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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Pick a Good Tutor

By Jan Pierce

There are many reasons for a child to fall behind in one school subject or another. 

Whatever the situation, being behind other learners is never a happy experience for your child. You may be able to do extra work at home to catch up, but often a tutor is the best way to help a child make great strides in learning. Here are some things to consider when finding the best tutor for your child.

Safety and Convenience Your primary concern is for the well-being of your child. Be sure to get and check references for your tutor, and plan to have lessons take place online, or if COVID-restrictions allow, at your home or a school or library.

Skills and Experience The best tutors are retired or unemployed teachers. They are certified and have lots of experience with children needing additional support. Sometimes tutoring businesses are able to provide encouraging lessons in basic subjects, but just as often their teachers are not certified and have limited experience in teaching a subject with learning styles in mind. They may not be able to present a lesson in a number of different ways to help the child understand. 

Occasionally a family member may be able to step in and help your child in a certain subject. In that case, work with your classroom teacher to get proper materials for the lessons. Be sure that you work with classroom teachers and the tutor to set specific goals for tutoring sessions. One good way to build learning confidence is to “see” progress over time as certain goals are met.

Patience, Empathy, and Kindness Children who have fallen behind in their classroom work are often very discouraged. They may feel they can’t learn and their self-esteem may suffer as a result. So anything additional in their schedule can feel like punishment. To help avoid this, hire someone who offers nothing but positive lessons presented in small, bite-sized pieces, so failure won’t be an option. Good tutors will have games and activities that are both instructional and fun. They may use some sort of reward system that encourages a bit of risk-taking but also makes your child feel hopeful and accomplished. 

A good tutor is on task but upbeat and friendly. He or she will be patient but expect the best, including the achievement of specific milestones. Often charts and stickers work very well for a child who has not been able to earn them in class.

Enthusiasm and Positivity Typically children who have experienced a degree of failure are sure that they’re “bad at math” or “bad at reading.” A good tutor can present material in such a way that your child can shine. And an enthusiastic tutor who truly loves the subject matter may be able to help your child overcome unhappy classroom experiences.

Reliability Your family’s schedule is important and adding a tutoring session may be a stretch for you. So if your tutor is not on time, or fails to measure up in any way, feel free to find another one. 

It’s also a good idea to schedule tutoring sessions for a month or two at a time, and then re-evaluate the need for the extra support. You may decide that the extra boost in learning was all that your child needed to get back on track. Or you may decide that certain times of the year are just too busy to add another activity. Maybe waiting until spring or even summer would be the best choice for your family.

It’s important that your child never feel that working with a tutor is an embarrassment or a punishment. It may be wise to explain that throughout history children have worked with tutors and that classroom instruction is a relatively new way to learn.

Finding the best tutor for your child will take some research and time, and also, of course, money. But a strong, capable tutor may be just the boost your child needs to become a confident, successful learner.  

Jan Pierce, MEd, is a retired teacher and writer specializing in education, parenting, and family life. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find her at