Helping students feel comfortable about being tutored or mentored


Some students may feel angry, or even hurt, about being chosen to participate in a tutoring or mentoring program. Oftentimes, students become upset if they are taken out of the classroom or are prevented from participating in other out-of-school-time activities because of tutoring or mentoring. In this practice, America Learns provides strategies for discussing these issues openly with students and suggests ways to respond to student discomfort about tutoring or mentoring. The ideas are intended to assist tutors and mentors in one-on-one situations with children between pre-kindergarten and sixth grade.


Some students may be upset about being selected for a tutoring or mentoring program and the time these programs take away from other students and activities.


Step 1: Try to determine the reason your student is upset.

If you know why your student is upset, it will help to respond more appropriately. Hopefully, your student can just tell you what is wrong. However, some students might not know how to express their feelings and others might be unwilling to talk about it.

Try to approach the subject by saying something to your student like, "I notice you're upset. I'd like to help. What's wrong?"

A supervisor or the student's teacher may also be able to provide some helpful background information and/or suggestions. You might talk to this person by saying, "My student seems upset. Is there anything I should know so I can help her?"

Step 2: Support your student.

Since you may not be able to figure out the exact reason your student is upset (which is completely normal, by the way), be willing to try different ways to support your student. Following are some possible causes and corresponding ways to respond.

  • Is your student scared, shy, or just nervous? Try and make her feel more comfortable by starting the session with a game or reading her a book.
  • Is she mad because she was taken from another activity? Talk about the goals and schedule for your time together. Give your student some choices about what she would like to do and in which order she would prefer things to happen.
  • Did something just happen to upset her? Empathize with her and her feelings about the situation. You might say, "It's never fun when [that] happens. When I was a fourth grader, that happened to me as well, and I really didn't like it." Take time to listen. Ease into more formal work with your student as she begins to calm down.
  • Is she tired after school and in need of a break? Take some time to relax and talk together.
  • Is this the first time you've met and she doesn't know what to expect? Discuss the purpose for being tutored as described in Step 3, below.
  • Can your student speak English fluently? Find out about your student's English fluency level.

Step 3: Discuss the purposes for being tutored or mentored.

Children are selected to be part of a tutoring or mentoring program for a variety of reasons. Some are chosen because they need the extra help or time to learn. Others may be placed with a tutor because they can benefit from individual support. Regardless of the reason your student is upset, it's important that she understand why she is being tutored and how she might benefit from your time together.

You might say, "Do you know why you and I are spending this time together?"

[Listen to your student's response. You may need to inform her of the purpose or correct any misinterpretation of the actual reason.]

"I want to help you become an even better reader and writer."

"I want to help you complete your homework."

"I want to help you understand math better."

"Many people learn even better when they have one person to help them."

Focus on the positive reasons for being tutored and not on negative ones. Avoid saying things like, "You need my help because you can't read," "You are behind in school," or "You might not pass this year."

Step 4: Share each session's goals and schedule.

While Step 2 above notes that sharing the session goals and schedule is especially important to do when your student is angry about being taken away from another activity, it's generally a good idea to share each session's goals and schedule no matter your student's mood. Informing your student of what she can expect from each session should help to lessen any anxiety she may have, and make her feel better about your time together.

Step 5: Remember to praise your student and reinforce her efforts and accomplishments.

This is another way to help her feel better about herself as a learner and about your time together. You might say things like, "Your effort is really paying off. I knew you could do it. You're doing an excellent job reading aloud and thinking about what you're reading. I'm proud of how hard you're working on your homework."

NOTE: If your student is having real problems with reading, it's misleading to say, "You're doing an excellent job" when she knows and you know that she isn't. You can still encourage your student by saying, "Here is one way I see you improving as a reader: [e.g., enunciation, patience, comprehension]. You're doing a great job taking steps toward being a stronger reader!"

For more information:

Website: America Learns Network Superstars


Stanley, S. (2005, July). My student feels uncomfortable about being tutored/mentored. Mission Hills, CA: America Learns National Reading Tutor & Mentor Response Center.


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