Grow Your Own Program: Recruiting and Selecting Tutors

Overview: How do you build an effective and diverse cohort of tutors?

Your tutors are your program’s most important asset. To find the best tutors for the role, you must clearly define required qualifications and ideal qualities, prioritize them based on your district context and program model, and design an intentional recruitment and selection strategy to build a diverse cohort of tutors that will meet your scale goals while remaining within your tutoring program’s budget.

Which tutor types can be effective tutors?

The most important determining factor in your recruitment and selection process will be the type of tutor you plan to recruit. A wide variety of tutor types can be effective tutors as long as they have strong training and ongoing support. Typically, the most successful High-Impact Tutoring programs have chosen tutors who have at least a college degree, some experience working with children, and a growth mindset about student potential. However, depending on your Focus Area, you might source tutors from many different backgrounds, including:

  • Paraprofessionals
  • Retired Teachers
  • Current Teachers
  • College Students
  • Recent College Grads
  • Teachers in training
  • Peers or near-peers
  • Students’ Caregivers
  • Community Volunteers

How do you choose a tutor type?

Consider the Model Dimensions of your tutoring program when deciding your tutor type and pay particular attention to:

  • Focus Area. The more challenging your Focus Area, the more experienced your tutors should be. This applies to content area and grade level, but also to pedagogy, especially if your focus area prioritizes ELLs or students with IEPs: bilingual tutors or those with Special Education experience may be necessary.
  • Student-Tutor Ratio. The more students a tutor must support simultaneously, the more experience they should have before starting the role, and the more training and ongoing support they should receive.
  • Dosage. The more frequent your sessions, and the more integrated they are into the school day, the more likely you are to need full time tutors.

How does tutor type affect recruitment and selection?

Your preferred tutor type will determine the qualities of your ideal tutor, your tutor job description, tutor pay, and more. In general, more experienced tutors are costlier to find and recruit, but easier to train and support.

How does tutor type affect training and support?

A wide range of individuals can be great tutors. Nonetheless, the less pedagogical training a tutor already has and the greater the responsibilities of the tutor role, the more training and support the tutor will need. If the tutor type is teachers or paraprofessionals, they will have previous training in pedagogy; thus, the program will likely only need to provide training on its own specific program requirements such as session structure, instructional individualization, and rapport-building. If a tutor is a college student or near-peer, however, your program will need to provide both general knowledge on effective instruction and program-specific training.

How many tutors do you need to hire?

These four questions will help you estimate the number of tutors you need to hire:

  • Students: How many students will receive tutoring? The more students you need to support, the more tutors you will need to hire. As tutors’ caseload grows, they not only have to work more hours, but may also find it more difficult to build meaningful individual connections with every single student.
  • Dosage: How many hours of tutoring will each student receive per week? The more tutoring each student needs, the more tutors you will need to hire. Aim to provide at least three 30-minute sessions per week for younger students and three longer sessions for older students; anything less is unlikely to have a meaningful effect on students’ academic growth.
  • Workload: How many hours of tutoring will each tutor provide per week? The more hours of tutoring each tutor can provide, the fewer tutors you will need to hire. This assessment does not include time spent on training, support, prep, or paperwork: just the number of hours of actual session facilitation per tutor per week. The upper limit of a tutor’s workload depends on the total number of hours in the master schedule set aside for tutoring, for example: # of Hours per day when tutoring can occur × # of Days per week each tutor works = Maximum Hours per Tutor
  • Ratio: How many students will each tutor work with simultaneously? The more students with whom a tutor can work, the fewer tutors you need to hire. With enough experience, training, and support, tutors can work with up to three students at a time while maintaining their impact on each student’s academic growth:
    Guidance for Number of Students Effectively Managed by Experience Level and Training

    Training and Support Provided

    Tutors’ Experience Level Minimal Thorough
    Novice tutors 1 3
    Experienced tutors 1 3
    Master tutors 3 3

To estimate how many tutors you will need to hire, use the calculation below:

How will you recruit tutors?

Create a clear and concise job description.

Read more about Tutor Job Description Guidance on the National Student Support Accelerator website, where you can find examples of tutor job descriptions from various tutoring programs with different tutor types.

Recruit at least 4x more applicants than the number of tutors you need to hire.

Whatever minimum number of tutors you calculated above, multiply that number by 4 to estimate the number of applicants you need to recruit. From most pools of applicants, less than 50% will likely meet your selection criteria and receive offers. Less than 50% of those (25% of the total pool) likely will accept your offer. Set goals for the number of applicants from minority backgrounds to help develop a diverse, qualified cohort.

Establish a clear recruitment timeline.

Based on your program scale and Planning Timeline, work backwards from the first day of tutor training to set specific recruiting deadlines. Start earlier than you think you need to, and consider staggered start dates if you plan to conduct phased pilot programs of increasing scale across various schools in your district.

Leverage partnerships to build your recruitment pipeline.

Partnerships with local colleges and universities are particularly valuable, as you can recruit tutors of various types: near-peers in students’ first year of undergraduate study, volunteers or novice tutors throughout their undergraduate tenure, experienced tutors among recent graduates, and even expert tutors among current graduate students (particularly those studying education, teaching, social work, or the particular content area for tutoring). Partnering with local educational institutions not only helps fill your tutor pipeline with local community members, but can contribute to your pipeline for future teachers and other school staff.

Conduct outreach both in person and online.

While recruitment methodologies will vary greatly by tutor type, always look for tutors within your district’s local community first. To recruit a diverse cohort of applicants who can more easily build rapport with the students they will serve, consider local school communities, district professional networks, and local career fairs first, before branching out into online modalities like online job boards and social media platforms. Tailor your recruitment materials to your audience, and choose your messengers strategically based on context.

Read more about Tutor Recruitment Strategy on the National Student Support Accelerator website.

Make the application process accessible.

The more complex your application process becomes, the harder it will be to recruit tutors, particularly when recruiting less-experienced tutors like recent college graduates applying for their first “real job.”

How will you select and screen your final tutor candidates?

Determine Selection Criteria and Identify Indicators

Start with the qualities of your ideal tutor, then determine which ones your training will impart (e.g., practical skills or content knowledge). For all remaining qualities, identify the observable behaviors that will serve as objective proxies for each, and use these behaviors to evaluate candidates throughout the selection process.

Prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Your candidate pool should reflect the backgrounds of the students tutors will serve. To ensure equity in the selection process, provide all your selectors anti-bias training to help counter their own implicit biases. When developing selection criteria, consider how advanced you need tutors to be when it comes to understanding racial equity and trauma-informed instruction. Some programs look for an openness to learning and an acknowledgement of intrinsic bias as this mindset sets the foundation for future training.

Involve Students in the Selection Process

Tutors ultimately work for their students. Therefore, involving student voices in the selection process can be both empowering for the students and helpful for the program. Gathering student feedback is usually best achieved by having tutor candidates conduct demo sessions with actual students once prospective tutors have cleared most of the hurdles in the selection process. The’ goal of these sessions is to gauge how well tutors connect with the students they will serve.

Screen Prospective Tutors with Reference and Background Checks

Professional reference checks should address the applicant’s experience working with children. Depending on your jurisdiction, a specific background check may also be required by law. To ensure student safety, all your tutors should be screened prior to working with any students. Read more about Tutor Background Checks and general Tutor Selection Strategy on the National Student Support Accelerator website.

How will you set clear expectations in tutor contracts and agreements?

Prospective tutors need a clear understanding of the program’s expectations and the training it provides (i.e., during the recruitment and selection process) so that they know what to expect and can prepare appropriately. Clear expectations provide tutors with a benchmark for self-evaluation and a reference point when expectations are not met.

Your district’s HR department will likely have examples and specific guidance on the type of agreement that is most appropriate for tutors given hiring regulations (e.g., collective bargaining agreements). In addition to the contract/agreement paperwork required by your human resources team, also consider having tutors sign an agreement document that explicitly outlines the expectations of the role. This documents an understanding and provides legal cover if a tutor fails to meet expectations. Read more about Setting Expectations with Tutors on the National Student Support Accelerator website.