Sep 20, 2017
How do you know if working with a tutor is right for your child? Parents, read this post to navigate that decision and learn from an expert tutor on how to get started.
A few days ago, something amazing happened. A father and son walked into my office to discuss the pros and cons of tutoring. This father-son duo genuinely wanted help determining whether they’d need a tutor for the upcoming school year and, if so, in what capacity. In other words, they were trying to plan ahead, rather than play from behind. In today’s fast-paced and downright byzantine educational landscape, this is critical. And amazing.
A little background on the family: The student in question (let’s call him Raphael) just started 9th grade at a new school, with an entirely different educational philosophy than that of his previous one. And while Raphael has always been an okay student, his parents had reason to believe he might have organizational challenges at the new school and also, perhaps, difficulty keeping up with the more arduous workload.
We sat in my office discussing Raphael’s first two days of school and I couldn’t help but smile. Wherever Raphael’s academic journey leads him, the fact that he was involved in the process of deciding and not simply told he had to see a tutor, says wonderful things about his support network and positions him extremely well for success.
Most of the time, things don’t unfold this way. Far more frequently, parents decide to let their kids go it alone for a few weeks/months before considering outside help, which can lead to students ending up in an academic hole. And some parents just don't believe in tutoring.
Let’s be perfectly clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to cultivate agency in one’s child.
However, working with a tutor really is the right choice for the majority of students. So, if you’re a parent wondering about whether to hire a tutor, this post is for you.
For clarity, I’d like to break this into three areas in which parents often contemplate hiring a tutor: test prep, subject-specific support, and general/organizational tutoring.
It’s hardly a secret that tests have assumed an outsized role in our society, educational and otherwise. Most kids in US schools will have already dealt with more tests than they can count by the time they start high school. And while the ISEE, SSAT, TACHS, SHSAT, NYS Regents, SAT, ACT, SAT II’s, AP’s, TOEFL, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT etc. are uniquely formatted and challenging in different ways, we can still draw some broad conclusions. Any test prep curriculum worth a dime has some component of mock testing. And for good reason. The only way to know how a student is projecting on a particular exam is to have that student sit through one under real-test conditions. Of course, high-level test-prep goes way beyond practice tests, but for all of the aforementioned exams, step one really ought to be a mock test or at the very least an assessment of some kind.
If your son or daughter simply cannot be convinced to sit for such an assessment, you probably need a tutor. And if he or she does sit for the mock test and the results are abysmal or it takes weeks (or months?!) to get him or her to do it, guess what: you probably need a tutor. But what if he/she is able to self-administer the assessment in a timely fashion and the results are moderate to strong? My advice: it’s still worth talking to a tutor who specializes in the exact exam. Armed with that assessment, that prospective tutor should be able to give you more concrete insight as to the student’s score elasticity, which will help you, as a parent, make a more informed decision as to whether to hire that tutor or someone else.
For most classroom teachers, the start of the year represents a crucial window to set the right tone for students. We’ve all had a teacher (or two…) who seemed to take particular pleasure in throwing a class into early chaos with an impossible pop quiz, test or assignment. One could argue - and many of these teachers do - that this is in the best interest of those students, insofar as they “afforded” a wake-up call early on that the class will require serious work. And isn't it better to know that sooner rather than later? Perhaps, but some teachers have other reasons for inflicting such academic wounds. Not all teachers operate this way, of course, but between the ones that do and the inevitable summer malaise, students often experience an academic setback early on in the year.
So your daughter just brought home a 71 on a chemistry test, and she’s never gotten less than a B+ in any science assessment before. Ever. Does she need a tutor?
Here’s my advice: talk to her. Chances are she was shocked and perhaps even devastated by the low score. But it’s also likely that she knew she had struggled with the content either in class or in her individual prep or both. Further, she probably has insights as to the upcoming assessments that may put this moment in better perspective. If she feels she can modify her own study habits in such a way as to improve her chances on the next quiz/test etc., then she deserves a shot that. If however, she really is lost (and getting more so by the day) and/or she really can't comprehend how she got to this point, it may be time to look for some outside help.
That said, if she specifically asks you to find her a tutor and you have the resources/tools to do so, then you really should. Telling her to “figure it out for herself” may seem like a good life lesson, but it’s far more likely to create resentment than inspire her to do better work.
It’s been my experience that, deep down, most parents don’t believe in hiring tutors for this. Hiring someone to tutor their son in Calculus -- a subject most parents can’t meaningfully chip in on content-wise -- is one thing, but hiring someone to help keep things organized? That seems like a waste of money.
It’s not, and here’s why.
And if you think your son or daughter has things in check now, well, information overload is only going to accelerate as technology gets faster, lighter and cheaper. In other words, hiring someone to help your child learn how to keep track of things as effectively as possible as soon as possible isn't just immediately beneficial, it's an investment in that child's future.
But how do you know if you need a general/organizational tutor for your son? Well, some indicators might be apparent. Is his room perpetually in disarray? What about her bookbag? Or his binder? Or even the desktop of her computer? How often does he forget to turn in assignments? And how often did she do them, but simply forget to submit them vs. not even knowing they were due?
Of course, there’s no perfect metric to quantify all of the above, but if you think there's any chance your son or daughter has a problem staying on top of his/her assignments, it’s probably worth talking to a tutor with some experience in this arena. And if you do go forth with a tutor for organizational support, try to think of that individual as more than a maid or babysitter or paid nagger -- he/she is there to help cultivate critical life skills with positive applications WAY beyond school performance.
If you think your son or daughter might need a tutor: do some research. This can take the form of talk to friends and colleagues about their own experiences finding/hiring tutors, but it can also mean using Clark to find seasoned tutors with proven skills in the arena you’re concerned about.
Most importantly, however, you must talk to your son or daughter.
Having a tutor is not a sign of failure or anything your child should be embarrassed or ashamed of. On the contrary, “I need help” is quite possibly the single most important phrase there is. Oh, and hiring a tutor will almost certainly improve the quality of life in your household because sometimes, it's not what gets said, but who says it that matters most.
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