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It's Time for a Tutor!

Know the signs that outside help can benefit your child's education.

Ever since Natalie Hagy was 3-years old, she has struggled with developmental delay issues. So her parents were not surprised to find she needed academic help when she started first grade.

“It got to the point where Natalie didn’t want to go to school,” reports her father, Doug. “We would see her falling asleep at the dinner table at 5:30pm. The school work was so hard and we were getting nowhere.”

There are a number of signs that a child needs a tutor. According to Tina Maida Masington, director of Educational Service, Inc. in Wilmington, DE, these signals include:

  • Test and/or report card grades slipping
  • Numerous seemingly careless errors on test papers
  • Assignment deadlines not being met
  • Frustration and tears or anger at homework time
  • A new decrease in self-confidence
  • Sleeplessness or excessive worry
  • Lots of efforts but disappointing results
  • Complaints about feeling dumb or an "I don't care" attitude
  • Hesitancy to go to school or complaints of stomachaches or headaches

Talking to Your Child

Before finding a tutor, sit down and discuss the need with your child, says Beverly Stewart, president and director of Back-to-Basics Learning Dynamics in Wilmington, DE. “Make the conversation as positive as possible. You are trying to get the child to buy in —‘You know how reading is kind of hard sometimes? Well, we’re going to meet with someone who can help you.’ Most kids are okay with that because they don’t want to struggle with schoolwork.

Questions for a Tutor

• What age do you tutor?
• Is it for remedial work only? Or do you do enrichment and maintenance too?
• What subjects do you offer?
• Do you have summer programs?
• Do you offer diagnostic testing? Is it required?
• Do you teach in small group sessions or one-on one?
• Where does tutoring take place?
• What qualifications do you/your teachers have?
• What if my child has a personal problem with the tutor? Can I get another one?
• How often is the child required to go?
• Can you work sessions around my family’s schedule?
• How often will I receive progress reports? Will they be written or verbal?
• What is the duration of the contract?
• How much do you charge?
• Are there any hidden fees?

"Let your child know that you understand it is frustrating when he has tried at school and comes up short," says Darryl Benjamin, director of the Huntington Learning Center in Abington, PA. "No matter how bad things may appear, you will get him help. It's like going to a doctor. We're going to find out what help you need so that you can be successful.

"As supplemental educators, it's up to us to make the experience as pleasant as possible and to let the students know that if they work with us, we will help them."

 “There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to tutoring,” says Stewart. “It depends on the student and the goals. If there is a lot of remedial work to be done, the child really should have a professional to work with.”

The Next Steps

Once you have talked it over with your child, try to get recommendations. Talk with your child’s teacher, principal, or guidance counselor, look in MetroKids or go online. Other parents are a good resource too. Is there a service or tutor they have had success with?

Next, check credentials to find the most qualified person and best fit for the job. Look not only at degrees and certifications, but at experience and flexibility too. "It's especially important to ensure that the tutor is following tried and tested processes and methodologies," says Benjamin.

"Parents can help assure a good match between student and tutor by sharing information about what they and teachers have observed about their child's learning style," says Masington. "For example, when given directions, does she seem to learn best when show what to do, told how to do it or given hands-on experience with the new task?"

For More Info

Club Z!, multiple locations, 866-448-8867
Educational Service, 302-655-6283, Wilmington, DE
Huntington Learning Center, multiple locations, 800-226-5427
Reading ASSIST Institute, Wilmington, DE, 302-435-4080
Sylvan Learning, multiple locations, 888-338-2283,
Team Tutor, comes to your southeastern PA location, 267-266-5489
Tutor Time, multiple locations
Tutoring Club, multiple locations

When the search has been narrowed down to a few names, call or make an appointment to speak with the tutor. Consider her personality and attitude. Is she upbeat and positive? Does she take the child’s learning style into account when tutoring? Is she available at a time that works for your child?

"It is also important to share information about the child's temperament," says Masington. " Is she nervous, anxious, shy, impulsive? Good, empathetic tutors can usually discern all of this on their own in the first few sessions and then adapt lesson plans and teaching modes accordingly."

With kids’ extracurricular activities and parents’ work schedules dominating the clock, finding the right time for tutoring sessions is always a struggle. “There needs to be flexibility when setting schedules," says Benjamin, "Just like athletes work out on regular and consistent schedules, frequent and consistent tutoring schedules yield excellent results."

Setting Goals

While interviewing the tutor, ask who sets the academic goals. “I encourage our tutors to talk with the teacher so they are on the same page,” advises Stewart.

"Some tutors may focus on homework help, as opposed to diagnosing where a student's skills are lacking and then building a custom plan to meet that student's objective," says Benjamin. "The best approach is to develop an individualized, team-based approach to fill in a student's academic gaps and develop his independence."

“Natalie’s goals were plain and simple as to what she needed to do to be where her peers were,” says her father. “The first part of the year it would take weeks to get through a section; now she can do a section or so a week.” He pauses then adds, “She’s making progress.”

"We regularly meet with the student's parents and teachers and share results of progress," says Benjamin. "Additionally, it's important that parents are exposed to the curriculum their children are working on and can see the progress she is making."

Stewart’s organization gives parents updates too. “Ours are informal. When we see the parent, we discuss what progress has been made. It’s continual communication. We will give a written report if a parent asks for one. But most times, the proof is just there. I hear parents say, ‘My son is pulling books off the bookshelf and he never liked reading before! What a change!’”

"The student should understand that a tutoring program will not go on forever," says Benjamin. "Ask your tutor when he thinks the program will end."

Grace Catron is a freelance writer.

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