New Tutor Interviews

Corrie Rhyasen Erdman, Community Learning Network

1 4 18 October 2016

In the CALP world we know, without a doubt, how valuable volunteer tutors are. They willingly share their time, energy and expertise with adult foundational learners in a way that shifts their world and how they interact in their world.

Setting tutors up for success begins long before the tutor and learner are matched together. Coordinators begin coaching tutors in the best ways to work with adult learners from the moment they first meet and they model it throughout the first meeting. I asked a handful of experienced CALP literacy and volunteer coordinators what important elements to keep in mind for that first interview with a potential tutor. There were many common themes in their approaches to welcoming tutors into their organization. These most basic practices are listed below for those who are exploring good practice for screening new tutors. Are these practices important to you? What other considerations are important to your practice in screening tutors?

Create a warm and welcoming space

  • This simple and hospitable approach demonstrates the organization’s value in each individual person - staff, tutors and learners are all treated with the same respect and dignity.
  • Start by meeting somewhere comfortable and conducive to a casual conversation. Meeting across a desk sets up a power dynamic that does not model the collaborative approach used in adult learning. If possible use comfortable chairs that are arranged more for casual conversation than for a formal meeting.
  • Valerie Nelson, Volunteer Coordinator from PALS in Edmonton looks at this first meeting as a welcome to the PALS family. She offers potential volunteers a coffee, tea or water before they get started and then has a casual chat to find out more about them.
  • All coordinators emphasized the importance of the warm and friendly nature of this initial conversation. Nanette Jones of Flagstaff Community Adult Learning Council says, “You can find out far more about someone by making them feel comfortable than following questions on a checklist.”

Explain about your program

  • Highlight the vision of your organization and the focus on building adult foundational skills
  • Provide a picture of what tutoring would look like
  • Donna Taylor of Words Work Literacy Society shares a few learner scenarios that are typical for her program so tutors get a glimpse of the range of learning needs and what tutoring might look like for them
  • Give a tour of the office to show where they might meet to tutor, find resources and introduce others in the office so they see who else is part of the organization

Clarify the tutor role and expectations

  • Discuss the responsibilities, expectations, training and available supports for volunteer tutors
  • Provide a printed copy of the tutor job description
  • Clarify the different areas of focus for tutoring (literacy, numeracy, ELL, ELL literacy, basic computer skills) and explore where the tutor’s skills fit best

Know what you are looking for in a tutor

  • While you meet with a tutor you are evaluating their suitability for working one-on-one with learners. The most common characteristic our CALP coordinator panel look for in a new tutor is their social skills. Do they have the skills to support, encourage and accept learners? Interestingly, this ranked higher than education background.
  • Even more interesting, a learner survey reveals that learners themselves prefer a tutor whose personal qualities reflect a “caring human being” over someone with expertise. (from “Qualities Developed by Good Tutors” (Handout 2.4) in Creating Learning Partners)
  • Wendy Rhodes of CALLS in Fort Saskatchewan talks about checking in with her “gut feeling” when considering potential matches with learners. Other coordinators echoed this and discussed how listening to their intuition (or knowledge of people) along with the information they gather from the application and interview helps to determine a tutor’s suitability with a particular learner or with the program in general.

What to look for in a volunteer:

a) Must have a sincere interest in helping people (being a good teacher is a bonus)
b) Must be flexible and adaptable (attendance, what students are working on, and mood of students fluctuates radically)
c) Must be enthusiastic and have a good level of energy (leave personal problems at the door)
d) Must be able to commit for a reasonable length of time (minimum 4-6 months) (continuity is important) recognizing that they are volunteers and will miss the odd week

- Decoda Literacy Solutions. (June 2012). Working with volunteers: 25 ideas for good practice.

Coach tutors using a strengths-based approach

  • All coordinators mentioned the intimidation factor of the tutor role because many people assume teaching experience is required
  • Nancy Dinsdale of Lobstick Literacy and Learning Society explains how she gently points out the background experiences and skills that tutors mention in the interview and connects them to the skills needed for tutoring. She is known to say, “We are all learners and we are all teachers,” meaning that no matter what skill set tutors bring with them they have learning experiences, both as a teacher and a learner, to draw on and use as a tutor.

Special thanks to the following CALP coordinators who shared their expertise on volunteer tutor interviews:

  • Valerie Nelson of PALS in Edmonton
  • Nanette Jones of Flagstaff Community Adult Learning Council in Killam
  • Donna Taylor of Words Work Literacy Society in Athabasca
  • Wendy Rhodes of Community Adult Learning and Literacy Society in Fort Saskatchewan
  • Nancy Dinsdale of Lobstick Literacy and Learning Society in Evansburg

For further learning on Managing Volunteer Tutor Programs:

Community Learning Network (2015). Tip Sheet: Tutor program – first steps. Retrieved from:

Community Literacy of Ontario. (2010). Developing job descriptions in Ontario’s community literacy agencies. Retrieved from:

Decoda Literacy Solutions. (June 2012). Working with volunteers: 25 ideas for good practice. Retrieved from:

Literacy Alberta. (2007). Creating learning partners: A facilitator’s guide for training effective adult literacy tutors. Retrieved from:

Corrie Rhyasen Erdman
Regional Support Staff
West-Central Alberta


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