By Sean Alexander

Teaching in the classroom and tutoring one-on-one each have unique characteristics. The classroom has group dynamics which can be thrilling. Tutoring allows flexibility to adapt to one student's learning style. Let's examine the unique strengths and challenges of the classroom and tutoring.

Benefits of the classroom

A teacher in front of the classroom

The classroom is thrilling because the group dynamic is unique to each class. You can't predict the discussions that will arise. Unexpected debates are super informative for everyone in the room. They allow students to think critically and bounce ideas off of each other.

For example, a student in physics class asks "what's the definition of energy?" This could go many places. The simple answer is the capacity to do work. What's work? A force applied over a distance. What does energy look like? Well, no one really knows. All we know is energy is a constant that changes in quality, but never in quantity. As you can see, a seemly simple question can get deep fast with group discussions. This is a wonderful learning benefit of the classroom.

Peer engagement is critical for learning. The classroom provides students the opportunity to solve problems together. Collaborative problem-solving is a skill needed for future work engagements. It's also essential to surviving in college. Math and physics majors in college will have problem sets assigned each week. Many of the problems are too difficult to do on your own. Only by forming peer groups can you get through the assignments on time. Group problem-solving skills learned in the classroom are essential for adult education.

Classroom challenges

Teachers need to teach to the average ability level of the class. Advanced and struggling students will be in the same course. This creates a challenge for the teacher, what level of material should they use? The simple answer is to teach somewhere in the middle. An advanced technique is to assign 3 problems of increasing difficulty. Everyone begins with the first problem, then moves to the next one once complete. This creates natural filtering of student ability. Each student will land on a problem that provides a challenge.

Classroom management is the most difficult part of teaching. Kids can be ruthless. Constant interruptions throw a wrench into a teacher's lesson plans. Naturally, there will be good students wanting to learn. These students are impacted by students that want to goof off. Every good teacher must have a system for classroom management. The difficulty of managing the classroom varies by the school district and school. Sadly, economically impacted schools can be the most difficult to manage. If your child is serious about learning, peer distraction will be a problem.

A tutor at the whiteboard showing a student how to do math

A private tutor has the ability to meet the student at exactly their level. This is impossible in the traditional classroom. By interacting with the student, a skilled tutor can quickly identify strengths and weaknesses. The tutor can then address the missing foundational issues.

For example, it's common for mathematics students to not know their fractions. This causes a lot of difficulty in advanced math classes. If the student is taking algebra 1, they will encounter systems of equations. If the system contains fractions, the student will freak out because they aren't confident with fractions. Solving a system of equations is an advanced, multi-step problem. The fractions are a small part of that problem, and the student is expected to know them. In this case, the missing foundational skill is fractions.

A tutor can identify the problem, and present fractions to the student in a manner they can understand. This approach directly fixes the problem. The example highlights the unique ability of a private tutor. Here is a video on fractions in systems of equations so you can see for yourself:

YouTube video

A private tutor will develop a meaningful relationship with your student. This level of private interaction builds trust. It's imperative a student feels safe to make mistakes. Mistakes are a crucial part of learning. Many students fear making mistakes in the classroom. This is a primal fear. Becoming a tribe outcast meant certain death in early human development. These primal fears are with us today. Getting a math problem wrong in front of the class is a form of tribe rejection. The student will fear coming off dumb to their peers. A private tutor provides safety from fear. You can't learn anything while afraid.

Challenges of private tutoring

  • The tutor does not get to see how the student behaves in class. This is important information. Is the student quiet or a class clown? Do they raise their hand frequently, or hide in the back? These behaviors are all part of the learning puzzle. The private tutor is blind to this part of the puzzle. Ideally, the tutor can communicate with the teacher. Not all tutors are willing to do this. And not all teachers are willing to communicate with tutors. Teachers are extremely busy, and extra communication tasks may not be a priority. However, many teachers are happy to do it. The tutor should reach out to each teacher to see if they are open to communicating.


  • The private tutor does not have access to the grade book. Test and homework scores are critical for assessing student performance. The private tutor must rely on the student or parent to provide data. The grade book may not be up to date. Not every student is forthcoming when asked for this information. Not having access to the grade book is a major handicap. The tutor should do everything in their power to get access to recent grades.


As a parent, it can be difficult to know what's going on in the tutoring session. Is your money going to good use? How can you measure progress? A high-level tutor should provide regular progress reports that outline strengths and challenges. You should be in regular contact with your tutor to get insight into what's happening. Be sure to keep track of your child's exams. Ultimately your tutor should be able to boost your child's grades and engagement.

Every learner is different. Some students need additional support to fully digest the concepts. If your child is doing great in school, a tutor isn't necessary. Though you can use a tutor to skip a grade level if that's your goal.

If your child is working hard but not seeing results, then a tutor is your best option.

The most important factor in tutoring success is the unique relationship between your child and their tutor. They have to have compatible personalities. Some people click with each other more than others. You want to take the time to find the tutor that clicks. Most tutoring agencies will allow a trial lesson. Be sure to do as many trial lessons as possible early in the school year. You want to afford yourself time if the first tutor doesn't work out. Learning and engagement are exponentially higher when you find the right fit. You'll know when you've found it. Your child's eyes should light up after the lesson. They should divulge details. If you ask how it went, and you get a one-word answer, then you can do better. Experiment as much as possible until you find the best solution for your child. Good luck!

YouTube video


  • Sean Alexander

    COMMAND PILOT, OWNER Sean has been a professional educator for 15 years and has taught math, physics, and astronomy at all levels.  His experience ranges from working at a high school for severe learning differences to teaching advanced physics at Stanford.  After completing his graduate work in theoretical physics Sean founded Alexander Tutoring, with the mission of revealing the deep connections between math and nature to as many students as possible. 

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