How To Search For An Effective Tutor

If your child is struggling in school, you may be considering enlisting a tutor for help.

Education is a serious business. A student who falls behind may feel the impact both in immediate consequences regarding advancement and class placement, and future opportunities that are missed due to low grades or test scores. It’s important to monitor your child’s school performance, and take note if the level of work is not up to his or her potential.

Today’s families often have less time for learning supervision than they used to. With two working parents and extracurricular activities, getting homework help can be challenging. Many parents decide that focused, one-on-one instruction — additional academic help in another form — can make an important difference.

Other families simply want to give their children an edge, so they hire a tutor to turn a “B” student into an academic superstar, to help their student master AP calculus, or to prepare him or her for college admissions tests.

Whatever your reasons for seeking outside help, there are tutoring options to fit a variety of needs and budgets. One common course of action is to hire a private tutor to work one-on-one with your child, at home or in another location such as the local library. Peer tutors and college students may do this job at a lower cost than seasoned professionals. Small groups or online tutoring are also possibilities. Finally, many communities have for-profit tutoring centers or free to low-cost options.

Depending on the tutor’s level of experience and your geographic location, families can expect to pay from $20 an hour (for a college student) to $300 or more. Tutoring is not regulated by the U.S. Department of Education, and there are no national certification programs or requirements. For these reasons, it’s important to ask questions about the tutor’s experience and credentials. Research the person you are considering, and check his or her references.

The tutor should have experience working with students your child’s age. If your child has a learning disability, be sure the tutor is trained to work with this disability. Think about your child’s personality and learning style when you interview tutors. Remember that a good tutor will connect well with your child, motivate her, and help her develop the confidence to persist in learning more.

Finding The Right Homework Helper

As education experts and policy makers continue to battle over how best to improve our rankings in math, reading, and science compared with students in other countries, here are five tips for finding the right fit.

1. Reach out to the classroom or subject teacher.

“A face-to-face conference is an important first step,” says Jan Lacina, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of Graduate Studies at Texas Christian University’s College of Education. “Solicit input from the teacher or the teaching team about your concerns and ask whether a tutor could be beneficial.”

2. Get referrals from the school.

Teachers, guidance counselors, or administrators can often provide the names of tutors who are familiar with the curriculum and have been effective with other students like yours.

“I prefer consulting classroom teachers to hiring a tutoring company, because you have more control,” says Lacina, who points out that many districts have conflict of interest codes in place. “Your child’s teacher may be prohibited from working for you outside of the school, but she can probably recommend former colleagues — teachers who didn’t return to work after maternity leave or retired educators.”

3. Ask your child for input.

One struggling 6th grader told her parents that she’d like to work with a bright friend of her older sister’s, and the arrangement worked out well for the family. “Working with an older student may feel more comfortable for some kids. An older teenager can have a magical effect on a younger child who looks up to him and can explain concepts kid to kid in a way that’s easier for your child to understand,” says Traci Ambrosi, a reading specialist in a large suburban Maryland elementary school.

“It can really be helpful if the peer tutor had the same teacher since he’d be familiar with the teacher’s style and expectations.”

4. Eavesdrop during the session.

Whether you decide to schedule the first meet and greet at your home or a public place, Lacina recommends staying within earshot. “Evaluate what you hear going on. You should feel comfortable,” the professor says. “When the tutor leaves be sure to ask your child his impressions — what he liked, or didn’t like, about the tutor.”

5. Develop a plan.

The tutor should do more for your child than go over homework. She should be able to assess areas of weakness and provide customized lessons and learning materials. Set learning goals at the start. “Tutors can be used to improve on test-taking strategies and teach better note-taking, too,” says Lacina. “You should see progress fairly quickly if the arrangement is working.”

6. Stay involved.

Play an active role. You are an important part of your child’s learning success. Lacina says skilled tutors can chart a child’s progress, and even show tangible results. “In some areas, like reading fluency, a tutor should be able to tell you how many words per minute a child is reading one month, and chart an increase the next.” Follow up with classroom teachers to see if your child shows classroom improvements.

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