10 Signs You're a Toxic Tutor

Tuesday, March 7th, 2023

Toxic tutoring
Tutoring is one of the most powerful tools to help others grow. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most destructive forces that can wreak havoc in the life of those on the receiving end.
Everyone tells you how to be a good tutor, but not many talk about toxic tutoring. For students, a toxic mentor can be the difference between success and failure, between achieving their goals and giving up.
Tutoring is a responsibility to provide advice and guidance to help mentees grow and become successful. Unfortunately, not everyone is cut out for this type of role, and some end up ruining the relationship with their toxicity. Of course, nobody wants to be a toxic tutor, and every tutor can make mistakes, but recognizing when your attitude and approach become toxic is critical. Let's dive right in to discuss the signs you're a toxic mentor. Let's dive right in to discuss the signs you're a toxic tutor.

Toxic Tutoring Signs: Are You a Toxic Tutor?

It can be difficult to accept that you're a toxic tutor, but reflecting within to ensure you're not abusing the role is critical for success. Otherwise, you'll leave your students with a bad tutoring experience that may have a long-lasting impact on their lives.

Here are the top ten signs you must look out for.

  1. You're Disrespectful: Some tutors fail to respect their students just because they are older and have more knowledge and experience than them. They forget that the purpose of tutoring is to help people expand their knowledge base and develop their skills and abilities. Anyone more focused on their superiority is never in the right position to guide anyone. Besides, mutual respect is one of the most important characteristics of a successful mentoring relationship1.
    You may be a toxic tutor if you feel like or have been told that you're disrespectful toward students, whether through your words or actions. Using rude language, making insulting comments, and being dismissive or belittling are all signs of toxic tutoring. A key element of being a good tutor is respecting the person you are tutoring. If you don't respect your students, it will be difficult for you to provide them with the support and guidance they need.
  2. You're Unreliable: Good tutors put their students' needs first and are reliable and trustworthy. On the contrary, toxic tutors make promises they never keep or break down trust by not being available when they say they will. If you're always pushing your agenda, don't follow through with your commitments, and make decisions without considering your student's needs, chances are you're a toxic tutor. While having a packed schedule is understandable, and postponing a session is okay when you're busy, it should never become a habit.
  3. You're Inflexible: A good tutor is flexible and willing to accommodate the needs and preferences of their students. Toxic tutors, however, attempt to impose their ideas and beliefs without taking the students' needs into consideration.
    A tutoring relationship also becomes toxic when the tutor isn't open to learning. If you can't admit you've made errors in the past or aren't flexible in your opinions, you're likely toxic. Remember, one of the attributes of a good tutor is to be willing to learn from their own as well as other people's mistakes. You must be open to points of view opposing your own and not act defensive when a student shares their perspective.
  4. You're Not Supportive: A toxic tutor isn't supportive of the student's goals and ambitions. They're quick to provide negative feedback but are never seen appreciating the efforts and accomplishments of the students. This lack of encouragement may demotivate students and make them doubt their abilities and progress. Ask yourself, "Am I overly critical of my students?" "Do I put them down or be negative when they do something I don't agree with?"
    We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and it's important to be mindful of this when tutoring. If you're constantly nitpicking, telling your students they can't do something or aren't capable of achieving their goals, and are overly critical of your students' work, it's a sign you're a toxic tutor.
  5. You're Uninterested in Your Students' Progress: The best tutors are passionate about helping their students and know how to keep them engaged in meaningful conversations. Toxic tutors, on the other hand, tend to be uninterested in their students' lives and aren't invested in their progress.
    If you think tutoring is "just a job," feel frustrated about it almost every day, and often go into the session unprepared, you lack the passion and commitment for this role and may be perceived as toxic by your students.
  6. You Don't Listen: The most effective tutors are active listeners. They listen to their students and try to understand their perspectives. After all, how can you provide meaningful advice and support if you don't listen to your students? The tutoring relationship becomes toxic when the tutor is often too busy talking about themselves or giving unsolicited advice and doesn't bother listening to what the students have to say.
    If you get this overwhelming urge to dominate the conversation every time you start a session and are quick to dismiss the students' ideas, you're a toxic tutor.
  7. You're Unhelpful: Toxic tutors don't help their students; they give irrelevant or inappropriate advice that does more harm than good. Since they don't actively listen to their students, any guidance they offer may not apply to their situations. As a result, students may feel frustrated and stuck. They may even start questioning their abilities or career choices when things don't work out as planned because the advice given them was unhelpful. You must realize that bad advice can have a life-changing impact on your students. Don't forget that they rely on you to help them achieve their goals and handle complicated situations. If you find yourself constantly giving bad advice or turning down their requests for help, you're making them suffer in a toxic tutoring relationship.
  8. You Take Credit for Your Students' Successes: A toxic tutor is quick to take credit for their students' successes. They never acknowledge the hard work and dedication that actually got them there.
    On the contrary, a good tutor is always proud of their students' accomplishments, no matter how big or small. They take the time to recognize their potential and don't hesitate to applaud their efforts in front of everyone else. If you can't appreciate your students without talking highly about yourself, it's one of the biggest signs you're a toxic tutor.
  9. You Don't Establish Boundaries: All relationships need boundaries, and tutoring is no exception. The best tutors make it a point to discuss expectations with their students and set some ground rules during the initial meetings. This simple practice helps ensure that the students know what to ask and how. Tutors who don't want to define boundaries or respect them are toxic. They may badmouth other tutors and share too much about their personal life. They may even expect and ask the students to do the same. If you find yourself engaging with students without any boundaries in place, take this as a sign to change your approach.
  10. You're Too Controlling: Overly controlling behavior is another sign you're a toxic tutor. If your focus is more on controlling your students' behavior, choices, and thinking, you need to work on your tutoring mindset. As a tutor, you are responsible for teaching the students, not creating a clone of yourself. You must give each individual the space to explore their interests, learn different perspectives, and find their true passion. The relationship will turn toxic if you start imposing your beliefs, opinions, and ideas on them.

It's Time to Self-Reflect and Make a Change to Become a Better Tutor!

Toxic tutors do more harm to a student than they might have experienced had they not had a tutor. Students stuck in toxic tutoring situations are made to feel worse about themselves, their abilities, and their career aspirations rather than better.
If you think you may be a toxic tutor, take some time to reflect on your words and behavior and look out for these ten signs. If any of these apply to you, it may be time to reassess your approach to tutoring.
As a tutor, you must be supportive, respectful, and helpful. Remember that your students rely on you for guidance and advice, so make sure you're doing the best you can for them.

Here are a few things you can do to improve your relationship with students and be the tutor they deserve:

  • Set realistic expectations and clear boundaries for the tutoring sessions.
  • Discuss the goals in advance and reflect on them often to make the necessary changes.
  • Account for personality differences and differences of opinion when delivering lectures.
  • Take it one session at a time and ensure every lecture is packed with valuable information and relevant advice.
  • Give credit where it's due and motivate the students to do better.
Read more about tutoring at Tutor DB and join a multidisciplinary team of highly successful and reputable tutors known for conducting successful sessions and empowering students to unlock their true potential.