Tutor or Mentor?
By Frederick Sugarman-Warner, Director of The Tutors' Association
29 Nov
Fabisch's illustration of Telemachus and Mentor in Aventuras de Telémaco by François Fénelon (1699), based on Homer's Odyssey.

This year’s inaugural National Tutoring Conference hosted a sizeable and engaged crowd at Stowe School. Your correspondent sat in a busy lecture theatre, fifteen bacon rolls to the wind, to hear Adam Muckle, our President, introduce Ariana Azad, our first keynote speaker. Ariana is the Education Lead for the brilliant mentoring organisation One Degree, a charity focussed on bringing the best academic results out of children with the fewest advantages. She sparked a discussion among the delegates on the difference between mentoring and tutoring. 
It was amazing to see the lecture hall break out in discussion over this. Tutoring of course has an academic focus, and the best tuition has a very clear idea of what it wants to achieve, whether that be entry to a competitive school, an A* in a GCSE where a C has been predicted, and so on. Mentoring, be it to teenagers and children, or to adults (in a business context), is a wider-ranging skill, often with a less specific aim – that of the mentee’s improvement.

But there are similarities. Both are at their most effective when the tutor-mentor provides an example to follow. Both rely on motivation. Both can be an important role in a child’s life, and come with a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. And both have a valid goal: of leaving the candidate in a better place than they were previously. There is a base assumption that we are making here, that a higher level of education is something worth pursuing.
One Classics tutor pointed to the roots of both words; Mentor was Telemachus' advisor in The Odyssey; Tutor comes from the Latin tueri, to guard. How much more responsible for wellbeing and leadership was one role versus the other? We ended up agreeing that they do, of course, overlap - and the best tutors are as inspirational as the best mentors. I felt that part of the reason we debated the distinction for so long was because the tutors present were all the best type of tutors: committed to their students, and interested in their welfare and learning beyond simply trying to achieve a good grade.

The theme of the event was 'The Legacy of Learning', and we heard from legendary All Black captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, about the idea of leaving at the right moment. As William Petty pointed out in his seminar, your key aim as a tutor is to make yourself redundant as quickly as possible. You are there to help a student to learn independently and, once they can, it is time to go; it is bad tuition for the instructor to become a necessary crutch.
With over a hundred delegates, the Conference showed a real appetite for something that has not really existed before in our industry: a professional community. There have been attempts, of course: my own agency has hosted regular get-togethers for tutors, as have many others. But our personal experience has been one of only limited success, with swarms of as many as two, sometimes three, tutors causing quiet havoc in the Jam Tree. And that was fine, I thought: after all, when I had been a tutor, I had not felt much need to find a group of others, enjoying the independence.

But the mood has changed, and the Conference celebrated the independence of tuition while showing that a framework can exist in which tutors can work cooperatively, to improve their own practice and the standards of the sector as a whole. I hope that we can use the momentum of this day - which in so many ways represented a real mark of the Association's progress to date - to keep pushing forward the process of creating a vibrant professional network for tutors, and giving them the resources to enrich their tuition even further.

     Image of Ariana Azad - speaker at the National Tutoring Conference.


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