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A tutor is a person who teaches or guides another person. Usually, the tutor is an older expert who teaches a younger learner. Early examples were Socrates, who taught philosophy by holding conversations with his students, and Aristotle, who was appointed the personal tutor of Alexander the Great when the latter was a youth.
The essence of a tutor's work is to adjust the teaching to the individual learner. The tutor has to take account of:
- what the learner already knows and does not know
- what the learner has incorrectly learnt
- the personal interests and goals of the learner
- the particular talents of the learner
The idea is that a tutor teaches, or 'moulds' the student as a whole. However, there is an obvious difference between the tutor's need for technical know-how and his or her need for 'people skills'. The system operated at the older colleges of Oxford University recognises this by appointing two tutors to a student: a subject-matter tutor and a moral tutor. The latter helps the student with problems of a personal nature.
Education by a tutor is often thought to be an ideal kind of education, because the tutor can adjust the learning to suit the student. However, the word is often misused. If students are taught in groups larger than three or four, then much that makes a tutorial special is lacking.
There are parallels in other walks of life. Sports people have coaches, and the job of a coach is very similar to that of a tutor. A guru might be regarded as a kind of tutor. A mentor is a kind of tutor. Parents with children do much that a tutor does.
Tutoring in mainstream education
In British, Australian, New Zealand, and some Canadian universities, a tutor is often but not always a postgraduate student or a lecturer who conducts a seminar for undergraduate students. These seminars are often known as a tutorial. In the United States and the rest of Canada, a tutor is known as a teaching assistant.
Secondary school form tutors
In the United States, peer tutors are students teaching other students of the same or similar age or grade level. When peer tutors are trained how to tutor correctly, peer tutoring is both cost effective and academically effective.
- Bailey, Cyril. 1965. The tutorial system. Revised by J.B. Bamborough, in Handbook to the University of Oxford. 279–286 Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- At St. John's College the professors are referred to as tutors. They serve the function of guiding the conversation and attempting to keep it focused, whether in tutorials or in seminar.