Jul 26, 2017
Professional tutor Josh Sohn on how to evaluate prospective tutors and why making the right choice is essential.
I love baseball.
I always have. To me, it's not only the most technically difficult of the major sports, but also possesses a terrific mix of individual skills and team play. Sure, the catalytic battle is between the pitcher and batter, but pitch selection, defensive shifts, the catcher’s framing skills, and countless other strategic choices are all baked into that confrontation. And once the ball is hit? Well then you're involving at least one other individual and sometimes several in the play’s ultimate outcome.
For these reasons, player evaluation -- especially when it involves the acquisition of new players -- comes down to so much more than talent. Of course general managers want players with elite skills, but they also have to think about whether that player will “fit” with the existing team environment. Acquiring an individual whose skill set doesn't complement your team doesn't just run the risk of wasting precious resources (cough, MONEY) it can result in subtraction by addition.
If you're a parent in search of a tutor for your son/daughter, I'm talking to you.
Let's look at three student archetypes and what sort of tutors might (and might not) be a good fit.
BAD FIT - A Biology master, who has always intended to pursue science and has always thrived in science classes. This tutor’s high level of expertise, while nice, will likely be wasted in this tutoring engagement, in which a more delicate touch is needed.
BETTER FIT - A former middle school science teacher with solid interpersonal skills, but limited knowledge of high school biology. This tutor’s facility with classroom instruction may help Annabelle with her testing issues, but prove of limited utility when Annabelle needs a specific Biology question answered.
BEST FIT - An experienced tutor with legitimate Biology chops and a plan for helping Annabelle manage her test anxiety. If this tutor has experienced some personal academic/testing challenges, all the better.
BAD FIT - A big, bold and rigid personality. It could be that you get lucky and Dane just clicks with this person but, more likely, he'll find such an individual grating, and won’t deliver his top effort and/or best possible score.
BETTER FIT - A push-over. Even if Dane and this tutor cultivate an awesome rapport, such that Dane looks forward to SAT prep, some of the potential score gains will be sapped as deliberate practice is replaced with casual conversation and lack of firm homework expectations.
BEST FIT - Someone with a ton of SAT prep experience who can ebb and flow with Dane accordingly.
BAD FIT - A general math tutor with minimal calculus experience. There are certain high-level academic undertakings (I’m looking at you BC Calc) for which one simply can’t fake expertise.
BETTER FIT - A math grad student or PHD with only moderate teaching experience. The upshot here is it’s unlikely that Archer will be able to stump this tutor on a technical calculus question. However, if Archer isn’t impressed with the pedagogy being deployed, it might not matter.
BEST FIT - BC Calc master but also someone with sufficient tutoring experience. The key here will be someone who can both answer difficult calculus questions and match wits with Archer.
Needless to say, kids don’t tend to land squarely in a tidy archetype. But you know your child and you probably have a sense of the sort of tutor who would (or wouldn't) fit well with your child’s personality. However, even/especially if you don’t, it’s essential that you interview a few different prospective tutors (ideally in person) before settling on one to take the reins. The more experience the tutor has, the better prepared he/she will be at managing your child’s changing needs and expectations. And you should feel free to ask prospective tutors for references -- if they truly are capable and experienced, they should have no trouble referring you to a parent or two to speak on their behalf.
Framing the hiring of a tutor as your child “picking the right person” (as opposed to you engaging someone without your child’s consent) can lead to MUCH BETTER academic outcomes and MUCH MORE QUICKLY. And it’s not exactly a mystery why. Teenagers are engaged in the process of figuring out who’s in charge of what and learning what sort of behavior is acceptable and life-enhancing. Arming adolescents with the agency to make meaningful decisions can send a powerful message that you trust them, which can reap enormous rewards later.
Also, keep in mind that sometimes well-intentioned parents hire tutors who don’t work out. There’s simply nothing you can do to eliminate that possibility altogether. But the more you communicate with your son or daughter about the nature of the work that’s happening as well as with the tutors themselves, the better positioned you’ll be to evaluate why it’s not working and whether it’s time to find someone new. And if you find that your tutor is perpetually late or missing appointments, you should definitely consider an alternative. Delivering meaningful academic gains is tough enough with regular appointments -- tutors who can’t aren’t professional, punctual, and reliable just aren’t worth your time or your money.
Tutors who truly “fit” with your child won’t just improve academic performance, they’ll bend the arc of your child’s life towards a more meaningful and altogether fulfilling life-journey.
Do your homework, so that they can soar.
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