Many frustrated parents solve this problem by hiring a tutor. However, each family has unique needs, and tutors have many degrees of know-how and caring. So it is important to know what you want, then thoroughly investigate the skill, experience, commitment and personality of the tutor.
1. Know your goals
Ask yourself or your child’s teacher:
- What level of help do we need? Does my child need homework help, intensive remediation, or something in between?
- What areas do we want to see the tutor improve: better scores in one subject (chemistry, geometry); improved general skills (math, reading, science); study skills; motivation?
- What do I know about my child’s learning style? Does he learn best by reading, listening, moving, touching? Does he do better with men or women? Does he need lots of nurturing or a firm hand? What motivates and interests him?
- How much time and money can you devote to tutoring? Don’t skimp, but be honest with yourself before you start.
2. Know your options
- Call your child’s school counselor or teacher and share your concern. Good counselors will have met with your child and should have files on her progress throughout her school career, her scores on standardized tests, and notes on possible personality problems. Most schools have a list of registered tutors on file in the counseling office. Often it’s in the form of resumes or fliers. Many times these are posted in a book for parents to look over before making a choice. Or schools may post them on a bulletin board for parents and students.
- Check out the local paper. Many good tutors list their credentials there.
- Ask friends and neighbors for ideas. Retired or “stay-at-home-parent” teachers may be willing to help out. Make sure they know the subject matter you need.
- Call your local branch of a learning center like Sylvan or Kumon. Ask if your child fits their profile. Usually they work with general problems like reading comprehension, rather than specific subjects like biology or literature.
Dollars and $ense
Unfortunately, price is often the determining factor in choosing a tutor. However, it’s more important to look at value. A more expensive tutor may be a better fit for your child and may be more effective in meeting her needs. Don’t rule him out because of his fees.
Beyond cost itself, ask:
- What are your payment policies?
Find out in advance what forms of payment your tutor accepts, and when it is expected. Some tutors accept only cash and require payment at each session. Some will allow you to prepay a month at a time. Others may bill you for completed sessions.
- What are your cancellation policies?
While most tutors are rather flexible, some require 24-hour notice if you’re going to cancel. Learn this information up front to avoid charges down the line.
3. Test your options
- Check credentials carefully. Ask questions to see how well their skills match your child’s needs:
- What is your educational background? If the tutor will work on chemistry, she should have at least a college minor in chemistry. A different education is needed to teach first-grade reading.
- What type of teaching experience do you have? Look for a tutor who has worked with students similar in age and ability to your child.
- Meet with several candidates. Include your child and ask plenty of questions:
- How do you evaluate each student’s needs? Find out whether the tutor will use standardized tests, school reports, or other forms of evaluation to discover your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
- How long to you think you will need to prepare the lessons? Keep in mind that difficult subject matter will take longer to prepare, so expect to pay more for the extra preparation time.
- What tutoring methods do you use? A skilled tutor will do more than just answer questions and do problems with students. He will assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses, prepare individualized materials and use “hands-on” materials wherever possible. He will work hand-in-hand with the classroom teacher, and most of all, give your child a “can-do” attitude and lots of positive reinforcement.
- What do you expect from me? Good tutors need a family’s cooperation. They need parents to contact classroom teachers and ask for cooperation in making tutoring a success: a copy of the textbook they use; a syllabus of their class or subject; any extra worksheets they have that might facilitate the tutorial process.
- How do you motivate your students? Think about what motivates your child, and seek a tutor who uses these methods.
- What hours are you available? This question often makes or breaks a deal. You may have found the perfect tutor, but if she doesn’t fit your schedule you’re out of luck.
- Where do you do your tutoring? Tutors usually choose a public place to tutor, like a library. However, if you have checked out the situation carefully, a home should be acceptable, especially if another person is at home during the session.
- How long do you expect tutoring to last? A tutor can become a crutch, so it’s important to get an estimate of how long it will take to help your child develop the skills and confidence to succeed independently.
- How much do you charge for your services? Cost varies greatly, depending on subject area, location, and the credentials of the tutor. Neighbors or friends may charge less, but remember, professional tutors charge professional rates.
- What is the range of results you see? How much have other clients improved in the past?
- Is there someone I can contact who knows your tutoring skills? You get references for electricians, doctors and dentists. Doesn’t it truly make sense to get a reference for the person who will be working very closely with your child?
4. Partner for results
- Watch how your child relates to the tutor. Sit in on part of a session if possible. Your child must be comfortable, if you want to see success.
- Monitor progress. Ask for feedback from your child, and see if your child’s grade gradually improves. If, after several sessions, you don’t see improvement or you feel a negative attitude in your child, move on to another tutor.
Finding — and keeping — a good tutor involves some work on your part. But then isn’t your child worth all the help you can give?
Carole McGraw is a retired teacher, chemistry tutor and freelance author in Troy, Michigan. Lisamarie Sanders contributed to this article.