Choosing the Best Tutor for Your Child
Let's say your daughter is having difficulty with algebra even though math has never given her problems before. Or your son, although he knows the material well, has difficulty with the state practice tests his 12th grade physics teacher has been giving over the last few months. The idea of a tutor has crossed your mind, but you're not really sure if one could benefit your child. How do you decide if a tutor is right for his or her needs?
"I would say that if your child's grades begin to rapidly decline, if they are showing a lack of interest in a particular subject or if they having difficulty where they never had it before, it might be time to look for a tutor," says teacher and tutor Jennifer Warren, who has been tutoring students in English and SAT preparation in upstate New York for the past 10 years. "Also, if their class is large or if they have a not-so-great relationship with the teacher, a tutor might be very helpful."
Warren says that from what she has seen with her students, the need for a tutor may have less to do with the child's ability to do the work than with the motivation level to learn the subject.
"A lot of times it comes down to a motivational issue," she says. "It's not like the children are inept. They just need a push to get them motivated to do the work."
Assessing Your Child's Needs
Although many parents start looking for a tutor at their child's school, high school history/global studies teacher Lisa Korpics, who also tutors students near her Poughkeepsie, New York home, says that there are other places to look.
"Some big franchises -- like Sylvan or Huntington Learning -- offer tutoring in small groups instead of one-to-one," Korpics says. "This works well with some students because it is very structured." She adds that sometimes, the center's tutors are uncertified teachers or teachers certified only in elementary education.
"This is not to say that they are not qualified; it's just that when you need specific tutoring for something like physics or chemistry or a specific test like the New York State Regents exam in global history, you need someone who really knows their subject backwards and forwards and is familiar with the state exams," Korpics says, adding that many of the students who fail standardized exams do so because they misunderstand the directions or analyze the questions too much.
"Learning centers seem to work better for elementary and early middle-level students," Korpics says. "I think high school students do better with specific subjects in very small groups with two or three kids. Best is one-on-one, I think."
Lisa also cautions that, because learning centers often provide a curriculum for students, it can sometimes be a disadvantage if the child views it as extra work they have to do in addition to their regular class assignments. "They may become frustrated and overwhelmed," she says.
A Good Fit
Both Warren and Korpics say that the relationship the student develops with the tutor can determine how successful the tutoring sessions will be.
"Having a good relationship with the tutor can really turn the student around," Warren says. "If they look forward to the time with the tutor and get the one-on-one attention they need, it can make an enormous difference in their academic performance."
She recalls a student who, angry about doing additional work with the tutor, actually sneaked out of a session when she left the room to get a pad of paper.
"I got in the car and drove down the road to see this super-cool seventh-grader be-bopping down [the street]," she says. "I pulled over and asked him where he was going and he said 'Umm...McDonald's?'"
Warren says she has had students complete assignments and work hard with their studies simply because they liked her and enjoyed the time she spent with them. And, although she says she hasn't yet had any situations where there wasn't a good rapport, she says the student will know if the relationship is an effective one within the first few sessions.
"A lot of it is individual rapport with the tutor," she says. "If they click, the student may well soar. It could really be just that simple."
Both suggest that parents schedule the first several meetings either in their homes or in a neutral meeting place such as a library. They should also stick around so they can observe how the tutor interacts with their child.
"If the child feels even the slightest bit uncomfortable with the tutor, they should go with their instinct," Korpics says. "Check them out just to be sure."
Face to Face vs. Online
Like almost everything else, tutoring has stepped into the 21st century. There are a host of online tutors that claim to be able to help your child with study habits or do better in a particular subject area.
"Online works well in conjunction with face-to-face tutoring," Korpics says. "It is really effective when working on research papers because the student can paste the rough draft to your email or immediate message and you can add comments right there." She says she uses her Web site for both her classroom and for tutoring students who need help with certain lessons.
"Kids love it," she says. "I think there is a great future in it."
Like any other tutor, Warren suggests that you check the credentials of any online service and make sure they are helping your child learn, not just giving him or her the answers.
Knowing where to Look
Although many parents start the search in their child's school, Warren says that's not the only place to find a good tutor.
"Talk to other parents who've had tutors and see who they would recommend," she says. "There are lots of good tutors out there who haven't yet gotten their certification and aren't on the school's lists as a result. Many good referrals come through word of mouth."
"Sometimes an advanced high school student can actually help a younger student more [because they may have] better communication or similar interests," Korpics adds. "Some Catholic and private schools have community service requirements and juniors or seniors can get credit for helping in the community."
Local colleges with teacher education programs may also be a good place to try, as many college students need to get actual teaching experience under their belt. "They are usually young and enthusiastic," says Korpics. "They also usually know the current state standards for each subject and grade."
The Bottom LineThe current rate for one-on-one tutors ranges anywhere from $20 to $50 an hour. Science and math tutors, who are usually in higher demand, may even charge a bit more. Tutors who come to your home may also factor in the cost of travel when determining their fees.
"Also, if a tutor is tutoring in their certification area, they sometimes charge more," Warren says.
If, after sitting down with your child and honestly assessing strong and weak points in a particular subject, you feel the need to start looking for a tutor, you could be helping your child in ways that go beyond getting an "A" or passing the course.
"A lot of times, kids don't realize their individual potential," Warren says. "Part of the tutor's job is to help uncover the child's learning style. The tutor can help discover who the student is as a learner."
And if you can afford it, isn't that worth a few extra dollars a month?