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Private Tutors - Friends or Foes?

November, 2016
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The school playground has long been the stage for battles. Who can run the fastest or jump the highest? Such battles build confidence and mimic life’s coming struggles. Such playground antics are yesterday’s child’s play…. today’s battle occurs at the desk. More than ever before the pen has proven mightier than the sword.  Brute strength has at last given way to the brain and the tutor has become the weapon of choice.

The benefits of employing a tutor to improve a student’s classroom performance seem obvious. Tutors are a ready resource, well trained in their subjects and thus able to answer questions and add perspective to the overall subject.

westside-tutoring-ohio-tutoring-for-middle-school-students-1024x768-1Good tutoring, however, is about much more than just helping your child get a better grade in class. Several university and USA government studies repeatedly show how tutors can be very effective supplementary learning partners for students at every level. 

Students in need of academic improvement can benefit greatly from a good tutoring relationship, especially with a caring tutor who can help them find and fill holes in their understanding of a topic and build a stronger foundation upon which to build further learning. Also, tutors can support students in carrying out the intense and/or timed practice that they often need. Students not only see academic improvement, but can also develop more confidence in the subject and their own ability to do well. Improved confidence can better enable students to participate in, and benefit from, their classes, thus leading to further improvement.

Tutoring can also support strong students by encouraging them towards higher-level thinking. A good tutor, assuming he or she is somewhat older, better read and worldlier, can be a wonderful discussion partner. They provoke both deeper thought and provide students with additional sources of information in the form of books, papers and websites.

Hiring a tutor early on in your student’s academic life can bring later benefits.

Parents often ask how they can best give their child the foundation needed to secure a spot in a top college. While nothing is guaranteed, one of the best ways a parent can help their children cultivate an early passion for learning is through reading.  Busy parents might consider hiring a tutor or student to read children’s books with their youngsters (60 minutes per day maximum parents! There is a thin line between cultivation and torture for young children).

Also, having someone sit with and observe your student during homework periods can bring unexpected benefits. Good tutors will often recognize less productive study behaviors and messy backpacks, etc., and can identify potential improvements and help with organizational issues. These types of simple support comments can have a long lasting positive impact on a student’s academic performance.

tutor4Finally, know that students are best supported when their teachers and parents work in collaboration to support them. Parents might consider including a tutor if he or she provides the primary home academic support. Having teacher and tutor work in concert can be especially helpful if your child has learning differences or needs support in specific areas. Thus, a teacher, parent and tutor meeting that is well structured can be instrumental to providing a coordinated learning plan for your student.

Tutoring can be a win-win situation for student and school if done properly. In addition to academic and personal development gains, good tutoring can also diffuse conflict between students and parents, thus reducing stress and improving communication on student progress.

Parents, however, need be aware that not all tutoring is good tutoring, even if it seems to yield good results. There are rules that should guide and clearly limit the extent of tutoring support, and students need to be educated as to how best use their tutors.

The rules of engagement suggested below make the tutoring objective clear. Tutors are to support learning by encouraging students to ask questions and find their own answers.

While homework is a tempting focus, students should come to tutoring sessions with as much homework completed as possible, but also raise concepts that they need to master so that they can deepen their understanding of their subjects and equip themselves with the tools to complete their homework on their own. 

Do not allow the tutor to do the work or the thinking for the student. Discourage over dependence. If your child only completes homework and papers with the help of a tutor, something is wrong and parental investigation is warranted!

Tutors are not substitute teachers. While your tutor can help your student further understand concepts discussed in class, it is the class teacher alone who will evaluate and grade performance. Therefore your class teacher remains the first, and best, place to go for help. Moreover, the more a student talks with his/her teacher the better that teacher gets to know a student. The teacher will note the effort your child puts into learning and discusses concepts at school. Additionally, teachers will gain insight into the student’s thought processes and abilities. This information becomes especially important as the time for university or summer program letters of recommendation draw near, so do not let your child squander the opportunity of developing strong relationships with his or her teachers.

The potential for negative impact when tutors are improperly used is significant and can far outweigh the benefits. Overdependence on tutoring can hide weaknesses. With the assistance of an overhelpful tutor, students can turn in excellent homework, papers and projects, but fail quizzes, in-class assignments and tests. There is little point to this – doing well at home and underperforming in class results in poor grades.

Too much help can actually debilitate and demotivate students. Overzealous tutors leave little room for the students to struggle through problems on their own. Having a ready source of answers eliminates the need for students to think and puzzle things out on their own. Students then can easily equate getting the right answer to learning, leaving themselves unpracticed in the very skills it takes to perform well academically.

Additional damage awaits the unwise user of tutors. Overdoing it can also lead to demotivation and inertia. Moreover, without the practice of working through the small challenges presented by research, and the need to improve writing and communicating with teachers, real life issues seem insurmountable.  School and the work that goes along with it is about more much than just grades; the experience itself is vital to getting to the next step successfully.

Knowing how to construct a fully productive tutoring relationship and monitoring it to maintain good results is critical. Both the student and the tutor need to understand that the circumstances under which they are working are necessarily temporary. The student’s goal must be to grow away from the tutor and the tutor must set herself the goal to work herself out of a job. The best result is for both to part as friends, better for having known each other.


By Tess Robinson



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