For Nan Crafton’s daughters, tutors are a way of life. Crafton’s oldest, 13, struggles with Algebra while her youngest, 6, is behind in reading. Crafton’s a working mom and simply doesn’t have time to help her kids herself. “My daughter’s Algebra teacher came right out and asked if I could get Maddy a tutor. At first I thought, ‘Well, YOU’RE the teacher!,’ but then I realized that wasn’t going to help my daughter. You have to do what helps your kids.” Pressed classroom teachers cannot re-teach ideas that most of their students have mastered, so sometimes children need a tutor to help them get back on track or to keep them from falling farther behind. Whether parents are seeking remedial help for their child or a track to the Ivy League, millions of them are learning the intricacies of the “supplemental education” sector — now an estimated $5 billion business, 10 times as large as it was in 2001.
Don’t Wait When You See the Need
Often, parents won’t even consider a tutor until after one or two poor report cards or low achievement test scores. This may be too late. The signs are frequently subtle. Says Debby Sparks, franchise owner of the Cherry Grove/Anderson Township Huntington Learning Center, “Look for procrastination on homework. Kids want to do it, but they procrastinate because they don’t have the skills set.” She also advises parents to note if homework takes too long. “Ask the teacher how long it should take,” says Sparks, adding that if your child needs an hour to an hour-and-a-half to complete a 30-minute assignment, there might be something wrong.
Forgetting books and assignments might also be a red flag, says Sparks, although this is usually a sign of an organization problem, and one that is often addressed in her center. “It’s a very common problem,” she says, “especially when a student is transitioning to the fourth or fifth grades, which require more independence.”
Parents should check papers as they come home, but more than that, check the papers and if they are underperforming, take action. If a child continues to have difficulty in a subject, talk to the teacher. Ask about specific materials that your child doesn’t understand. And trust your instincts. The key to a successful tutoring experience is starting early. It is far easier to catch a child up on a few months of work than to help a child who has fallen two or three grade levels behind his peers. When children are bored in school and not receiving enough challenge, misbehavior may be the result.
Types of Tutors
After deciding that your child needs a tutor, you must then determine which type of tutor is best. If the problem is not too severe, you might check with your child’s teacher or school counselor to see if peer tutors are available. Many times, older or more advanced children will help other students as part of their day, or right after school. These student tutors may work better than an adult because they will talk to your child on her level.
Private tutors may work on their own or through a service. They are usually teachers who tutor children, one-on-one, before or after school or on the weekends. Most commonly, your child will go to the house of the private tutor, or to the center where they work, but now, more and more are willing to come to your home. In-home tutoring certainly has the advantage of parental convenience, but may not provide the best learning atmosphere.
Tutoring centers are available in almost every neighborhood. They usually offer the option of testing to determine your child’s strengths, weaknesses and deficiencies. Most have a wide variety of educational materials and many tutors from which to choose. Children may be taught one-on-one or in small groups of up to five children. At Huntington Learning Center, every program is individual to the student, according to Sparks. Tutors work one-on-one with all kids in grades 3 and younger. Children in grades 4 and older may transition into groups of no more than four, which helps them build confidence and take ownership of their answers amongst their peers, says Sparks. And exam prep work for older students is always one-on-one, since each student approaches specialized tests differently.
What To Watch Out For
Most centers schedule your child to attend one or two times a week for an hour; many give homework. Children should come home from each session having had at least one positive learning experience. This will help them to progress and to begin feeling good about themselves again.
When signing up, carefully go over the individualized program. Ask how the parent will be kept abreast of the student’s progress. Be sure to understand how long the program should take.
Don’t fall in love with computer-based tutoring services simply on the basis of computer access. While computers are certainly becoming a vital part of our society, understand that just because a program offers computer programs it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a good one. The educational background and expertise of the tutor is still most important.
Don’t expect your child to advance several grade levels in a few sessions. Some centers make guarantees — be sure to read and understand them. Parents can usually expect their child to improve one to one-and-a-half grade levels after six months of tutoring.
Parents also need to be aware of programs that focus mainly on improving test scores. There is a difference between a test score and the level at which a child understands material and can work independently. Children may be good at memorizing facts, but still not understand the concepts. If a center teaches for tests, the improved test scores may impress the parents, but the student may still be behind in his actual knowledge and ability. Says Sparks, “Our philosophy is that each child has a foundation of learning, but that foundation might have a few holes or cracks. Our goal is to fill the holes in the foundation and help children build on their skills.” And just like there are subtle signs your child needs help, you should see signs of improvement outside of better test scores. “Your child should be more confident,” says Sparks, “and motivated to continue learning and build more skills.”
Jennifer Bodnar is a freelance writer.