When They Just Want to Pass: 12 Do's and Doníts for the One-on-One ESL Tutor

When They Just Want to Pass
12 Do's and Doníts for the One-on-One ESL Tutor

Devon Reeser
by Devon Reeser 8,643 views

Are you tutoring ESL students to pass their English courses?

Tutoring students who are taking English for course credit can be a meaningful experience, but it can also put us English language professionals in compromising ethical situations. If you are tutoring, you have probably been asked to complete homework, write essays, and possibly even take tests for students that are also your clients. Your internal ethical bells start ringing, but where do you draw the line? Here are some essential dos and don’ts for the one-on-one ESL tutor.

Consider These Tips Teaching Private Students

  1. 1

    Should I Do Their Homework?

    If you have never tutored, you will definitely say no immediately. If you do tutor, you have probably done homework in certain instances. Should you? Probably not. The best answer:

    • Do: Mimic the homework in an alternative exercise and practice that first.
    • Do: Tell them where they have incorrect answers and ask them to retry until they get the concept right.
    • Don’t: Do it for them without explanation!
  2. 2

    Should I Bail Them Out?

    Your student ditched her high school class to go swimming with her boyfriend and then comes to you, pays you, and asks you to teach the lesson to her so she can complete her homework.

    • Do: She’s paying you to teach her something, not to judge her irresponsibility. At least she still wants to learn!
    • Don’t: Do it every week or you are feeding negative behavior.
  3. 3

    Should I Edit Their Essays?

    Your student wants you to revise his 300 word essay due the next day.

    • Do: Read it and give general advice about where it could be stronger and identify his grammar trouble spots for which to scan.
    • Don’t: Correct the English and turn it into something only a native could have written!
    • Don’t: Let him con you into writing the whole thing for him!
  4. 4

    Should I Accept Their Gifts?

    They like you and bring you things, or their family invites you to dinner.

    • Do: Accept or go to dinner if it is culturally appropriate where you are teaching! Many cultures view this type of gift giving as a part of your pay. Ask another teacher friend if he accepts gifts.
    • Don’t: Accept gifts in exchange for completing tasks for which you are uncomfortable (like writing their essays).
  5. 5

    Should I Teach One-on-One with the Opposite Sex?

    This question might be bizarre for a first worlder that is not living abroad, or for a man, or maybe not if you have ever worked with teenagers. If we are honest though, we should admit that it can be uncomfortable in any culture to work one-on-one and can also lead to problems.

    • Do: Set boundaries, such as teaching in a public place or keeping the door to the outside open.
    • Don’t: Give lessons to people of the opposite sex in a closed space alone!
    • Don’t: Ever take on a student that does not seem serious about learning.
  6. 6

    Should I Give Them My Personal Contact Information?

    Don’t! Or only if you have to because your personal information is the same as your work. This can only lead to trouble. Even if you are teaching abroad, buy two cell phone chips – one for work, and one for play.

  7. 7

    Should I Teach in My Home?

    If your home is your office.

    • Do: Set up a separate space away from your living environment to host students, even if it means you have an outdoor classroom space!
    • Do: Establish set hours for visits.
    • Don’t: Have class on your couch or at your kitchen table. This is unprofessional and degrades the seriousness of your lessons. Plus it is an invasion of your personal space.
  8. 8

    Should I Make Them Practice Conversation?

    Your student only wants to practice memorizing irregular verb tenses to pass his exam, but his pronunciation is terrible.

    • Don’t: Force them to learn what they are not interested in learning. Only teach conversation and correct their pronunciation if they give you permission.
  9. 9

    Should I Speak Their First Language?

    You live in Colombia and speak Spanish fluently.

    • Do: Use the first language to explain grammar and tricky concepts, especially if they are trying to pass a course and have specific questions.
    • Don’t: Speak all of the time in Spanish or use it to discuss personal details about your lives! Use those moments as opportunities to engage the student in English conversation.
  10. q

    Should I Explain the Right Answer or the One That Will Give the Most Points?

    Your student’s teacher is wrong, but you know what answer she is looking for.

    • Do: Explain the right answer first, and then explain that the teacher might be looking for a different answer that is a common ESL error. You might end up having a discussion about a difficult grammar concept that even confuses teachers!
  11. w

    Should I Criticize Their English Course?

    Your student’s course is just awful, cramming memorization of vocabulary into bad writing exercises. It is also evident that the teacher has no idea how to teach ESL and is why your student needs a tutor.

    • Do: Keep it positive! Just help your student learn where her class is failing her.
    • Don’t: Get negative about how awful her course seems. You can commiserate with her suffering to form a bond, but keep it humorous and lighthearted.
  12. e

    Should I Teach Them New Things?

    You have this eager mind and you want to fill it! Isn’t that why we are teachers?

    • Don’t: Teach a bunch of new concepts that you find interesting, even if your student wants to learn them. You will distract her from her end goal of passing her course.
    • Do: Use her course material to expand ideas and help her make connections about their subject matter to other English concepts. This develops cognitive skills and infuses ESL learning.

If your ethical bells are ringing from your tutoring student’s requests or from a weird working situation, listen!

Questioning what is appropriate is a critical function of any teacher, even if you are informally tutoring.

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