Know what you want to get out of tutoring

This is post #3 in the series “How to choose the right tutor

  • In order to choose the best tutor – or the best tutoring alternative – it is important to know specifically what you want to get out of tutoring.  Having clear goals helps the student, the parent, the teacher (and other education-related professionals) and the tutor, to work together to provide the greatest opportunity for success.  Then you can make the wisest choice of tutor, or you may discover that there are other resources or solutions that best suit your situation at this time.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you choose a tutor:

  • Target your tutoring needs.  Do you need to move into a higher level in a specific subject?  prepare for upcoming exams?  adjust to a new school?  keep skills up during vacation periods? 
  • What are the signs of problems for your child (or yourself):  confused with homework?  classroom work not being completed at school?  clearly unhappy at school?
  • If the student is anxious, withdrawn, fears failure, or is constantly unhappy, is it actually a learning problem or is there something else going on that needs to be addressed before (or at the same time) as getting help with learning?
  • What learning atmosphere does the student respond to best?  One-on-one or in a group?  Lively or quiet?  Structured teaching or freer facilitation of learning?  Will the tutor you are considering meet the particular needs of this student?
  • What do you specifically want to get out of tutoring?  Help with something difficult to understand?  Study skills?  Background knowledge?  More challenge?  Motivation?  Skills or interests beyond what a school offers? 
  • Are there resources available at your school that you have not yet taken advantage of?  Are there resources in the community?  Would a tutor be a better choice than (or along with) these resources?  Why or why not?
  • How often do you want to meet with a tutor?  Once or twice per week for an extended time period?  Or intensively before a midterm or final exam or for a particular project?
  • What are your preferred days of the week and times of day for meeting with a tutor?  Where do you prefer to meet:  in your home, at a public location such as the library, or at the tutor’s home or office?
  • Are you afraid you are unable to afford the costs of a tutor?  If the costs are going to place too much stress on the family finances, is it possible to get special government funding for a tutor, or can someone (grandparents, for example) help you out?  Some tutors have special rates for students whose parents are in financial difficulties, or will consider bartering.  For example, I once tutored the children in a family whose parents raised cattle.  They “paid” for the tutoring by providing my family with high quality beef cuts that we could not otherwise have afforded!  Tutors may also provide small group tutoring situations where the hour’s cost is divided among the students resulting in a lower cost for each student. Some churches and other organizations also provide low-cost or free tutoring services in the community for those in need.
  • Have you asked your child’s teacher, or the school counselor or principal for tutor recommendations?  There are some tutors who work closely with a particular school and have strong relationships with the staff and understanding of the school’s resources and systems.
  • Have you asked friends for good referrals?  Word-of-mouth is often a more reliable way to find a good tutor than to just go by advertising.
  • Would a student who is a little ahead in school/college, and has successfully completed the material, be a good peer tutor for your child who is struggling a little, as they have studied the topic recently, and being of the same general age, understand where you child is at?  Or is your child getting quite far behind, and really needs a qualified teacher-tutor?
  • Are you hiring a tutor because your child really needs one, or are you under pressure from other people?
  • Do you need more than a tutor?  A tutor is not a miracle worker.  You child may need more help than an hour or two a week can provide.  He/she may have disabilities or be under pressures that need to be addressed by a medical or other professional. 
  • Also, have you had a serious talk with your child’s teacher and other staff?  If your child is failing in multiple subject areas, you should first work with the school to develop long-term plans and solutions, which may well include a tutor, but will also include other resources the school and/or related agencies can provide.
  • Are your plans for the amount of time spent in tutoring realistic?  Can you fit them into the other activities in your schedule?   Will you be able to get your child to that many sessions?  Will the student get overwhelmed?  For most children, one or two half hour or hour sessions a week is best.  Periods of several hours after school each week can overload a child and they may stop responding well to the tutoring as well as to school.
  • Is it possible that enrolling your child in extra-curricular activities that he or she is particularly interested in, would provide them with overall motivation and confidence that would positively affect their attitudes toward education?  Sometimes this kind of solution is more effective than added pressure in the form of academic tutoring.
  • On the other hand, do you have your child enrolled in so many things, that he or she is exhausted – or distracted by the other things – and it is the cause of school problems?
  • Alternatively, some tutors are excellent at teaching in a way that is much different than the school provides.  They are able to work with the child’s particular learning styles and interests, and use those to make the problem subject matter far more fun and interesting, and easier to learn.  Ask prospective tutors how they plan to tutor your child.  Knowing your child as well as they do, do your believe their method(s) would be a help or not?

Once you have considered these questions, you will be ready to ask good questions of potential tutors, and make wise hiring decisions.  You may also discover that there are other alternatives that need to be considered, either with or without tutoring as part of the plan.

 Any worthwhile tutor will be happy to let you ask these kinds of questions, and will be honest with you if they feel that they are not the right tutor for your needs.  Good tutors will also allow you to sit in on one or two lessons to observe their tutoring style and methods (though in the long term it is usually best if you don’t hover!).  And they will be open to trying other methods if the current ones aren’t working, or to allow you to find another tutor or other alternatives if necessary. 

(If a tutor tries to pressure you into a long-term iron-clad contract, or insist on payment of many sessions ahead without refund possibilities, that may be a warning sign that you should consider someone else!)

By the way, if your child is a gifted student, check out our next post for some special considerations.

Question:  What other questions can you think of, that people should consider before making the final decision on what tutor to hire, or what alternative to pursue?  Tell us in the comments.  Thanks!

Penticton and area residents/students looking for a tutor:  check out my tutoring page.

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