Factors that Influence Tutor Retention
In my position as coordinator for the Central Falls Office of Literacy Volunteers of Northern Rhode Island, I have been involved in recruiting and training volunteer tutors for our literacy program. The tutors in our program meet weekly for an hour to an hour and a half with an adult learner who wants to learn to read or to improve his or her reading skills. The tutoring is done on a one-to-one basis; the schedule is set by the tutor and the student.
The initial training for Literacy Volunteer's Basic Reading tutors is an 18 hour workshop followed by individual appointments for each tutor which are usually an hour to two hours. During the individual appointments, we talk specifically about the tutor's student. We ask tutors who accept a student to commit to 50 hours of work with Literacy Volunteers.
Every year we face a greater demand for our services. Our waiting list of adults who would like a reading tutor is much larger than the number of tutors we have been able to recruit. This fact, in addition to the heavy investment of staff time required to train new tutors, makes us very interested in retaining our trained tutors for as long as possible. An added benefit to retaining tutors is that more experienced tutors may be better tutors than those newly trained.
Susan Ellis, in her book, The Volunteer Recruitment Book, states that the most important factor in volunteer recruitment is giving the volunteers meaningful work to do. This is an absolutely essential requirement to keep a person involved in volunteer work. Almost all of our tutors come into the program feeling that helping another person with reading is a very important, worthwhile thing to do. For my research project, I was interested in finding out what other factors might be involved that would influence a tutor in a decision to continue or discontinue tutoring after the original 50 hour commitment.
In order to try to isolate some of these factors, I decided to interview a number of Literacy Volunteers tutors who had tutored for a year or more and stopped and a number of tutors who have been tutoring for a year or more and are still tutoring. I decided to interview tutors who had tutored for at least a year to ensure that all those interviewed found the work to be meaningful enough to continue for that length of time. Those who tried tutoring, did not like it and dropped out before a year's time would not be included in the study.
I then formulated a questionnaire which I hoped would help answer some of our questions. What did tutors say was the main reason they stopped tutoring? Were there aspects of Literacy Volunteers that they did not like? What methods did they use with their students and did they feel that these methods were successful? Was there any correlation between the tutors who dropped out and the methods that they used?
I decided on 50 subjects as a number that could reasonably be interviewed in the time that I had. The tutors were chosen by selecting every third name from our alphabetized index cards of tutor names. Letters were sent to 60 people briefly explaining the project and asking for their participation.
Tutors were contacted by phone by one of two interviewers and were asked the questions on the questionnaire. Both interviewers were former tutors who did not personally know the tutors. Of the original list, eight could not be reached and one was not interested in participating in the study. When recording tutors' answers the interviewers tried to record word for word as much as possible. The tutors were promised anonymity and were encouraged to answer questions as completely as they could. After the interviews were completed, I tabulated results by grouping the answers that were given. The interview questions and the tabulated answers can be seen in the Appendix.
A very important question asked the tutors, "What would you say is the main reason that you did not continue your tutoring with Literacy Volunteers. The answers from the 25 inactive tutors were as follows:
Because many of the tutors who continue tutoring also have scheduling problems and problems with their students, it is important to look at tutors' answers to the other questions on the questionnaire. By comparing the answers of the two groups (active and inactive tutors), some interesting findings resulted.
A Comparison Between Current Tutor and Former Tutor Groups
Very little or no differences were found between the two groups of tutors in regard to the following questions:
The results of this study need further study and discussion, but some tentative conclusions have emerged at this point:
I intend to continue to study the results of this survey and to discuss their implications with my colleagues in Literacy Volunteers. I think that the information gained will be very useful in working to improve our programs.
Questionnaire for current tutors
1. How long have you been tutoring with Literacy Volunteers?
Average: 3 years, 1 month
2. Has your tutoring experience met your expectations?
3. What are some of the methods that you use in tutoring your student?
5. Do you feel confident in your use of the methods that you use?
6. How difficult is it to use the Language Experience Method in your tutoring?
7. On average, how long does it take you to prepare a lesson?
Average - 34 minutes
8. Do you feel that the tutor training sessions prepared you to be an effective tutor?
9. Is there anything about the tutor training that you think should be changed?
10. Do you feel that you have the support from the staff that you need to be an effective tutor?
11. (a) Do you attend tutor meetings? (b) Do you think they are useful?
12. Do you think that a monthly phone call from a staff person would be helpful to you?
13. (a)Do you feel that your student is making progress? (b)Is this an important factor to you?
14. (a)Does your student express his/her appreciation to you for your tutoring time?
(b)Is this important to you?
15. (a)Do you read the newsletter and other mailings that Literacy Volunteers sends out?
(b)Would you like to see any changes?
(a)Yes - 25
(b)No - 25
16. How do you feel about filling out the quarterly reports about your hours tutored?
17. Is it important to you to see publicity about Literacy Volunteers in the local newspapers or on T.V.?
18. Is it important to you that Literacy Volunteers of Northern Rhode Island is part of a statewide and national program?
19. Are there any changes that you would like to see in the Literacy Volunteers program?
(The ideas below were each mentioned once):
Questionnaire for Inactive Tutors
1. How long did you tutor with Literacy Volunteers?
Average: 2 years, 8 months
2. What would you say is the main reason that you did not continue your tutoring with Literacy Volunteers?
- Scheduling or time problems - 8
- Problems with student - 6
- Health problems - 4
- Personal problems - 3
- Student achieved goals - 2
- Moved - 2
3. Did your tutoring experience meet your expectations?
- Yes -17
- No - 2
- Somewhat - 6
4. Were there any aspects of the Literacy Volunteers organization that you did not like?
- None - 19
- Filling out forms - 2
- Not enough materials - 2
- Characteristics of students - 2
5. What are some of the methods that you used in tutoring your student?
- Language Experience - 19
- Wilson - 1
- Other - 5
6. Which of these did you think were most effective with him/her?
- Language Experience - 11
- Not sure - 6
- Phonics- 3
- Other - 5
7. Did you feel confident in using the methods that you used?
8. How difficult was it to apply the Language Experience method to your tutoring?
9. On average, how long did it take you to prepare a lesson?
Average: 79 minutes
10. Do you feel that the tutor training sessions prepared you to be an effective tutor?
11. Is there anything about the tutor training that you think should be changed?
No - 18
(N.B. Some of these tutors received training several years ago. A number of these suggestions have since been added to tutor training)
12. Do you feel that you had the support from the staff that you needed to be an effective tutor?
13. (a) Did you attend tutor meetings? (b)Did you think that they were useful?
14. Do you think that a monthly phone call from a staff person would have been helpful to you?
15. (a) Did you feel that your student was making progress? (b)Was this an important factor to you?
16. (a)Did your student express his/her appreciation to you for your tutoringtime?
(b)Was this important to you?
17. Did you read the newsletter and other mailings that Literacy Volunteers sent out? Would you recommend any changes?
18. How did you feel about filling out the quarterly reports about your hours tutored?
19. Was it important to you to see publicity about Literacy Volunteers in the local newspapers or on TV?
20. Was it important to you that Literacy Volunteers of Northern Rhode Island is part of a statewide and national program? Why or why not?