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Tutor case study – Sue Miller, First Steps in IT

Sue has been an IT tutor for over 20 years, working in both commerce and the education sector, teaching all ages from 6 to 86. Currently working for NESCOT College, Sue is really enjoying teaching on First Steps in IT.

Sue Miller, First Steps in IT
Creating Careers is working with learndirect to help colleges find high quality, online learning tutors through learndirect’s National Tutor Service (NTS). Sue Miller got involved with vision2learn when she saw a job advert for tutors from learndirect. Here’s Sue’s story.

What do you enjoy about online tutoring?
The flexibility of working from home and, after many years of commuting, I enjoy not having to travel to work. Also, having as much time as I need for each student and really being able to teach ‘one-to-one’ with each person, without feeling I am denying other students my time.

How is it different to classroom-based teaching?
The main difference is the amount of time I have for each student. In a classroom I would have a set amount of time and have to divide that time as equally as possible between all my students.

What are the students like?
No different to in a classroom really – a mixed bunch. Some like to chat and need quite a lot of help or input, others are quite self-sufficient and just really need to know that they are on the right track.

What are the worst aspects of being an online tutor?
Hardest thing is when you come across a situation that would be easier to deal with ‘face-to-face’. Sometimes it can take three or four emails to sort out a problem that would be cleared up instantly in a classroom. For example, I have one student who thinks that the minimise and maximise buttons are the same on his screen. In a classroom situation this could be dealt with really easily by pointing out the differences on screen.

What advice would you give to someone considering online tutoring as a career?
Give it a go – if you enjoy teaching rather than just lecturing it’s really satisfying.
Keep a copy of all the emails you send – you’re bound to come up against the same problem again sooner or later and it’s really useful to have the solution at hand.

Always reply to every email that you receive, even if it’s blank, as it could be a sign of a problem. For example, the student may have intended to send you some work but has forgotten to attach it and could be waiting for your feedback.

Always start your emails on a positive note as the recipient may focus on the opening line of the email. If you start positively, it will put them in the right frame of mind to take any criticism you may have.

How do you build up relationships with students and make yourself more ‘real’ to them?
Although I’m not keen on giving out personal information online, I always respond to any information that students give me. For example, some students send photos or tell me where they’ve been on holiday and I always respond to this in my emails, without giving away personal info about myself.

I try to use humour and adopt a more informal, light-hearted tone where possible. Usually after a couple of emails I can tell which of my students will respond well to this. Where students are more formal I try to take a lead from them, as they may feel more comfortable with a fairly formal tutor/student relationship. However, I always sign my emails ‘Sue’ and try to use a student’s first name, if possible. Over time many students will begin to relax and feel more comfortable in their communications with me.

What does the future hold?
In addition to tutoring 44 NESCOT students, I am also currently doing some classroom-based teaching. This is due to finish in May and I would really like to take on more online students. I am looking into the opportunity of doing this with Swindon College, as I would like the variety and flexibility of working with students from another college.

Anyone interested in opportunities for tutors should contact fiona@creatingcareers.com.

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