Costs of Tutors and Alternatives

This is post #13 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

When children (or adults) needs tutoring, cost can be a big factor in whether or not they are able to access the needed help. In this series we’ve talked a lot about how parents can themselves often provide the tutoring their child needs–but we’ve also recognised that there are times when more help is needed. Does that help always need to be expensive? Are there alternatives? Let’s find out!

Why are qualified tutors so often expensive?

  • Expertise:  A qualified tutor can likely provide as much or more help in a couple sessions, as a less qualified tutor might provide in several sessions.  The tutor will know of special ways to help out with special needs of an individual student.
  • Planning, follow-up, and more:  Beyond the tutoring session time, a qualified tutor also plans for the special, individualised needs of the particular student, does extra research, finds or creates individualised tutoring materials, and works with other members of the student’s learning team.  The tutor spends time reflecting on the session, plans for future lessons, and reports to the parent (and the school, if requested) on the child’s progress.  You may, in fact, be paying for up to 2 or 3 hours of the tutor’s time with your one-hour fee!
  • On-on-one learning: In an average classroom, with so many students, duties, and interruptions, there may be only a few minutes of really fruitful learning time, shared by the students together. A tutor, on the other hand, works intensively, focused one-on-one with a student and his or her particular needs.  In an hour of tutoring, a child may learn as much or more than in a full day or even a week or so at school.
  • Tutoring for homeschoolers: In the home-school situation, an hour with a tutor once or twice a week could make a tremendous difference to a child who needs extra help, not to mention that the parent can use that time to focus on one or more of the other children in the family – and/or the parent might decide to get some personal tutoring in order to more effectively teach the children.
  • Analysing and dealing with learning gaps: Qualified tutors are able to analyse and then help a student fill in learning gaps, or help the child understand a concept with which they have been having difficulty. By waiting, the problem could soon “snowball,” and the problem become much more complex, take longer to solve – and cost much more than if a qualified tutor had been engaged to help the student with the difficulty while it was still reasonably simple to solve.
  • Resources, location, and other overhead costs: Tutors usually provide more than just time with the student. They often have gathered many resources (and will gather more specific resources for a particular student’s needs) as well as providing a suitable learning environment–or will travel to the student’s home, which includes time and travel costs.

If you really cannot afford a qualified tutor, what are some possible options? First I will list some options you can discuss with a tutor, and then I will list other possible options to obtain free or low-cost help.

  • Payment options with a tutor: While not every tutor will offer options, it doesn’t hurt to ask–and to shop around to find a tutor who is able to work with your needs.
    • Pay after each lesson or group of lessons, rather than paying for several lessons in advance.
    • Arrange to be able to pay on your paydays.
    • Ask if the tutor is willing to provide small group lessons with a reduced per-student rate (for example, a tutor might charge $30 per hour for one student, $40 per hour for two students [$20/hr each], and so on).
    • Costs may be negotiable depending upon the amount of work the tutor is expected to provide. If a student is only getting homework help and brings her textbook and notebook, the cost could be less than when the tutor has to plan the lesson, provide the materials and send a report to the school.
    • Barter skills/services or products (for example, I’ve been known to barter tutoring for hairdressing services and barter for meat from a cattle farmer).
    • Reduced session rates for longer-term contracts (eg. The normal rate might be $40 per session, but if the parents agree to tutoring for a minimum of 6 months, the rate might be decreased to $30 per session).
    • Scholarships/bursaries provided by the tutor. Tutors are sympathetic to families in times of unusual financial need and may consider a decreased rate or even some free sessions for a period of time.
    • Government funding may be available for students with certain special needs. Also, some independent schools will provide some assisted funding for students with special needs.
    • Arrange for individual lessons on specific topics when required, rather than a long-term contract. Realise, though, that a tutor often has a guaranteed schedule for long-term students, and you may need to fit into the time-slots the tutor still has available.
  • Other options:
    • Ask for a referral to another lower-cost tutor.
    • Hire a more advanced student, or see if your babysitter has the needed skills and would be willing to tutor for a small extra fee.
    • Check around to see if grandparents or other family or friends would be willing to help.
    • See if the school offers before or after school, or lunch time, free tutoring by teachers or peer-tutors.
    • Check out homework assistance programs offered by community organisations (community centres, churches, homeschool support groups)
    • Check out computer-based learning programs (often free online, or borrow from school or public libraries–but always check out reviews of the computer programs before choosing).
    • Consider getting together with several other parents you know, find out each one’s skills, and then have a neighbourhood “homework night” each week, in which you all help each other’s children – and each other.
    • Do the child’s needs require a highly qualified tutor or could a high school student or even a peer who is doing well, help at a lower cost or for free?
    • Could you take a couple tutoring sessions (or an online course) yourself to upgrade/review, and then tutor your child yourself over an extended time period?
    • Could you use free or low-cost online courses with your child?
    • Talk to the school: Have you had a serious talk with your child’s teacher and other staff?  Try to work with the school to develop long-term plans and solutions, including resources the school and/or related agencies can provide, and find out how you can best help (Analyse what you can do and offer to do it. Be a proactive and involved member of your child’s learning team). If your child has diagnosed special needs, be sure to attend IEP meetings, and ask for clear explanations of anything you do not understand about the diagnosis reports. Ask for suggestions on how to help your child at home.
    • Homeschooling? Need guidance? Some jurisdictions or homeschool formats require parents to provide reports, portfolios and other proof of a child’s learning. A tutor can help homeschool parents ensure they understand homeschool options, fulfil requirements, or choose suitable curriculum, resources, and teaching approaches. Such assistance can actually save time and costs in the long run, including tutoring costs.
    • Other resources: A tutor can often suggest other outside help parents may need for a particular child, or useful learning opportunities in the community or online (for parents, or the child, or both) which the parents may not be aware of.

I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any thoughts or ideas related to tutoring costs, please share them in the comments, or you can contact me personally. 

Here are the other topics in the “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor” series:

  1. Why children need parent-tutors
  2. Important activities parent-tutors can do well
  3. Building a Good Parent-Tutor and Child Relationship
  4. Learning Styles, Intelligences, and Behaviours
  5. Developing Individualised Tutoring–Tips for Parents
  6. Monitoring Your Child’s Progress
  7. Some Basic Learning Goals
  8. Home Tutoring Resources
  9. Suggestions for a Tutoring Session at Home
  10. Specific Suggestions for Primary Grades
  11. Specific Considerations for Intermediate Grades
  12. When to Consider Hiring a Tutor
  13. Costs of Tutors and Alternatives
  14. All Kinds of Learning Activities


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