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Tutor conversing with an adult learner.

Prospective Tutor FAQs

1. How often do one-to-one tutors meet with learners?

We ask pairs to commit to meeting two times a week, 90 minutes per session, for one year.

2. How often do classroom tutors volunteer?

We will place you in a classroom that works with your schedule. We ask that you commit for at least one full school quarter.

3. Where do one-to-one tutor/learner pairs meet?

Pairs meet at public locations throughout Whatcom County including the community colleges, libraries, grocery stores, coffee shops and more. Coordinators will assist in finding a mutually convenient location.

4. Where do classroom tutors volunteer?

You may be placed in a classroom at Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, Goodwill Education Center, or in Small Group Classes for the Whatcom Literacy Council which are held all over Whatcom County. Let us know what your preferred location is.

5. If I am still in high school, can I be a tutor?

No. Tutors must be over 18 years old and have obtained a high school diploma or a G.E.D.

6. I’m not sure which program would be a better fit. How do I decide between ALP tutoring, ELL tutoring, and Classroom tutoring?

During an interview with a staff person you can discuss the different programs and how your interests and skills would fit in each program. If you are flexible we can place you in the program with the highest need.

7. Do you provide training?

Tutors complete pre-service online and face-to-face training. After the tutor is placed, on-going training and consultation is provided.

8. How are tutors and learners matched?

The one-to-one tutoring matching process takes time and coordination. Coordinators take many factors into consideration including availability schedule, preferred location, gender, personality traits, work experience, personal interests, etc.

9. How long does it take for a one-to-one tutor to be placed?

A tutor is often placed within a few weeks after attending training. At times it may take longer, especially if you have limited availability. Your coordinator will communicate with you to help you understand why the placement process may be taking longer than expected.


10. How long does it take for a classroom tutor to be placed?

We will place you in the classroom with most need for volunteers. This will likely be at the start of the next school quarter.


11. As a one-to-one tutor, will I be given a curriculum to teach or do I create the lessons myself?

After training, it is up to the tutor to prepare appropriate lessons based on the learner’s goals. Your coordinator will make recommendations for online/print resources and techniques that can be used with your learner. Online/print resources are available through the Whatcom Literacy Council library or the Whatcom County Library System.

12. What type of support is available once I begin tutoring?

Program coordinators are available for on-going support for tutors as needed. If you have questions about lesson planning, resources or would like to trouble shoot an issue you or your learner is having please contact your coordinator by e-mail, phone or set up an appointment to meet in person.

13. Do I have to be an expert in English grammar?

No. Our learners are studying basic skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening and computing. No expertise in grammar tutoring is necessary.

14. Do I need to speak the same language as my learners?

Absolutely not! At our trainings, you will learn instructional methods that do not require using the learner’s first language.

Current Tutor FAQs

1. My learner asked if we could meet at my home or his/her home for tutoring. Is this a good idea?

No. It is our policy that tutoring takes place in a public location. It is safer for everyone involved.

2. The learner sometimes brings children to tutoring. What should I do?

It is a requirement of our program that learners not bring their children or other family members to tutoring because this distraction makes it difficult to concentrate. It may be possible to change the meeting schedule to another time which is more convenient when someone would be home to care for the children. Or perhaps your learner could trade babysitting with a friend. Talk to your coordinator for assistance.

3. How do I keep the learner I am working with motivated?

The best way to motivate your learner is by carefully planning lessons focused on your learner’s interests and goals, making sure that your learner experiences lots of success.

4. What do I do if my learner wants to discuss personal issues rather than do work?

Sometimes learners come to tutoring with non-literacy issues that need to be resolved. As you become better acquainted with your learner, she/he may want to discuss these issues with you. Please remember that you are a literacy tutor and not a trained counselor, lawyer or social worker.

Try to tactfully redirect the learner’s attention to the lesson. It might be helpful to have a lesson agenda to refer to if you get off topic during a session. Contact your coordinator for referral resources that can help with these issues or brainstorm solutions if this becomes an issue.

5. What happens if my learner fails to show up?

It is our policy that both the learner and tutor call each other if they need to cancel a session. Please notify your coordinator if your learner fails to show up and does not call or if they cancel sessions frequently.

6. What do I do if a learner gives me a gift?

Our policy is that tutors are not to accept gifts from a learner of value in excess of $10. As a tutor you can decline a more expensive gift and remind the learner that you chose to volunteer to be a tutor and that you are happy to do it. If the learner feels strongly about wanting to give the tutor a gift, the tutor can suggest that the learner write them a thank you note to show their appreciation.

7. What should I do if my learner talks about his/her immigration status?

Our policy is that we help anyone who comes to us that meets our criteria, regardless of their immigration status. If a learner has legal questions about immigration please contact your coordinator for referral information.

8. I have difficulty understanding the learner that I work with. What should I do?

If you do not understand the learner, ask for clarification rather than repetition. If your learner’s goals include pronunciation then pay attention and as you listen, note specific difficulties with sounds or patterns and use these as areas of focus for further lessons.

9. The learner has difficulty understanding me. What should I do?

Smile! Speak slowly and distinctly. Use hand signals and body language or draw a picture. Limit use of slang and idioms that may be difficult for a language learner to understand. Use modeling to demonstrate a task prior to asking the learner to do it. Repeat what you said or rephrase.

If something doesn’t work and you can’t make yourself understood, drop it and move on. If a learner does not understand the lessons frequently consider creating easier lessons with lots of visuals like picture stories. Talk to your coordinator for ideas. 

10. My learner has difficulty retaining information. What should I do?

Many of our learners have this difficulty. One thing you can do as a tutor is to make sure that your lessons include adequate repetition and review. Generally the amount of repetition needed far exceeds your expectations. 

11. What should I do if my learner doesn't do homework?

Talk to your learner about it. Consider the difficulty level of the assigned work. You will not be there to assist your learner so all the work you send home should be at his/her independent level. Or your learner may just be too busy with work and family to find time to study at home. In this case you have to work extra hard to capitalize on the time you have together.

12. How should I correct the learner’s pronunciation?

Model clear speaking and use repetition. Demonstrate the mechanics of how each individual sound is produced (placement of lips, tongue, teeth.) Clap or count syllables and stress. Consider pace. Encourage learners to slow the pace of their speech so that they will be more understandable. See the Whatcom Literacy Council website Tutor Resources page for pronunciation resources.

13. What is the best way to approach grammar?

We recommend you address grammar using real-life, materials such as the learner’s writing, role-playing conversations, or a book that matches your learner’s level and interests. Have the learner identify grammar forms that are confusing to them and then model other similar examples.

Limit your focus to one or two points per session, give ample opportunity for practice and review often. Ask your coordinator for resources.

14. My learner needs more opportunities to practice outside of tutoring sessions. How can I help?

Consistent practice is the key to learning. Encourage your learners to set aside 10-15 minutes each day to practice the skills they are learning. You may want to look for additional classes such as the Whatcom Literacy Council Small Group Classes. You may also want to explore options for real-life practice for your learner such as volunteering in their community, in their children’s schools or for a community service agency.

15. I want to take a field trip with the learner, can I give the learner a ride?

No, it is our policy that the learners not ride in the tutor’s car or vice versa. You could meet at the destination or take the bus together.

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