U3A’s face challenge attracting new tutors

by Dr Lydia Hebestreit

Attracting new tutors is one of the constant challenges facing U3A committee around the nation – and the world.

Everybody agrees that good presenters are an essential part of any U3A’s continued success.

A survey of Presidents of U3As in Victoria by Dr Lydia Hebestreit (see April NewsLink) showed that 55% of presidents said obtaining tutors was their most significant problem.

This was followed by getting classroom space (20%) and obtaining members (15%).

Most new U3As begin with a cadre of enthusiastic volunteers to draw on to present the opening programme of classes and activities.

But as the U3A becomes better known and more popular and members increase, the need to attract new tutors and retain old ones becomes more intense.

Some U3As have noticed that the number of courses – and tutors – is not keeping pace with rising membership.

U3A ACT, for example, was founded in 1986 and now has more than 3,500 members.

According to its own research, U3A ACT offered 158 courses in 2002 and 172 last year, a rise of 9%. But over the same time membership grew more than three times or 32%.

Today many U3As are finding that some tutors who have run popular courses for term after term cannot carry on for a multitude of reasons, ranging from declining health to moving elsewhere to live.

Dr Hebestreit’s research in Victoria showed that 85% of members have never served as tutors. Of those that had, 32% were men, 68% women.

The survey also indicated that tutors were more likely to have sort of degree – 37% had an undergraduate degree, for example.

The research also showed that 25.5% of respondents were men but 41% of tutors were men.

In other words women make up 74.5% of U3A members but only 59% of tutors are female.

Dr Hebestreit suggested several strategies to help obtain tutors. They included:

  • Arranging workshops where tutors present sessions on “The joy of being a tutor” and the peer teaching philosophy
  • Having two or more people share the teaching load for suitable classes
  • Offering courses in teaching methods

What prevents more people volunteering as tutors?
A potential tutor or course leader can be keen to share his/her knowledge but many face challenges such as …

Will suitable accommodation be available?

If accommodation is available, on what day of the week?

Will class times conflict with the tutor’s own long-standing personal commitments?

Will sufficient people enrol as students? (No-one like spruiking a new course in the newsletter only to see if cancelled because very few people are interested. Not good for anyone’s ego)

Is a reliable second in command or support group available?

What does experience teach us?
Most U3As surveyed for this edition of NewsLink use three main ways to attract new class leaders:

  • Word of mouth
  • Appeals in the newsletter
  • New members volunteering their services

Of these, word of mouth is the most successful. Members encourage another member to lead a group because they know of his/her experience in a particular subject.

Experience indicates that appeals published in the newsletter may encourage waverers to step forward.

Here’s an example from the newsletter of U3A MiltonUlladulla NSW:
“…So don’t be shy

“We need new tutors and courses to enrich our syllabus. So if you feel you could run a new course, either by yourself or with the help of others, please do contact our course co-ordinator…”

Mudgee District U3A publishes display ads “Do you know anyone who would like ot share their knowledge or expertise with us? Our success depends on volunteer presenters”

Back up such appeals by publishing profiles of your tutors – with photos – in your newsletter. Recognition is nice for them and may spur others to volunteer.

But what about tutor “burn out”?
Attracting tutors is the main part of the battle – holding the good ones is another. Good convenors can “burn out,” or become disillusioned.

One of the most common complains by tutors, old and new, is that people enrol, then don’t turn up.

This comment from U3A Central Coast (NSW) newsletter sums up the reaction: “Our Course Leaders put a lot of work into preparing their courses so that they bring to us the very best range of
knowledge and entertainment that can be found in any U3A.

“They are delighted when they see the listing of members who have enrolled to do their course, but are then dismayed to find a lot of members just don’t turn up.

“It is hard to come to the realisation that people of our mature age have such bad manners – we come from an era when our parents drilled good manners into us so it should be normal for us to apologise for not attending.”

One way class co-ordinators deal with a tutor’s feeling of rejection is to emphasise that the very fact that most students do attend demonstrates that they value the tutor’s contribution.

Will training tutors help?
Training is a controversial subject. Some U3As, U3A ACT for example, offer prospective tutors short information/training sessions. Most do not.

Why not? Without naming names, often because many tutors have a background in education and therefore think “I know all about teaching. I don’t need to be trained.”

Yet research shows that when many adults, particularly recent retirees who are learning for learning’s sake, do not take kindly to the “chalk and talk” method used by teachers of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

For example, more than 10 years ago U3A Northern Rivers offered tutors a two-day “How to teach adult” course through the Adult Education network.

Of the 10 tutors who enrolled, half had left by morning tea time, saying “I don’t need this.”

Show your tutors you support them
But even if your U3A doesn’t offer training, it can support its tutors and class leaders in other ways.

First, thank them. Moncrieff U3A in Queensland says in its newsletter” “A big thank you to our tutors – we are so grateful that you make the time for us!”

You can decide on a set of guidelines for tutors. The class co-ordinator can make sure every tutor is given a copy.

The guidelines could explain, for example, that tutors are permitted to set minimum and maximum student numbers as a condition for leading a class.

Tutors could also be permitted to ask students to contribute towards the cost of producing class notes and similar aids.

Some suggested ground rules :

  • Tutors should ensure that every member of their class signs the attendance sheet
  • Tutors should contact the class co-ordinator or similar officer if they want to change class times or venues
  • Tutors should warn members of the risks before going into any potentially hazardous situations – a bushwalk for example – and be given an approved accident report to complete if someone has a mishap.
  • Tutors should not set homework or give out awards/certificates unless previously approved by the management committee
  • Tutors should ensure that members observe the normal courtesies about replacing chairs and tables, cleaning whiteboards etc when using other people’s premises
  • Tutors should be alert to the fact that U3A does not discriminate against members or visitors on the basis of sex, race, colour, gender preference, age, religion, political affiliation or physical or mental disability
  • If tutors have any problems or any type, they should discuss it with the class coordinator or equivalent.

Mudgee District U3A arranges a Presenters’ Forum to bring its course leaders together at the end of each term for a morning tea and general discussion.

David Price says: “The hope is to encourage a sense of partnership and unity within the team.”

The first forum earlier this year was described as “an hour well spent in an informal atmosphere, where comments on the previous term were shared, highlights enjoyed, questions asked and thoughts discussed about future developments.”