Choosing a Tutor, Mentor or Coach

23 02 2010

One of the blogs that I enjoy reading and one of our RV inspirations is Tynan.  One of the things that Tynan advocates for and that I have begun to appreciate myself is the value of one-on-one learning.  Classes and group sessions can be valuable for getting your feet wet and getting an introduction to a new subject, but having a tutor, mentor or coach can really jumpstart you to the next level.  This can apply to almost anything – language, gymnastics, music, etc.  Private lessons may not always be feasible due to financial considerations, but if you have decided to take the splurge, here are a few things to consider:

1.  Check the instructor’s qualifications.  What makes her an expert in this field?  Don’t let affiliations with fancy associations fool you – anyone can join an organization to look more official.  Ask yourself:  How long has she studied the field?  If it’s a language, is she a native speaker?  Perhaps most importantly, has she taught the subject before and how frequently?  Having a strong understanding of a particular subject and excelling in a certain field does not guarantee that the person at hand will have teaching skills, experience and know how to properly and effectively guide someone.

2.  Set clear expectations.  Be clear as to what kind of time commitment and pace you are looking for.  Are you looking for a weekly 45-minute session or a daily hour session?  Are you looking to take lessons for five weeks or five months?  Make your expectations clear and confirm that the instructor will be local and available for the duration you are looking for.  Nothing sucks more than missing sessions (and losing momentum) or having a teacher bail on you. It’s not always easy to find someone new.

3.  Be as specific as possible.  Choose a tutor whose focus is exactly in the area that you want to study.  For example, if you are looking to study a language, confirm that the instructor is fluent in your dialect of choice.  Or if you are looking to study voice, take the extra five minutes to determine if the instructor is classically trained or is a Broadway singer.  Having an instructor whose experience is aligned with your goals makes a big difference.

By following these three guidelines, you’ll maximize your time and make faster progress with your instructor of choice.  Good luck!




4 responses

23 02 2010

Whenever I embark on something new, I try to find myself a mentor. I think it is invaluable. You get to where you are going a lot faster when there is someone who can help you along the path they have already been down.

23 02 2010
Freely Living Life

Just stopping by to say hello! 🙂 Just read all of the updates of your blog and we are very happy to hear that you are enjoying your experience! 🙂 Keep smiling. You are on a very exciting path.

24 02 2010
Michael in the Great Plains

Those are good tips. And they seem to cover well the impersonal aspects of the transaction–specificity of knowledge, competence, and clarity as to the transaction and services expected.

I also think that for many, the personal and interpersonal side is important. What I’ve found critical for my learning was a teacher or mentor with whom I had a comfortable rapport, and if possible a feeling of being on a similar “wavelength.” Granted, that’s not always easy to find, and it isn’t even important for those of a more impersonal temperament. For myself, however, I’ve found that if there’s unnecessary discomfort or emotional distance involved in the interactions, learning can suffer, and that seems to be true for many others with a strong need for harmony and relational depth.

Moreover, beyond emotional comfort, there is the matter of similar explanatory and thinking style. I think it’s wise and proper for each of us to trust our “gut” as to whether the teacher explains things in a way that we can understand. Even long years of experience teaching does not guarantee that any particular student will find the teacher’s explanatory style easily understandable. Sadly, as many people’s experiences in formal education show, longevity in a profession means longevity–not competence, and certainly not, for any particular student, compatibility.

Indeed, if I had to choose, I’d prefer a teacher who knew relatively less, and was less experienced–but from whom I could learn more because their explanatory style clicked with me, and I felt comfortable with him or her, and therefore the learning experience was more engaging–over a teacher who knew more, and was more experienced, but whose personality and explanatory style left me cold. My brain would not engage well with, or learn much from, the latter.

As mentioned though, I understand that for certain kinds of temperaments, these considerations are minor. But I thought I’d add to the discussion by highligting another aspect of the teacher-student experience that might be important for some.

Continued good luck!

26 02 2010

@Adrienne: I agree completely. Not only will a mentor inspire you, but he or she will also add a level of accountability that pushes you to the next level. Having a mentor in the picture gives you momentum to keep making progress: Were you practicing your music, doing the recommended readings you asked for, etc? This seems to hold true for all areas and particularly so in the mundane realm of dieting.

@Freely: Thanks for all of your encouragement! We love following your adventures and it seems that we’ve made a pair of new friends that are following ours. 🙂 Maybe our exciting path will lead us to meet you in person one day!

@Michael: You are spot on and finding a good tutor/mentor match goes way beyond paper qualifications. Point well made.

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