Things to consider when hiring a tutor

Parents hire tutors for a variety of reasons.  Some are looking for someone to help their child with homework; others are looking for test prep for college entrance exams or other “high stakes” exams.  However, most parents looking for a tutor are those whose child is struggling in school.  For the purpose of this blog, I’m speaking to those parents whose child’s academic performance is below what’s expected for the typical child their same age.

Some things to consider:

Qualifications of the tutor.  This is something the majority of parents I talk to don’t always realize is important.  If your child is having difficulty reading or gaining the necessary skills to read you must locate a tutor who specializes in reading; one who has been trained in and knows how to help children who struggle with learning to read.  The neighbor, babysitter, or teacher who tutors the children of your friends may be equipped to handle the needs of other children but may not be equipped to handle your child’s needs.  I’ve met some parents who won’t switch tutors because they are afraid of “hurting the feelings” of their current tutor.  My question is always this, “If your child were sick and not getting better, wouldn’t you seek out a different doctor, one more qualified to treat your child’s illness?”  The ability to read affects your child’s success in all other subject areas.  The knowledge, experience and qualifications of the tutor will make a difference.

The tutor’s ability to assess and determine where and why your child is struggling.  This goes beyond simply saying “Your child is struggling in reading.”  There are 5 main areas which play into the development of reading: phonological/phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Skills lacking in any one of these areas can significantly affect a child’s ability to read accurately with fluency and comprehension.  If phonological awareness is an area of weakness, phonics will be affected, which in turn hinders a child’s ability to read fluently.  When children can’t read accurately and fluently, they are unable to understand (comprehend) what they are reading.  Tutoring instruction for your child needs to target the area in which the skills are lacking (phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, etc) and you need a tutor who can assess and make that determination for you.  You also want to make sure the tutor’s skills match your child’s needs.  Simply tutoring in “reading” is not enough.  You need a tutor who has the training to assess and remediate in the specific areas of your child’s deficit.

The tutor’s ability to monitor the progress of your child.   The person who tutors your child should also be able to monitor whether or not the instruction is helping your child make gains.  This is important for many reasons, but particularly for the obvious: If your child isn’t making the gains expected based on the help provided, why continue teaching in that same manner?  Your child’s tutor needs to be able to monitor whether the instructional strategies being used with your child are helping.  The tutor needs to have a vast repertoire of reading knowledge to pull from and needs to know when it’s time to change up what he or she is working on.

It’s important to recognize that several things affect a child’s progress and that progress takes time. Whether or not your child has a learning disability also matters.  If a learning disability is present, it doesn’t mean your child won’t/can’t learn.  It means that the method in which your child learns best must be discovered and that can take time.

The tutor’s willingness to collaborate with your child’s classroom teacher.  Having the educators who work with your child communicate and collaborate regularly is important.  This isn’t to say that they all need to be working on the same thing but it is important to have open lines of communication between your child’s teacher and tutor.  The teacher works with your child everyday and is well aware of the grade level expectations.  The tutor sees your child in a 1:1 setting providing instruction to only your child, something the teacher may not have the luxury of seeing on a regular basis.  Each has something valuable to offer the other, and a collaborative, cohesive plan helps both meet the needs of your child.

The availability of the tutor.  If the tutor cannot see your child at least twice a week, look elsewhere.  The more often your child sees a tutor, obviously, the better the outcome.  If your child only sees a tutor once a week for 45-60 minutes, much of that time is spent reviewing what was taught during the last session, leaving less time to continue instruction and address the skill deficit.  Progress will be slow, if any.  Tutoring less than 2 times a week isn’t worth the money.  If you have a young child in kindergarten or first grade, you might consider shortening the time to thirty minutes, seeing the tutor three or four times during the week.

How do franchise tutoring companies compare?

I have researched many franchise tutoring companies under the guise of a parent with a child who struggles in comprehension.  What I found is that most of the instruction given is in small groups.  Within that group, each child is working on a different subject/concept using an iPad with lessons and assessments the franchise has created.  This causes me to wonder if a reading specialist or anyone with any kind of reading expertise created them.  When I spoke to the manager of one local tutoring franchise, I asked how they would address the complex area of comprehension and how would they know what skills were lacking for my child.  He mentioned a questionnaire but could not specifically explain how to build comprehension skills.  This lack of specialized instruction, is concerning, especially for kids who are significantly struggling in reading. If you choose to use one of these franchise tutoring locations, make sure you ask a lot of questions.  And remember, they are trained to sell.

Some questions to ask your prospective tutor:

Reading involves many skills. How will you know where my child needs help?

Can you determine why my child is having difficulty with reading?

Can you determine my child’s learning style?

What assessments will you provide?  What do they measure?

How will you monitor his/her progress? How will you know if your instructional strategies are working?

What are your areas of expertise?

How will you communicate with me and his/her teacher?

In the long run, it pays to do a little research into the tutor’s background and qualifications as well as finding out how a tutor will assess your child’s skills and work to remediate them.  Collaboration between tutor and classroom teacher is important.  It helps ensure that both educators are addressing the immediate needs of your child.  I hope these questions provide a good guide as you look for a tutor.  Please comment below or email me with questions at:

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