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Most think of good teachers as subject matter experts.  But that’s only part of the equation (and not always the case).  When selecting a tutor, pay attention to a tutor’s ability to connect with you and your learning -- not just the subject or material.  Here's why. 

Consider any international athletic superstar -- Serena Williams, for example.  Despite her incredible abilities as a tennis player, she might be a lousy tennis coach.  


How could that be?  


For those who have mastered a skill (or subject), using it can start to feel natural, or blur with the idea of common sense.  After thousands of hours of practice and performance, Serena might forget how she first learned to hit a backhand, in her childhood, years ago.  Just line it up and hit it, right? 

While she constantly refines her skills, she likely performs best when she gets in “the zone,” shutting out conscious thought, letting her muscles work from memory.  Over time, if she forgets those initial struggles from childhood, or never develops a way to communicate them to others, she might fail to relate to someone struggling with the same task today.  If she cannot do so in a way that allows the latter to improve, she would fail to coach. 

Now, consider star coaches.  They were often decent players in their day, but not necessarily the best.  Many failed to reach the caliber of the superstars they coach. 

How does a coach move beyond his or her skill as a player?

These coaches succeed because, among other qualities they possess, they can relate to the skill-building struggle and are able to communicate effectively the steps to transcend that struggle. Yes, they developed command of the skill or subject, but just as importantly, they can connect with others to help them do the same.  This could be a mastery that ultimately goes above and beyond the coach’s. 


This concept applies to teaching. 


A Nobel laureate in chemistry very well could be a lousy high school chemistry teacher if his pedagogical skills fail to pass muster.  Of course, command of a subject is a prerequisite to teach it, but pedagogy carries an equal hand.  For anyone who has been to college and struggled in a course taught by a “leader in the field” of some subject, you have seen this firsthand. 

We want to believe that Serena would be an excellent tennis coach.  Maybe she would be!  But that conclusion doesn’t naturally follow from her playing ability.  Her success would depend on her ability to teach as much as her ability to play.

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