I don’t know the answer to all of my students’ grammar questions. Should I suggest a different tutor?

Dear Cam,
I have an adult student who is a critical thinker, and often asks grammar questions during our lessons. While I am able to answer some of his questions from memory on the spot, grammar is not my niche when it comes to language teaching. Some of his questions are quite profound, and I often have to spend quite a bit of time researching his questions. I find that after such lessons with this particular student I feel a bit deflated and begin to question my tutoring abilities. This only happens with this student, should I suggest a different tutor? Do you have suggestions for grammar resources? How would you proceed with this student?

Signed, Grammar-Shy

Dear Grammar-shy,

Would you be surprised if I told you most of us feel this way about grammar? Verrrry few of us know all the ins and outs and whys of every question. When I was a young fledgling, I thought I needed to know everything and quickly realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. My confidence took a nosedive!

Sometimes we know something is right in our native language but can’t always explain why. That’s where outside material comes in. It’s perfectly fine to help your student with these questions by consulting different websites. I’ve often told my students, “Good question! Let’s find out together,” and I pull up a bookmarked resource that we can both look at to get the info we can use to understand the concept fully. Some sites we love are:

Most importantly, please don’t let this affect your confidence. It’s one thing to recognize you might not like teaching something specific like grammar, but quite another to start thinking you’re not a good tutor because you don’t know every answer to every question. None of us do!

Be honest and up-front with your student and ask if what you’ve explained makes sense. You could ask if there are similar issues in their native language and compare notes. The more we understand each other’s languages, the better we can find commonalities and improve comprehension. There might not be an answer for everything, but at least you can know you’ve done your best. 

If you still really feel uncomfortable teaching this student, I’d recommend reaching out to your fellow tutors on Cambly Corner to see if you can find someone willing to take on this student. You’ll often find a perfect fit for that student, and you can rest easy knowing you’ve steered the student in the right direction!

Trust yourself! Keep up the great work!

– Your friend Cam

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