When Good Kids Get Bad Grades
Ryan lay in bed Monday morning, complaining of yet another stomach ache. A child who once loved school was now avoiding it whenever possible. He lied about homework assignments and hidhis test papers. Whenever his mother, Carol, asked about school, Ryan changed the subject or stormed off to his room. At first she thought it was just a pre-adolescent phase, but she realized there was a bigger problem when she saw his report card.
Carol set up a meeting with Ryan's teacher to find out what was going on. Mr. Edwards told her that Ryan was trying hard in class, but that he didn't seem to be grasping the material. He suggested finding a tutor to work with Ryan one-on-one to help get him up to speed.
At first Carol resisted the explanation. Ryan was a smart kid who had always done well in school. She assumed the teacher was at fault. However, she knew Ryan would be in Mr. Edwards' class all year, so she needed to do something to help him succeed.
Rebecca Rothman McCoy, an experienced tutor in Anchorage, Alaska, says that many parents have a hard time admitting their children need extra help. "But tutoring is not a stigma," she says. She adds that all children learn differently, but large class sizes limit a teacher's ability to personalize lessons for each student. That's where a tutor can help. "Tutoring should be seen as a pro-active step parents can take to help their children," McCoy says.
Sandy Fleming, who has been tutoring in Michigan for over 20 years, says it's best to seek help as soon as you see any sort of academic difficulty. "It shouldn't depend solely on grades," she says. "If parents are concerned that the child isn't making enough progress, or if they feel that something just isn't right, they should consider getting a tutor." Identifying and tackling the problem early can make a world of difference for your child's selfconfidence and success levels.
Where to start
Carol decided that getting extra help would be good for Ryan, but she didn't know where to find a tutor or what to look for. She called Mr. Edwards for advice. He explained that tutors can help in many different ways, from basic homework support to intensive remediation*, and that Ryan needed something in the middle. He offered a list of tutors he had worked with in the past and suggested she try them first.
John J. Prelich, Jr., a teacher and school psychologist currently at New Jersey-based Corn Associates, says that contacting your child's teacher for referrals is one of the best ways to find a tutor. He says, "If the teacher knows the tutor, they may be more willing to work together as a team." And the teaming of home and school is the best way to find success.
A different kind of learning
Carol called several tutors on the list and was able to find one she thought would be a good match for Ryan. Then she and Ryan did an informal interview with the tutor and decided to hire him. However, Carol worried that the after-school tutoring sessions would be too much "schooling" for Ryan. She was afraid that if he hated school now, the extra learning time would make the situation even worse.
Fleming, however, doesn't worry. She says tutoring is a different kind of teaching than what a child gets in school. Tutors provide individualized attention that fits a child's learning style, and many tutors work to make the sessions "fun enough that the students actually want to be there," says Fleming. The fun and games teach the student that learning can be a positive experience. Positive tutoring can help a child learn the material, get better grades, and even form a better attitude about school.
On the road to success
It took only a few sessions for Carol to know she made the right decision in hiring a tutor for Ryan. He stopped faking illnesses to get out of class. He started doing his homework. He showed his tests to his tutor and suggested things he thought they should work on together. Although his grades didn't instantly improve, his attitude did.
It will take Ryan several months of tutoring to catch up to his peers, but Carol now knows that it is time well spent.