Teacher vs. tutor: 7 key differences between teaching & tutoring

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What’s the difference between a tutor and a teacher? We all want to see kids succeed, so which would be the best support system for them?

The short answer: it depends!

Teaching and tutoring have a lot in common—both involve learning experiences designed to help kids improve skills and gain valuable knowledge.

It’s all about learning, right?

Well, learning comes in all shapes and sizes, and learning from both teachers and tutors is hugely beneficial to kids throughout their education. Teachers are essential to K-12 education, and kids thrive when they work with caring, experienced educators. On the other hand, there’s no denying the benefits of working 1-on-1 with a tutor, something that can be very different from a traditional classroom setting. 

When it comes to differentiating between teaching and tutoring, consider class in session. 

Tutoring vs. Teaching

We live in an age of unprecedented flexibility in educational options. Virtual learning, in-person school, hybrid models : it’s easy to feel spoiled for choice! Does my child need a teacher or a tutor? Online or in-person? 

We get it—there’s a lot to consider. Let’s simplify the learning equation.  

Here’s a breakdown of seven important differences between tutoring and teaching (plus some important things they should have in common!) To make decision-making a little easier, each of these points applies to both in-person and online learning formats.  

Class Size

This might be a no-brainer, but it’s an important no-brainer to bear in mind!

Think about it—teachers work with larger class sizes, usually upwards of at least 12 students. The social learning opportunities offered in this kind of environment encourages collaboration, teamwork, and leadership alongside the core content. If your child’s goals align, then working with a teacher is a great option. 

Tutoring is usually a much smaller setting; most often 1-on-1. Thus, tutors offer kids the chance to delve deeply into their interests, offer more space for their questions, and allow for minimal distractions as they work towards their goals. 

It’s worth asking yourself (and your child!) which kind of learning environment best meshes with what they hope to achieve and the kind of support they need. 

Expectations for Students

You’ll notice that teachers institute, for lack of a better term, more rules than a tutor will. I know from experience that corralling 25 kids at a time requires plenty of well-honed expectations and routines. That said, these pay off in spades when it comes to those benefits of collaborative learning mentioned earlier! 

Plus, many kids thrive with a little structure (or a lot of structure), and great teachers provide that.

Tutors, by comparison, will set some expectations for kids, don’t get me wrong—this is just one of many characteristics of a great tutor.

However, odds are that there are fewer in a tutoring session vs. a classroom, which can provide some breathing room for kids and a welcome break from the typical routine.

Tutoring expectations might be more centered on personal goal-setting, which is great for cultivating a customized learning experience.

Specialization & Knowledge

Tutors can offer laser-focused levels of expertise. For instance, a great coding tutor won’t just show kids how to code, but how to code a game, a website, or something else that sparks students’ interests. 

Teachers offer broader knowledge, and to become a teacher, mastering all kinds of pedagogical skills is a must. From classroom management to child psychology and specialized teaching techniques, teachers generally offer a higher level of expertise in terms of how material is delivered. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t experienced tutors out there, or that teachers can’t also be highly specialized, it’s just a matter of extra searching (or vetting) to make sure you’re getting the best of both worlds for your child! 

Topics & Curriculum

Think of this one as a difference in breadth and depth.

Often, teachers have a set curriculum, pre-determined learning objectives, and/or Common Core Standards guiding what’s covered in class. These benchmarks are important to measuring progress and ensuring groups of students get the essentials they need. Great teachers are able to engage students with a breadth of information in a meaningful way.

Tutors can take students through a much deeper dive with the material. An excellent math tutor, for example, will work within subjects like geometry or calculus to hone a select group of skills or concepts. This level of customization is one of the most notable benefits of tutoring, and  it’s one that’s hard to beat.

Scheduling & Structure

The start of a class and the start of a tutoring session are usually very different experiences. A typical classroom, be it virtual or in-person, will probably kick things off during school hours of Monday-Friday, whereas tutoring scheduling has more possibilities. 

For teachers, it’s practical to start with a warm-up like a fun question of the day for students, by reviewing objectives, or with another routine that students become accustomed to. From there, the rest of the 50 or 90-minute session will center on exploring those objectives.

Tutors have a bit more flexibility (you might be picking up on a theme here). That means that skill practice, working on a project, or whatever best helps kids achieve their goals. Often, students have more say in the session structure in a tutoring environment than in the traditional classroom. 

How success is measured

How do you know it’s “working”? High scores? More advanced skills? Ideally, it’s a combination of both!

Teachers usually implement multiple ways to measure student growth and success: progress reports, feedback on submitted work, and scores on assignments are all part of the day-to-day routine. 

With tutors, recognizing student success might look more like celebrating milestones: mastering a tricky concept, completing a project. In either setting, positive reinforcement should be a staple. 

With that in hand, kids have the encouragement and inspiration they need to get excited about their next learning adventure. If they’re ready to get started right away, our virtual tutors are online now and ready to make that happen.

A photo of Virginia

Virginia started with iD Tech at the University of Denver in 2015 and has loved every minute since then! A former teacher by trade, she has a master's in education and loves working to embolden the next generation through STEM. Outside the office, you can usually find her reading a good book, struggling on a yoga mat, or exploring the Rocky Mountains. 

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