What is the Difference Between a Teacher and a Tutor?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between teaching and tutoring? You may have not given it much thought but there are fundamental distinctions between a teacher and a tutor.

Teachers lead, Tutors ensure no one is left behind and breakdown barriers to education

It’s a teachers Job to deliver a whole syllabus within a set period of time. The teacher has two main aims.

  • to make the material as interesting as possible so the students will engage with it.
  • to try and enable as much of their class to grasp and understand as much of the material as possible.  

So, teachers must deliver the syllabus in a way that leads a group of students, trying their best to ensure as many students as possible will follow. Unfortunately, many students get lost and get left behind. Even with the most skilled teachers, the pressure of having to deliver a whole syllabus within a time-frame means that the delivery must be given in a way that captures the most students, which often means the average ability. But since not all students can learn in the same way, a barrier to education can be created. Even the extra bright students can be held back from realising their full potential if the class does not tackle more advanced material.

Tutors, on the other hand, focus more on ensuring an individual student understands what they are learning. The tutor can manipulate the learning to reach the student in a way that they can understand. It is the skill of the tutor to remove the barriers to learning and alter the pace of the learning to the student’s understanding.  Very skilled tutors can support a student to learn to manipulate the information themselves, supporting them to gain a different way of learning that enables them to both understand how they learn best, how to engage in mainstream teaching styles at the same time and how to translate some of the information themselves outside of the classroom.

Teachers deliver to groups, Tutors work 1:1

I think this is the main difference between teachers and tutors and one area that should really be firmly in the minds of all educators and parents alike.

Teachers are taught how to teach in small groups and to whole classrooms. They usually start with small groups and then teach larger classes. They are not generally taught how to work with students on a 1:1 basis.  Working with students on a 1:1 basis is completely different to working with a group.

In a lot of fields that specialise in working with people – specifically children, such as psychology, counselling and social work. Practitioners are taught to work with groups and or in a  1:1 way. As these professions know that working with groups involves inclusivity and the group working together, whereas working on a 1:1 basis becomes an emotional relationship.   The classroom has multiple personalities and characters. These combine, and the group has its own identity and group dynamics. Working 1:1 reduces this dynamic to a single individual student and individual tutor. So, attachment styles, capacity for openness and connection is now a part of the educational relationship, it’s very different to a classroom.

Some tutors and teachers are more suited and comfortable with the 1:1 relationship. Whereas others are more suited and comfortable working with groups.

Children can hide in a classroom and some may feel exposed during tuition

In a classroom, children have the ability to merge into the background if they are struggling. They can do this by not asking for help or not engaging and staying as quiet as they can. It is more difficult to support children who are hiding, as the difficulty only comes to light during tests and some homework. Some children who are struggling also can go the other way in the classroom. They can act the class clown or misbehave as a way of hiding their school-related difficulties. Some prefer getting into trouble to admitting they find their schoolwork hard, and the associated negative feelings that go along with that.

But, during tuition, students cannot hide and it becomes very difficult for them to act the class clown. They are forced to expose their school difficulties. Many will benefit greatly by working with these difficulties in their learning. However, some will struggle with this exposure, and the feelings of self-worth behind the hiding or acting out.

Teachers work with engagement, tutors work with connection

In a classroom, teachers need to engage the student and help them have an interest. But, the dynamics of a 1:1 relationship require the tutor to connect with the Student. Where the tutor fails to connect with students, with empathy and understanding of their educational ability, the relationship will feel uncomfortable or intense.  The students will not be able to learn as well as they could.

Teachers have to manage behaviour, tutors have to manage emotions

In the classroom, children can use their behaviour to dilute their learning to a way that is manageable to them. Either hiding or acting out in the classroom. But, during 1:1 children cannot hide or distract from their learning, so the tutor will soon meet the emotional world of the child, normally their negative self-esteem that lies under the behaviour they use in the classroom.  Tutors need to know what they are doing and be skilled to manage these emotions.

Teaching has a time delay, tutoring has immediacy and moment to moment feedback

When working with a group of students, we can understand this as teaching, there is a moment to moment feedback time delay. The student is part of a group and the teaching is delivered to the group. So an individual student rarely has direct one-to-one learning, and experiences a lot of the feedback with a time delay. The teacher also has a time delay on seeing the progress, achievements or difficulties a child may have. Normally having to wait for homework to be returned, or the results of tests.

In contrast, tutoring on a one-to-one basis has an immediacy and constant moment to moment feedback throughout the session. If tutoring is performed properly and the tutor can manage the immediacy and mediate the feedback to guard any negative feelings, the student will benefit tremendously and learn at a rapid rate

To summarise:


  • Teachers provide tuition to a large number of students, they are required to follow a standardized curriculum focused on specific academic standards. Their classroom should reach targets and this is done within a time limit.
  • A teacher must try and devise a method of teaching that fits most students.
  • Teachers will have to provide learning material that helps children with many different learning styles.
  • Teachers will adjust the pace to the classroom as a whole, if the majority of students have understood the information the teacher can move ahead.


  • Tutors provide individual one to one tuition. They can tailor the lessons to the individual students’ learning style.
  • Tutors can present information in several different ways or methods to help the student grasp concepts.
  • Students often lead the way with tutors, they request help with specific tasks or assignments. Tutors help fill in the gaps.
  • Tutors reinforce what has been taught in the classroom.
  • Teachers teach a subject but tutors pay attention to the students individual needs.
  • Tutors can help students with study skills and techniques. If one method does not work they will find another.

The work of teachers and tutors can be complimentary.

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