How to Find a Tutor for Your Child
Experts say finding the right tutor is different for every student, and connection is the key.
Heidi Borst | Wednesday, January 12, 2022 | 9:03 a.m.
Tutoring has become a part of the modern academic landscape in almost every grade. Many schools have a tutoring center. Most communities have a franchise or two. And plenty of teachers and students still offer one-to-one help, whether as a volunteer service or a way to earn a few extra dollars.
But for all that abundance, finding a tutor for your child, whether in math, English, science, history or other subjects, is not always easy.
“The right tutor is the one that’s right for your kid,” says Ned Johnson, founder and president of PrepMatters, which provides tutoring, test preparation and educational planning. “Your friend’s kid may have great results with a tutor, but your kid is different. The very best of tutors are intuitive about kids and flexible in their approach. Some kids need a lighter touch, others more nudging.”
As some children experience learning loss after more than a year of online school, many parents have looked to tutoring as a solution. Whether you are considering a tutor for the first time or your child has worked with one before, there are steps you can take to find the right tutor in elementary, middle or high school.
What Makes a Good Tutor
A tutor should be interested in understanding and diagnosing what a student’s needs are before jumping in and telling them what to do, Johnson says.
“My first hour is always about making a student feel like I’m interested in them, not just their grades or scores,” he says. “If you’re going to be effective as a tutor, you need to be influential, and if you’re going to be influential, the kid needs to feel like the tutor has tried to understand their perspective.”
Brett Murphy Hunt, a lecturer at Northeastern University who owns a tutoring and consulting firm in Boston, says mastery in a subject does not automatically make someone a good tutor.
“Above anything else, emotional intelligence is important with one-on-one learning, because student issues can stem from myriad difficulties,” she says. “For instance, sometimes it isn’t a content problem, but instead a confidence problem. A good tutor knows the difference.”
Tutoring experts say that good instructors recognize a child’s strengths, work on their weaknesses and guide learning without fostering dependency.
“A student should look forward to meeting with their tutor and feel more confident after the session,” says Nikki Geula, founder and CEO of The Classroom Door, an online tutoring resource.
Elementary and Middle School Tutoring
While it’s important to make learning fun for students of all ages, this is especially true when tutoring younger students, says Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education. That’s because they may absorb information better in shorter, more interactive sessions, and they may need a different style of motivation.
“For elementary and middle school students, it is often most productive to start tutoring sessions with an icebreaker activity and plan a variety of subject-related activities for each session, such as playing question games,” Rim says.
For middle school students, parents often seek out tutors to provide help with organization, homework or certain subject areas. In many cases, these needs were amplified when schools were closed due to the pandemic.
“Teachers are seeing the impact of COVID-19 in the classroom, and the ‘COVID slide’ is real,” Geula says. “Many students are behind grade level and tutors are helping to fill this gap. Enrichment tutoring can help a child get ahead or fill in the gaps caused by last year’s remote and asynchronous schooling.”
High School Tutoring
For high school students, effective tutoring sessions may involve more repetitive activities, especially if a student is preparing for a standardized test such as the SAT or ACT, Rim says. Effective tutoring can also look different for freshmen and sophomores that it does for juniors and seniors.
“Freshmen and sophomores may need more school support as they transition from middle school to high school courses, meaning that tutors may work more closely with students’ teachers,” Rim says. “Juniors and seniors may need more support in SAT or ACT prep, which would involve a separate curriculum and an emphasis on practice test review.”
Like middle schoolers, many high school students need support to fill in the academic gaps caused by COVID-19, Geula says. However, they also face other challenges, such as planning for college, mapping out subject tests, planning extracurriculars, choosing courses and planning for finals.
“Good tutors recognize that each student has a unique skill set and play to students’ strengths while working on their weaknesses,” Rim says. “They communicate and collaborate with students, parents and teachers to set goals, create lesson plans and measure progress.”
Choosing a Tutoring Option
Tutoring options include peer tutoring, school resources such as teachers and reading specialists, and private companies and individuals. Private companies may offer in-person or online options, both of which have benefits.
“While in-person tutoring may work well for students who already spend a lot of time online and need a break from computer screens, online tutoring is often more convenient and dynamic,” Rim says. “Tutors can use technology to incorporate images and animations into lessons. All of these tutoring options can be effective, but it’s important to know what you are looking for and verify that the tutoring option you are considering meets your student’s needs.”
Peer tutors can work just as effectively as professionals, and sometimes more so, according to Johnson. “If kids feel like they’ve been nagged or lectured too much by a parent or teacher, we want to be careful not to pick someone who has the exact same energy,” he says.
Tutoring options, and the prices they command, vary widely. The level of expertise required, the amount of time needed and your locale can all impact costs. The nationwide average for standard tutoring in a basic subject was about $25 an hour, according to Payscale, a company that provides data on compensation. But that can go as high as $49 an hour in some parts of the country. Tutors specializing in test preparation, or those with expertise in a specific area, can cost far more.
“Are you trying for the Ivy League and need serious SAT help? Maybe a more expensive and experienced tutor is right for you,” Murphy Hunt says. “Are you just needing a study partner slightly better versed than you to help keep you accountable and progressing? Maybe the grad student is alright for you after all.”
Experts say that, before seeking a tutor, it’s a good idea to connect with your child’s teacher to identify the issues they think need work. Then, look for experienced tutors with the right academic background, and always get references.
“When looking for a tutoring company, make sure they have vetted, quality teachers with strong academic backgrounds, proven classroom experience, and a range of price points to fit any budget without compromising quality,” Geula says.
Originally published in U.S. News on Jan 12, 2022