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Bright ideas from our readers: Tutoring tips

Parents chime in with their tips on finding the best academic help for students.

By GreatSchools Staff

If your child is struggling with her writing or simply hoping to pick up a foreign language, tutoring can provide the academic extras that might be missing from the classroom. By offering individualized instruction, tutors — whether they're classmates, high school and college students working on the side, or seasoned professionals — can take up the slack and help students succeed. GreatSchools parents were eager to share their thoughts on how to get the most of out of tutoring.

Do your homework

Since the quality of instruction depends on the person doing the job, it helps to do some research before choosing a service or private tutor. "If I were to hire a student in high school to tutor my sons, I would think back to my experiences and conduct a proper face-to-face interview," says a mother of two, remembering a former tutor who helped her achieve far above grade level. "My parents found a tutor for me at the local high school when I was in sixth grade and learning high school geometry. She was very patient and really helped me learn more than I would have without her."

She also suggests a few interview questions for parents screening potential tutors:

  • What are your plans for structuring my child's time with you?
  • How much do you like the subjects you'll be helping my child learn?
  • Do you like school?
  • What are your plans for the future?

And for those looking to go the extra step, she offers this advice: "I'd want to meet the [tutor's] teachers and parents … to find out whether my child and the tutor are a good fit."

Ask around

When looking for tutor recommendations, it pays to ask those in the know: teachers and other parents. "When my daughter had a retired teacher substituting in one of her classes for a month," says one mother, "I asked him if he knew any tutors. He told me that he tutored in his spare time. I found [another tutor] at the library. I asked the mother ahead of us in line whether she knew of any tutors to recommend. She explained that she's also a teacher who tutors for extra money."

Another mother had similar luck by consulting her daughter's school. "We met with my daughter's teacher and guidance counselor, who suggested using a teacher who tutors after school," she says. "We really see a difference in her studying and, most importantly, her confidence in herself!"

Stay tuned in

One New York mother stresses how important it is to stay on top of your child's tutoring. By knowing what to expect, you'll be able to keep an eye out for any snags. "I have had a tutor for my daughter since first grade [and] we find our tutor to be invaluable," she says. "My tip to parents: You pay the tutor, so tell her what areas you need your child to improve in."

While it's key to find a tutor who's organized and sets clear goals, it's equally important to speak up about adjusting lesson plans as needed. "You may want to collect your child's tests and pages from school workbooks before you meet with the tutor," says the mom from New York. "That way she'll have copies of the work your child is having trouble with. Also, if in one particular month you need the study lineup changed, do what's best for your child and let the tutor know!"

Stick with it

Even if you have to do a few trial runs, it's worth the effort to find a tutor your child likes and respects — and to stick to a routine. "We found a wonderful math tutor for geometry and algebra I who was a retired schoolteacher. She was the fifth tutor we tried out," says another parent. "Make sure you keep looking until you find someone who understands different learning styles and will help your child build confidence. Also, we made sure to attend tutoring consistently, even when there was less homework. The tutor loved that because she could use that time to review with our child."

Connect with a brainy classmate

Not all tutors have to be people you pay: Classmates and friends can be just as valuable with all the learning being packed into those tiny cerebellums. "When my daughter was struggling in one of her classes," writes a GreatSchools mom, "I suggested that she ask someone who [understood] the material to tutor her. She spent seven hours covering a quarter's worth of class material and scored higher than her current average in the class for that quarter. Now she's determined to stick with her honors class!"

Be your child's tutor

Sometimes parents struggling to find the perfect tutor need look no further than the mirror. That's right — moms and dads can be teachers too, though sometimes it takes a stressful situation to make that call. "When my daughter was in second grade, she wouldn't memorize her math tables, so I signed her up for help at the local tutoring center," says one mom. "After about six months, she grew tired of going to the center two times a week and doing the extra math pages every day. So we had a talk. We agreed to stop going to the tutoring center but that she would practice her math — one page a day. It worked! And it helped her understand that math is a skill that takes patience to learn."


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/23/2012:
"I,(a high school junior) struggled in history last year.I had an D 3rd quarter.Scared if i would be able to pass the course i asked my guidnce counsler if he knew of any local collage students or AP history seniors that could tutor me.He gave me a lisit of 6 names.I choose Megann a senior who was in AP history.We worked 2 hours every wednesday in the school libraey for 2 quarters.She tutored me for free.My grades improved rapidly my final grade was an A and i got a 88 on my exam "
02/11/2008:
"When my son needed help with calculus, I didn't remember enough about the subject to help him or to figure out if I was hiring a knowledgeable tutor. So I searched on line and found a local well recommended source and left the match for my son to them. They did a great job! They sent someone that had many of the same outside interests as him and was majoring in math in college. They hit it off the first session and thereafter and my son brought his grades up and passed the AP exam."
02/7/2008:
"I have been tutoring children pre-kindergarten through high school in the Denver area for more than 20 years and I know what an incredible difference it can make. Many students need a little additional support and encouragement that is not always available in a classroom. Teachers can't possible give one-on-one attention to every child who needs it. As the mother of five children, I also know that working with your own child is not always easy. It is sometimes difficult to be objective and have the patience you need. Parents often tell me that I accomplish more with their child in the hour or so a week that we spend than happens the entire week in school. Tutoring can benefit students of all ability levels and can give kids the confidence to succeed in school and beyond."
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