For Prospective Tutors: Frequently Asked Questions
What is OPT looking for in its tutors?
In our search for tutors, we look for three main things: 1) enthusiasm, 2) dedication, and 3) fit.
We want tutors who can easily convey joyousness and excitement over the phone; if applicants strike us as very positive, enthusiastic people, we're more confident that they'll have the same effect on their future students. Our curricular materials have the potential to be rather dry. And the work we ask of students – like most hard work – has the potential to be less-than-fun. So we rely on our tutors to brighten everything up! The best tutors are those who can apply their own enthusiasm in each session and for a variety of purposes – to model joyous approaches to work, to provide reinforcement for effort, to communicate the value of the work being done, etc.
In promising to call students at set times, many days per week, long-term, OPT tutors have taken on a responsibility of gargantuan proportions. In considering tutor applicants we look for as many signs of promptness and dependability as possible: When phone sessions are scheduled, does the applicant call right on time? Does the applicant respond to emails and voicemails reliably? Does the applicant keep in touch (or does the applicant ever go MIA)?
We hope that tutors will help us convince students of the importance of what they're doing – and with this in mind, we hope that tutors will appreciate that importance themselves! We try to give tutor applicants as many opportunities to learn about our mission and our methods as possible. If applicants can show us that they understand what we're doing and why – or even better, that they value what we're doing – we'll be more confident in deploying them with students. “Fit” is a very abstract concept; we recognize that applicants may not even be sure whether they feel a sense of fit at first! But this is why we take our time with a sort of “mutual selection” process. We want applicants to learn about psychoeducation, and about OPT, before any sort of commitment is made; if applicants decide, ultimately, that we're not what they're looking for, that's just fine. We can all celebrate those decisions as well-thought-out determinations of fit (or a lack thereof).
Do tutors have to been current college students?
No! Tutors must be eligible to work in the United States - that's it. People of very different ages and very different lifestyles have been tutors with us.
OPT asks for a commitment of at least one calendar year. What does that mean?
First, what it does not mean: It does not mean that any sort of contract ensures or requires that tutors will keep working with OPT for a full year. OPT is an at-will employer. This means that our tutors can quit whenever they want to, with or without notice, and that they can also be fired, with or without notice.
Instead, this “commitment” is meant to communicate the serious role that OPT tutors have taken on in their students' lives. The commitment exists in the minds and hearts of these students; they form attachments to their tutors, and to break these attachments abruptly or prematurely is to risk harm. After a year, we've found, it becomes much easier to make transitions.
Circumstances will inevitably differ, case-by-case. Some students get more attached than others. But we ask that potential tutors consider the commitment as if it really were hard-and-fast, just in case. (We also think that tutors will get more out of the experience themselves if they put in the full year!)
What happens after I've tutored for a year?
Some tutors finish tutoring at that point, others don't! If tutors can keep tutoring for more than a year, we'll celebrate that big time! There's nothing that says tutors must stop when their year is up.
How long does the application process take?
It depends. Like we said above, we like to give people time to learn a lot about psychoeducational methods and about OPT before the commitment is made. And this learning process is completely individualized. Some people have gone through it in 3 weeks; others have taken 3 months, even more. The main determinant is simply how quickly applicants want to proceed. Some want to get started right away; others want to take their time (for example, as they wait for other obligations to wind down).
You can learn more about the application process here. The final step in the process is a brief written exam; this is how we see whether applicants have in fact learned what we want them to learn along the way. (If they haven't, and they do not perform well enough, they're welcome to keep learning and keep trying!) These exams themselves are available on the application process page.
How does training happen? Where is training offered?
By the time tutors are offered a position with OPT they have learned a lot about our methods – so much, in fact, that not much further training is necessary. But all training that does occur is typically done by phone. So no specific physical location is necessary for training purposes.
I am interested in tutoring, but I'll be studying abroad in the near future. Can I start tutoring anyway?
If “the near future” is less than a year from now, then no, you cannot start tutoring anyway. You can start learning more about OPT, though, and you can certainly get back in touch with us when you return!
I am interested in tutoring, but I'm also looking for a full-time job. Can I start tutoring anyway?
We wouldn't advise it, no. Though OPT asks just about 30 minutes a day of its tutors, the time commitment is still formidable. Starting as a tutor requires having at least a somewhat predictable schedule. If you're at all unsure of what your new job would demand of you, then now is not a good time to start tutoring. You can start learning more about OPT, though, and you can certainly get back in touch with us if things change!
I can't start tutoring for a while. Is there anything I can do to prepare anyway?
Yes! We can make various of our books and materials available to you, and you can learn a lot about things independently. You might start by reading more on this website, particularly the pages on Big Ideas, our Curriculum, and our Books (where you can also find excerpts of most books).
We also make our written tutor application exams (explained above) available here; these might help guide you in deciding what to learn more about.
I'm interested in tutoring, but I already have a full-time job. Does this mean I cannot tutor?
No! Many (even most) of our tutors have other jobs or occupations. The only thing we ask is that tutor applicants be confident in their abilities to be consistently available (for example, if their full-time jobs end by a specific time each day and evening hours are free). Applicants with full-time employment may have to put particularly serious thought into things upfront, though; this tutoring work takes considerable energy and dedication, and it may not be the sort of thing people really want to add onto their daily duties!
Who are the students in this program? How are they referred?
There can be no single and accurate summary of the students we work with, other than this: all of these students have chosen to work at the strengthening of skills, at least for a while. Some begin in a position of relative skill deficiency (some are behind academically, and some have a mental health diagnosis or two or three), and others begin in a position of relative skill strength (some are gifted students). But like all human beings, there are skills – academic and psychological – that these students can strengthen.
We are not a clinical program. Our tutors are not clinicians. Our approach is educational. This said, many of our students are referred to us through clinicians – mental health practitioners and pediatricians. And OPT's co-founder comes from a clinical background in child psychiatry. So we operate with the same sense of privacy and confidentiality that you'll find in many more-clinical settings. When tutors are hired, they sign confidentiality agreements. And when they're assigned to work with certain students they'll learn more about those students' individual details, needs, and skill priorities.
How old are the students?
We offer tutoring to students of a wide age range, from about 5 years-old to 18 years-old, even beyond. But the vast majority of our students fall in the 7-11 age range.
Do tutors and students ever meet each other in person?
Not usually. Luckily it's more than possible to develop very strong and positive relationships over the phone!
Why is OPT's tutoring done by phone? Can tutors use Skype?
The telephone is what makes it possible for tutors in one part of the country to work with students in another part of the country. It's what enables tutors and students to keep working together even when one or both move geographically. And even if tutors and students happen to live near one another, the telephone is what makes holding almost-daily sessions a realistic possibility -- if these sessions were held in-person, the logistics and the time required would quickly become unmanageable (with transportation needs, etc.).
As for Skype, the short answer is no. The longer answer is that some tutors have used Skype's voice calling functions -- and that can be just fine. What we don't recommend is use of Skype's video calling. Why? Our intervention is very reading-based. A lot of our students' session time is devoted to looking at the pages of a book. The tutor's face, therefore, is quite distracting. Whereas the phone has sometimes offered something of a grounding force for our students, keeping them rooted and focused, Skype offers the opposite (making things particularly tricky for our ADHD students!). And beyond this, Skype often has a lag, interrupting conversation or ruining what would have otherwise been prompt reinforcement.
How do students get paired with tutors?
Sometimes the pairing of tutors and students is a rather simple matter of “right time, right place” – schedules happen to align, desired start dates are more or less the same, etc. But whenever possible, we also like to try to take into account certain personality details – some tutors are better equipped to work with our younger students, for example, whereas others prefer to work with older students. At this point, the executive director is responsible for matching decisions.
Will I start with a student as soon as I get the job?
Probably not, as we cannot guarantee that there will be a student who is ready to begin right away. New hires will have to be patient with us, and some will have to wait longer than others.
Who decides how many days per week tutoring happens?
Families are given four options: six days/week, five days/week, four days/week, and three days/week. The decision among these options is made by the given family and OPT administration, jointly.
Once I start working with a student, will I keep working with that same student for a year?
Not necessarily. All students begin with a trial period; it's not guaranteed that a given student will continue with the tutoring. (Though most do!) Even if students do choose to continue with the tutoring, they may graduate from the program before a year is up. If either of these scenarios happens – if tutors ever find themselves without a student when a student is wanted – we'll try to prioritize the finding of a new student for those tutors. Unfortunately we can make no guarantees as to how quickly new students will be found.
It's worth noting, however, that our idea of a one-year commitment applies to a specific tutor-student relationship, not to a tutor's overall tenure with OPT. If a certain student works with a certain tutor for 10 months and then graduates, for example, then any new tutoring relationship that that tutor begins will also come with a year (or so) commitment. It is not true that this tutor could just start working with a new student and then declare their year's commitment fulfilled after 2 more months. (See the later section On Ending Tutoring, Graduating and Retiring from OPT for more information.)
How are sessions scheduled?
Decisions as to which days sessions are held and at what times are made by the family and the tutor. Some tutors and families prefer to set a weekly schedule (e.g., Mondays-Thursdays at 5pm, Saturday and Sunday at 11am); some prefer to schedule appointments day-by-day (e.g., scheduling tomorrow's session at the end of today's session). We typically recommend that tutors make these scheduling arrangements with students' parents or guardians.
Can I really tutor from anywhere?
Yes and no. One of the beautiful things about telephone tutoring is that we can theoretically tutor indoors and outdoors, from beaches and in cars, etc. But tutors must use great caution – all sessions should be held in private, quiet, safe settings where confidentiality can be preserved and where being on the phone is not at all dangerous.
Do tutors have to make “lesson plans”? Does anyone tell the tutor what should be done with the student on a given day?
No. Our curriculum is designed so as to minimize the planning burden on tutors. Tutors do not come up with their own content, or “lessons.” They simply decide which materials to read when with their students and which exercises to do when. These readings and exercises are arranged along a hierarchy of difficulty; often tutors just have to start at the beginning of something and work their way to the end. Tutors are guided in where to start and where to go next when big milestones are reached. But the specifics of a given day's tutoring session – how much conversation is done, and about what; how much reading is done, and in which book; how many exercises are done, and which ones – are all up to the tutor.
What is supervision like?
Tutors hold phone sessions with a supervisor at least once a month. They also submit reports (of hours, student progress, etc.) on at least a monthly basis. Tutors are also free to contact their supervisor at any time for additional guidance, for example in the event of challenges or points of uncertainty.
Are OPT tutors mandated reporters?
No. They are also not responsible for assessing dangerousness of any kind.
Are all tutors paid? How are they paid?
Yes. All tutors are paid $15 per hour. They are paid semi-monthly.
Tutors are paid by OPT itself, not by the family they work with. Some of the families participating in the program pay OPT for tutoring services, some pay reduced amounts, and some don't pay at all. OPT remains able to pay its tutors thanks to generous grants and donations.
If I'm a college student, can I get academic credit for my work with OPT?
You might be able to! We recommend that you consult with faculty or directors of internship or independent study programs at your school, and we're happy to be in touch with your faculty as well, if necessary. See this page for information directed at potential faculty sponsors.
What if a tutor needs to take some time off (e.g., for vacation)?
Tutors can take some time off, certainly, but all of this time is unpaid. We will find substitutes to work with students during their tutors' absences.
This said: as consistency is such a key component of our tutoring model, we frown upon too much time taken off (again, students become attached to their tutors). If a given tutor's time off reaches a certain level we'll likely find someone else to work with that tutor's student. (For example: at this point our model does not accommodate tutors who need to take entire summers off.)
Who decides whether tutors work with one student only or with more than one student?
This is simply a matter of discussion for tutors and OPT administration. But it's a big decision; having multiple students increases a tutor level of responsibility considerably.
What if a student needs to take some time off (e.g., for vacation)?
Breaks that a student takes are also breaks for their tutor – and sometimes little breaks can be welcome for both parties! But again, we try to limit the length of these breaks (we try to encourage families not to take summers off, for example). If a student's family decides to take time off, that tutor's pay is temporarily less, as they put in fewer hours of tutoring. And if a student's family decides to take an extended break, we'll talk with that tutor about whether or not they want to think about taking on another student.
Can I take on additional responsibilities with OPT (e.g., in administrative work, or in research)?
Yes! We ask only that people carry out tutoring with a single student for a few months or so before considering taking on further responsibilities.
How do students graduate from the program? Who decides when they do graduate?
We often use the analogy of piano lessons here – how do students and families know when to stop piano lessons? Sometimes they have the sense that enough piano has been learned for now. Sometimes they feel that the student has gotten masterful enough that they can continue their study on their own. Sometimes there's no longer room in the student's schedule. Sometimes the student wants to move onto karate lessons instead. Always, there's theoretically more piano that could be learned, more mastery that could be achieved. Yet for most students a point of “graduation” from lessons is reached just the same. The same applies to OPT's work and OPT's students!
Graduation-related decisions are primarily made by the student's family, often in consultation with OPT administration. For some students, graduation is reached in less than a year. For more, it's after a year or two. And for some, it's after more than two years (our record is approximately seven years).
Can OPT write a recommendation letter for me?
Yes. Over the years we've prepared various recommendations to accompany tutors' applications to medical school, graduate school, research positions and fellowships, other jobs, etc. In many cases we've been able to cite specific examples of the major contributions tutors have made in their students' lives. We have often found that schools and employers value highly the extent to which our tutors have gotten hands-on experience.
Recommendations are prepared by Dr. Joe Strayhorn and the executive director, jointly. We cannot guarantee that recommendations will be positive, of course, but if tutors fill their roles adequately there's no reason recommendations shouldn't be positive. We can provide tutors with guidelines for getting a stellar recommendation. And tutors are welcome to talk with us at any point about how they're doing in our eyes.
What if a tutor needs to stop tutoring before their student graduates?
We'll find a new tutor for that student, and we'll try to orchestrate as seamless a transition as possible.
What if a tutor's student graduates but that tutor wants to keep working with OPT?
We'll find a new student for that tutor! We may not be able to provide one immediately, but we'll do our best to accommodate the tutor's preferences.
Can I keep in touch with my student once tutoring ends?
With the family's permission, yes! Just as it's normal for friends to keep in touch with each other via periodic messages or calls, we deem it normal for former tutor-student pairs to keep in touch in the same way. But once tutoring (and therefore, OPT's involvement) ends, this is completely up to the student, the student's family, and the tutor.