I tutor various math subjects online for a large tutoring company. I know that as a math tutor, it's my responsibility to be able to explain any concept in a way that makes sense to the student, or to be able to ask them the appropriate questions that will guide them through their homework.
There are two types of sessions:
- One-on-one sessions that are scheduled in advance.
- "Instant sessions" where I meet up with a student on the spot.
For sessions that are scheduled in advance, I have found that asking the student (before the session) to send me the problems that they are stuck on will improve my performance as a tutor during the session. I don't have to worry about improvising because I will have already pinpointed the challenging concepts and taken notes.
However, for "instant sessions", I lose the advantage of being proactive. I have no idea what the student is going to want to review until after the session has already begun. Every now and then, a student will be stuck on a challenging math problem such that when I read through it, I know immediately that I do not understand it and that I will struggle to help them. At that point, I feel that I have let the student down because it's literally my job to help them.
When such a situation arises, I find myself Googling the problem hoping to find a solution. But this is hit or miss; some teachers write their own math problems (which is what they should do), and the wait-time means that the student starts to get suspicious that I am incapable of helping them.
One idea that I have is to take a step back and remind the student of the basic concepts that (I think) the solution will involve. However, while this may be the "correct" approach from a math education standpoint, this may take extra time, and the student has to pay more money the longer the session goes. I fear that many students would become impatient, unless I could convince them that what I'm doing is relevant to solving the problem.
So my question is, how does my idea sound? Are there better ways to respond in such a situation that I should consider?
EDIT: I've tutored hundreds of different students, and I would say that around 90% of my sessions go well. I'm always trying to improve, which is why I'm asking this question.