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The Importance of Empathy In Online Tutoring

frustrated student needing emapthy while tutoring

Katie sits down at her computer to complete her online tutoring session, and she's already upset. She wants to be running and playing outside, not doing more schoolwork — and she's pretty sure she'll never understand multiplication anyway. She had a bad day at school, and the last thing she wants is to spend even more time having to do math.

When her tutor logs on, he gets straight down to business: no talk about her day, no patience for her frustration. Her tutor refuses to listen to her when she tells him that she just doesn't get it. He keeps insisting that she has to try and directs her back to the same task repeatedly. The more frustrated she gets, the more frustrated he seems to get with her.

Katie leaves the tutoring session convinced she'll never get multiplication — and more frustrated than ever before.

Empathy is a core component of effective tutoring. If you aren't able to connect with students on an emotional level, chances are, you won't be able to reach them on an academic level, either. Your tutoring sessions will quickly turn into a frustrating exercise for both of you.

Eventually, that may mean that your student actually becomes less willing to engage with the topic or show what they can do. By showing empathy, on the other hand, you may find that your students are more likely to connect with and trust you.

What Is Empathy, and Why Does It Matter in Online Tutoring?

Empathy is not only the ability to understand someone else's feelings, but to show patience for them and to connect with that person in the midst of those feelings. Employing empathy involves four key components:

  • Perspective taking
  • Avoiding a judgmental mindset
  • Identifying the emotions students are feeling
  • Communicating that you understand the student's emotions

Let's take a look at the foundational components of empathy and how you can apply them to your tutoring sessions.

Take Perspective

Take a moment to look at things from the student's perspective. The student you're helping may be struggling to understand the concepts you're trying to present. For them, it may be very difficult. On the other hand, from your perspective, the subject you're teaching may not be challenging to you. After all, you can't tutor in it if you don't have a solid understanding of it!

What is it that's causing the student's difficulty? Take a moment to step outside your own perspective and consider it from the student's end.

Do you have a student struggling due to missing foundational knowledge, possibly resulting from inconsistent instruction during the pandemic? A student struggling to wrap their mind around a more advanced concept?

Try to look at things from their perspective so you can better explain the concept and support the student.

Avoid a Judgmental Mindset

It's easy to be judgmental of a student who doesn't seem to have the motivation to learn. Some students are simply in your online tutoring sessions because their parents or teachers have made them.

However, those may be the students who need your support the most. Avoid the instinct to judge. Remember that your students are there to learn. Most students are willing — and even eager — to learn and perform well when they have the right tools.

If your student is struggling, chances are it's because of a barrier standing in their way. When you identify that barrier, you can help your student be much more successful.

When students sense you're judgmental, they're often unwilling to learn from you. As a result, your judgment can actually become a further barrier to student learning.

On the other hand, when you're able to avoid that judgmental mindset, you can put yourself in a better position to overcome the challenges your student might be facing, which can, in turn, offer considerable learning support.

Identify Students' Emotions

Pay attention to what emotions your students are experiencing. Are they frustrated? Upset? There are two strategies to identify student emotions.

First, get a feel for how students generally feel about the subject they're studying. A student who "hates math" may actually be struggling to comprehend a concept or idea that has been presented.

Next, ask specific questions that get at the core of the student’s pain points with the subjects. Perhaps they dislike their current math class because they feel like the pace of their in-class instruction is too fast. Use these insights to inform how you structure your tutoring sessions to help the student overcome any barriers.

Communicate That You Understand Students' Emotions

A critical part of empathy is showing that you understand your students' emotions. Sometimes, especially for younger students, you may want to ask some probing questions to help students identify those emotions:

"Are you feeling frustrated about this? If you’re having trouble understanding X, let's work on that for a minute." "We've been working on this for a while. Are you getting burned out? Let's take a break and focus on Y for a bit."

You may also want to show empathy by identifying that you know a student is sad about something that happened in class that day or that a student is disappointed in a grade on a test or quiz. As a result, your student will feel more deeply connected to you, more likely to trust you, and better prepared, in general, to engage with you.

Putting Yourself in Students' Shoes Makes You a Better Tutor

By learning to empathize with your students, avoid judgment, and connect with them, you can really hone your tutoring skills. Empathic tutoring can go a long way toward providing your students with a more solid basis for learning.

Are you an empathetic tutor ready to share your knowledge with students to help them learn and achieve? Apply now to join our bustling network of talented tutors.

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