Even though these days tutors are as ubiquitous as backpacks, not all tutors can help your child. Experts say finding the right fit is essential.
Before hiring a tutor, consider your child’s personality. “It’s like any other relationship — the personalities of those involved have to click," says Traci Ambrosi, B.A., M.Ed, a reading specialist in a suburban Maryland elementary school district. “Learning happens best when the child gets along with the tutor and the tutor gets the child."
Ask yourself questions like: Is my child outgoing or shy? Think about past teachers. Does my child need structure and discipline, or does she respond better to a person who is more relaxed? Sometimes boys may prefer working with male teachers. And remember to factor in downtime. If your child is exhausted after school or has lots of extracurricular activities during the week, carving out time on the weekend for learning may be best.
Jan Lacina, Ph.D., professor, and associate dean of Graduate Studies at Texas Christian University’s College of Education, has had personal experience using tutors for her 10-year-old twins. In her view, the best way to get the right tutor is through the school.
“Your child’s teacher knows your child’s personality and what keeps her engaged. She should be able to recommend a tutor whose teaching style and personality will mesh well with your child’s," Lacina explains. “You just can’t get this essential information from a job board or through a tutoring agency."
Fun is also an important factor — if tutoring isn’t fun, forget about it. “Whether the child is 7 or 17 his brain cannot stay engaged at something that is really hard for him — whether it’s reading and writing or algebra — if the tutor doesn’t make it enjoyable," says Shannon Jones, director of Education, Rick’s Center for Gifted Children at the University of Denver. “The tutor should be able to engage your child with humor, rewards, or some other kind of incentive he or she looks forward to."
There is one caveat, though. “If the child’s personal relationship with the tutor becomes too close, that can get in the way of learning. Your child should like tutoring, but not love it."
Experts say desire is part of the equation, too. A child who doesn’t want to learn can present a major hurdle. But parents can make a difference, according to Lacina. “Be mindful of your words. Always frame working with a tutor as a positive experience," says the professor, who explains that around 4th grade, children can get self-conscious about how they stack up to their peers and may worry they have a tutor when classmates don’t.
“Don’t say: ‘We’re getting a tutor because you bombed your last math test’. Say: ‘The tutor will help you improve your math grade.’ Or, 'the tutor will help you get a head start during the summer so you can feel confident going into middle school,'" she suggests.
Educational theorists say learning happens in a variety of ways. There are several means to process information we want to master, but simply put, they can be broken down into three primary paths: visually, verbally (through listening and talking about it), and kinesthetically (through hands-on or tactile experiences).
Depending on the subject matter, a student may approach the topic in several ways. Still, most of us have a favorite way to learn. There are plenty of online tests and quizzes if you want to explore your child’s predominant style, but Jones says it’s not essential to know before tutoring begins. “A skilled tutor will recognize your child’s learning style and adjust his teaching method accordingly."
If what’s happening at home isn’t transferring to the classroom, that’s a problem. Jones warns parents about relying on in-house assessments. “Tutors and tutoring centers have their own ways to measure and chart progress, but classroom progress is the only thing that matters. If there isn’t improvement at school, it’s time for a new tutor."
To find the right tutor for your child in your area, check out Noodle's Tutor search.
Traci Ambrosi, BA, M.Ed, Reading Specialist in Montgomery County Maryland. Phone interview July 23, 2014.
Jan Lacina, Ph.D, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at Texas Christian University’s College of Education. Phone interview July 16, 2014.
Shannon Jones, Director of Education, Rick’s Center for Gifted Children at the University of Denver. Phone interview July 24, 2014