Teaching: 1-to-1

Over the last three years there have been a few occasions where I have taught 1 to 1, either privately or in a school. As I have mostly been teaching students from the Middle East, these instances have often occurred on a Friday when most have gone to mosque, but one or two ladies have stayed behind, or sometimes European students, who wouldn’t be attending mosque anyway.


Now, if you know me, you will know that I’m naturally a worrier (sadly, not a warrior!) and fret over silly things. Well, these classes were no exception.

During my first year of teaching, my students knew I was a new teacher and they were so supportive of that. They never complained or acted up, they never gave me any trouble and always seemed grateful of any help I could give them. So if ever I only had 1 student, this usually became an English culture lesson, or study tips. I worried, but once they happened I never felt out of my depth – but I have no idea why!

There was about a year when I had no 1 to 1 classes, for various reasons. I didn’t really think anything of it. I loved the group classes that I taught and I never really needed to teach privately, so I didn’t. I never thought of teaching privately to expand my knowledge or skills. In many ways, I wish I had taught more 1 to 1 lessons before the lockdown, but here we are!


Then, when I moved to Manchester I had a couple of scheduled 1 to 1 classes with the lovely English in Manchester, all of which I really enjoyed – and actually miss at the moment. However, I panicked for days before the lesson despite being fully prepared. I never felt good enough and I just couldn’t believe in myself, and then I’d worry even more that my students would see right through me as well. Honestly, pull yourself together woman! Right?

And when the pandemic closed the schools I found myself often teaching one student in the ‘skills’ lessons, despite having 12 students on the register. This also made me worry a lot. I was worried that none of my materials would work, or that the lesson wouldn’t be interesting if there wasn’t another student for them to talk to.


However, at the beginning of this year I had two different parents approach me and ask me if I would tutor their children (yes, children! Me!) and I said yes. For one of them, I had known them for a year already and had met the child a few times. He is absolutely delightful and very bright. I didn’t think he was shy, but by the fourth lesson I realised that he had been. He was suddenly telling me jokes, stories he’d read and about the funny things that had happened during the week prior to the lesson. What were pleasant lessons to start with have quickly become completely enjoyable and very amusing!

One of my favourite comments so far has been: “you know, in the olden days, like 20 years ago…” I had to try so hard not to laugh.


I didn’t know anything about the other student. Her father asked me to have a quick chat with her via Zoom but she was too shy. I was worried about how I would move forward, but thankfully we spoke a bit via messenger and she agreed to have a lesson.

During the first week she was very shy, nervous and you could tell she was worried about making mistakes. I felt so sorry for her because I remember exactly what that felt like at school, especially learning another language. (I was constantly ridiculed for how terrible my German was. Everyone always laughed!). 

However, to my surprise, and happiness, towards the end of the second week she started to come out of her shell, and in the third week she was just shining. She was using lots of new words (and trying to find new ways to use them) and she wrote this brilliant blog post about her favourite music, K-pop. It sounds silly, but I wanted to cry. The first time we tried to write something, she was nervous and found it a little difficult, but the second time she was full of ideas and desperately wanted to express herself. 

My favourite part was when she said that some people don’t like her favourite singer, and I encouraged her to add ‘Why not??’ after she wrote the previous point in the blog post. She thought it was brilliant!

Even better was that we shared the post with her father, who seemed equally as pleased and has provided me with some very positive feedback recently.


So, this is week 5 of officially teaching 1 to 1 with a variety of ages, levels and backgrounds and I’m absolutely loving it. Naturally, I miss the classroom. I loved the layout at Kaplan and I miss the cosy classrooms of English in Manchester. I miss the staffroom chats and talking to the students without the barrier of a computer, sound issues or poor internet connections. I miss actually seeing what they’re working on and setting up the group work.

But, this could be the future and I’m absolutely embracing it. I love that I don’t commute anymore. I love that I can teach in my slippers, even if I wear a smart shirt and blazer. I love that I can reheat my coffee and have sneaky snacks. I love technology anyway, I always have done, but I reckon I’m quite an old school teacher. I can work with a whiteboard and marker, and cut up games just as well as I can teach with Google Slides and Kahoot! I love teaching both ways, but it’s weird not having the other options at the moment.


Sorry, I’m running away with my thoughts a little here… so I’ll round this up with a few tips and ideas for teaching 1 to 1 – from my perspective, of course!


The most important part of teaching is building rapport with your students, and this is even more important when you’re teaching 1 to 1, especially online. Teaching online can make it difficult to build rapport as easily as you can in the classroom and if there’s only two of you in a classroom it can sometimes feel awkward or slightly strange.

There’s no one else to take the attention off of you for even a second, for both student and teacher. Whereas in a big classroom with 10 or 20 students – or even 5! – it can be a lot easier to quickly build rapport. The positive thing about this is that the students know it’s not easy, and are usually understanding. However, if they are youngsters they may not be as understanding. My advice for this is try to connect with them straight away.

You can ‘teach’ them without them realising. Talking about school, hobbies, family whilst giving them keywords, or posing useful questions. If you go straight into page one of an online textbook they might feel flustered or overwhelmed, making yourself seem like a bit of a robot. I’m sure there are loads of you reading this thinking, “Well duh. That’s common sense…” but, maybe there isn’t.

What I thoroughly enjoy about teaching 1 to 1 is that I can choose whatever materials I want, adapt the materials I have specifically to that student and completely focus on them and their needs. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love working in a class, helping them to support each other and find ways to help them stay motivated, but I do genuinely love giving one student all of my support and attention. Whether they actually like that, who knows!


So, to wrap it all up… and these are by no means an exhaustive list. 

Pros of teaching 1:1

  • You’re able to focus on that student’s needs, strengths and weaknesses without the distraction of other students 
  • You’re able to be more flexible and more adaptable 
  • Develop a more authentic relationship between student and teacher 
  • The learner has more opportunities to practise and use the target language 
  • Parents of young learners may be more involved – asking for reports or weekly feedback – which gives you an opportunity to build a positive relationship and understand your student(s) in more depth.

Cons of teaching 1:1

  • Students may tire quickly, especially at a beginner level 
  • It may also be tiring for the teacher, especially if classes are 90 minutes or longer 
  • There are limited opportunities for the student to interact, as there won’t be other students. This removes the option for teamwork and many other activities such as board games, find-someone-who, races and so on. Many learners crave the support or protection of other learners in a classroom so that the attention is not solely on them 
  • If you cannot build a positive relationship with your student, this will have a negative impact on all of your lessons 
  • Parents of young learners may be far more involved in lessons, marking and tests than they would in a classroom. Some parents may try to tell you how to do your job, which can be frustrating if the parents are not teachers. (Thankfully, I do not have this problem with my YLs!)

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading! I’d love to know what your thoughts are on teaching 1 to 1 so feel free to leave a comment or connect with me over on Twitter!

 

 

 

 

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