fine?
  5. Jan 3, 2017 #4


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    I suggest the one with the best working pay and conditions (ie if pay is similar pick the better working conditions or terms or even best commute).
    As for the best student ie a 4.0 GPA math student can sometimes be the WORST tutor. Have you ever heard this from a brilliant professor (or Jacka$$ professor, it can be difficult to tell the difference sometimes) "Sorry, I can't simplify the obvious!" or "That's trivial!" and often times for the gifted student, it is! But many of us require effort to grasp and learn advanced concepts. So the less than stellar student can understand another students difficulties vs the gifted student just cannot bridge that learning gap.
  6. Jan 3, 2017 #5
    You should be good at calc and precalc since those are usually the more popular subjects. In terms of knowing the stuff, you should get the main idea down. You can just look up the minute specifics on the spot while tutoring. Most students are understanding about this.
  7. Jan 3, 2017 #6
    Ok, thank you for your insights. Your comments have helped answer my questions.
  8. Jan 3, 2017 #7
    You will learn a lot by tutoring. Especially the stuff you are not so good at now.
  9. Jan 3, 2017 #8


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    One of the worst things to say to a student asking a question for help is to impulsively say, "that's easy", or "It's easy". You need to guard your commenting carefully to be sure not to say something is "easy". Let the student find out from your guidance and his effort if something really is or still is not easy.
  10. Jan 4, 2017 #9
    There will also be problems you might not be able to solve then and there, and which you may need to put aside, or get assistance from another tutor (if you are working in a tutoring center.)

    -Dave K
  11. Jan 4, 2017 #10
    Your students are your customers. Their profs give them problems to solve. Your job is to help them over the hurdles.

    The best lesson I ever received for success in one-on-one interactions and small groups was from the West Point Physics Dept:

    1. Model - demonstrate the relevant problem solving technique slowly and in great detail. Explain what you are doing and why.
    2. Coach - watch while the student solves similar problems and give them hints and tips when they are stuck.
    3. Fade - Coaching input will decrease as student mastery increases. But sitting there available to help is an important confidence builder (safety net) as the student keeps working.
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