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Find a Tutor – 15 Questions to Help Qualify a Tutor
1. What do you charge? Fees can range anywhere from $15-$75/hour. Usually at the lower end of the scale are people without degrees or teaching credentials. They could also be high school or college students looking to earn some additional income. Depending on their academic knowledge and their ability to explain things, these less expensive tutors may or may not be a good match for your child. At the upper end of the scale are people with advanced degrees (Masters and Doctorates) as well as college professors. Again, just because they look good on paper and charge a lot of money doesn’t mean they are the best tutors. What you are looking for is someone your child can relate to and understand, someone who explains things in different ways until your child “gets it.” Feel lucky if you can find a certified teacher who has a good rapport with your child that charges anywhere between $20-$40/hour.
2. What is the length of a session, and how often should the student meet with you? To be the most effective, tutors should meet with students 2-3 times a week. Sessions can range from 1/2 hour to 2 hours, depending on the age of your child. Very young children have short attention spans and should meet more often but for shorter periods of time. High school students can focus for up to two hours if the tutor varies the activities and keeps the discussions lively. Even if students are attending 2 hour sessions, they should still meet with a tutor at least twice a week. By only meeting once a week, students are not able to get enough feedback about the material they are covering and do not have the consistency they need to succeed in their problem areas.
3. How long have you been tutoring? Tutors who have at least one year of experience have had time to work out the kinks in their systems. That’s not to say that tutors just starting out won’t be excellent teachers for your student, especially if they have previous experience as teachers. However, novice tutors probably haven’t worked out their billing system or their cancellation policy or other types of business matters. They may not have as many resources available to them as tutors who have been in business longer. Conversely, just because a tutor has 20 years of experience doesn’t mean he/she will be a good match for your child. Sometimes older tutors get set in their ways and have difficulty adjusting their system to new material or children with problems focusing. Making sure your student gets along with the tutor is one of the most important factors in ensuring the relationship is a successful one.
4. Are you a certified teacher? Certified teachers have had to pass minimum competency exams in their areas of expertise. So you can be sure that a certified teacher has a certain basic knowledge of educational concepts and at least some level of proficiency in his/her subject areas. Generally teachers are either certified as elementary (covering grades K-8) or secondary (covering grades 6-12). As you can see, the certifications overlap at grades 6-8, the middle school years. So teachers with either elementary or secondary certifications would be qualified to tutor these grade levels. Depending on the age of your child, you want to try to get a teacher with the appropriate certification. That’s not to say a teacher with a secondary certification can’t help an elementary student or vice versa. It’s just that teachers with an elementary certification have had specialized training dealing with younger children whereas teachers with a secondary certification have had more opportunity to focus on more difficult subject matter.
5. How do you handle kids with learning problems like ADHD and dyslexia? Teachers should be aware that students with learning difficulties often require different strategies than students who have not been diagnosed with these challenges. Tutors should be able to outline some of their specific strategies for helping your child based on what his/her problem happens to be. For example, what do they do when your ADHD daughter just can’t seem to focus? What kind of approach would they take with helping your dyslexic son learn to read? You need to make sure that tutors are sensitive to these types of learning issues and have strategies in place to deal with them. One of the qualities that all tutors require is patience, so it would be beneficial to you to observe a tutoring session to see for yourself how patient the tutor is with your student. If the tutor does not allow parents to watch a session, perhaps they would allow you to tape or video record a session, so that it is less distracting for your child. Also, get feedback from your children as to how helpful the tutor is. Don’t continue with a tutor who your child does not like and is not enthusiastic about seeing.
6. What is your area of expertise? Different tutors will have different strengths and weaknesses. Just ask the tutor what they feel comfortable teaching. Your high school sophomore might need help in Geometry, Chemistry, and Spanish. But it is unlikely you will find a tutor who is able to teach all 3 of these subjects. Often someone good with Math with also be good in Science, and someone good in English will also be good with a foreign language. But you might also find that someone with an English degree is also excellent with first year Algebra. You just never know. So you should find out what the tutor’s credentials are and how much experience they have teaching the various subjects your student needs help with. Then make an informed decision about whether the tutor is qualified to help your student with the subject. High school students may need to see more than one tutor in order to get all their questions answered for each subject area.
7. What age student do you like to work with? Many teachers have definite preferences about what age student they like to work with. Some just enjoy helping younger students because they like the enthusiasm and energy little ones have. Also, many tutors feel that certain upper-level material is over their heads and feel more comfortable working with easier subject matter. On the other hand, some tutors prefer working with older students because they relate to teenagers better and haven’t had the training necessary to be able to relate to smaller children. Of course there are some extra special teachers who can effectively work with students of any age. So just find out what age student the tutor feels comfortable with and make sure that matches the age of your child.
8. Do you have any references? Tutors who have been working for at least a year should be able to provide you with the names and phone numbers of other clients who are happy with their services. If tutors are just starting out, they may not have names of any past clients, but they should be able to give you the names of former employers, teachers, or friends who can vouch for their character. If any of the references you contact seem the least bit unsure about whether the tutor is good with kids, then you should look elsewhere for help. If a person is willing to give you references, then they should be good references that inspire confidence in the tutor’s ability to teach your child.
9. Where do you tutor? Find out if a tutor prefers to work at his/her home, your home, or a neutral location like a library. Many tutors like to work at their own home. First of all, it is more efficient for them. They can line up clients back-to-back and not lose any time on the road or be caught out if their tutoring student cancels on them. Tutors also find it easier to have all their supplies and materials on hand without having to tote them around and possibly forget something they will need to effectively teach the student. If tutors use their own home, make sure that they are working at a well lit place conducive to studying with no distractions. Also, make sure you feel comfortable leaving your son or daughter alone with them. If not, ask the tutor to let you stay in a nearby room during the tutoring session. Other tutors will travel to your home. Expect to pay an additional fee for this service, since the tutor will be out additional time and gas money to travel to you. For tutors who feel their home is not suitable for tutoring (because they have young children or live in a small apartment), they prefer to travel to their clients’ homes, and some of them will not charge any additional fee. Other tutors prefer a neutral location for tutoring like a library because they think it more conducive to studying, and it ensures the safety of both the tutor and the student.
10. What is your cancellation policy? Don’t be surprised if your tutor requires you to sign a paper that says if you cancel a tutoring session without at least 24 hours notice, then you will be charged for that session. Tutors make their schedules based on an agreed upon time with their clients. Often they will have other clients who would like to tutor at the same time your student is scheduled, but they have to turn away this business because you are already taking up that time slot. If you cancel and the tutor is unable to fill that slot, the tutor has lost some of his/her anticipated income for that day. In the case of illness or an unexpected emergency, most tutors will allow you to make up that tutoring session at another time. Also, you should know what the tutor’s policy is if he/she has to cancel on you. You should receive a make-up lesson or a refund for that session. If a tutor cancels on you more than 3 times in a semester, then you should consider looking for another tutor.
11. Do you require me to sign a contract? Don’t worry if a tutor asks you to sign a paper that confirms the hourly rate, documents how often he/she will get paid, and outlines the cancellation policy. This contract will benefit both you and the tutor. After all, this is a business relationship, and it is good for both parties to have in writing the details about payment and cancellations. However, if a tutor wants you to sign a contract that commits you to paying for a specified number of sessions in advance, then you should beware. What if your son tells you after the second session that the tutor is not being helpful, and he hates her? You don’t want to have to keep taking him to her just because you signed a contract that says they will have 10 sessions together. And you don’t want to lose all the money you spent and get no help at all. Then you are stuck. Just read the contract carefully, and if there are parts of it you don’t agree with, discuss them with the tutor and see if you can modify the contract. If you can’t, don’t sign the contract and look for another tutor.
12. Can we meet with you? Most tutors will agree to meet with the parents and student (at no charge) before they begin tutoring. This meeting should allow you the opportunity to check out the home of the tutor and inspect the area where the tutoring will take place to make sure it is suitable. If you are scheduling tutoring at a location other than the tutor’s home, this meeting will serve as a job interview. Make sure the student is able to attend this meeting. How the student relates to the tutor is much more important than whether or not the parents like the tutor. If the tutor only talks to the parents and ignores the student, you may want to seriously consider whether or not the tutor will be able to communicate educational information to your child. If the tutor seems more interested in your child than you, take it as a good sign, a sign that the tutor genuinely likes kids. Of course you will want to make sure the tutor communicates with you and finds out your expectations for tutoring. If the tutor cannot meet with you because of scheduling conflicts, the tutor may be too busy to take on additional clients and may not have the time to give your child the attention he/she deserves.
13. Do you offer any guarantees? There are no guarantees in life. You may want the tutor to promise you that the student’s grades will improve or that the student will study more or that student will start to have a better attitude about doing homework. While all these things might result from your student working with a tutor, the tutor can’t promise that they will happen. Remember if your child is behind in school, it will take awhile to catch up. Don’t expect an instant fix to the problem. If you know your student is two grade levels behind, don’t expect him/her to catch in one six weeks. So how will you know if the money you are spending for a tutor is worth it? If your student doesn’t mind going to tutoring, and the tutor can show you what they are working on regularly, then you can trust that they are making progress. Of course the ultimate goal of tutoring is for the student to become an independent learner, so you should make sure the tutor is encouraging the student to take responsibility for his/her studies and not simply helping the student complete his/her homework.
14. When do you get paid? The way tutors get paid will vary with each one. Tutors can get paid for each individual session, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Some tutors will want their money in advance while others are content to get paid after services have been rendered. Some tutors will be flexible about when they get paid and others will not. Just remember that the tutor also has bills to pay, and so if they have a certain way they want to be paid, try to accommodate them. If they have a lot of clients and each one pays in a different way, it will be hard for them to keep track of who has paid and who has not. Make sure you work out an agreement about payment in advance of beginning tutoring so that everyone will know what to expect.
15. Will you invoice me? Many tutors will not have the capability to take credit cards, but if they do, you will have a record of your payment when you receive your credit card statement each month. If you pay by check, keeping a record is easy. You either have it on a duplicate check or on your monthly statement. However, if you pay cash, make sure the tutor gives you a written receipt with the date you made the payment and what the payment covers (the dates and lengths of the tutoring sessions). Many tutors will provide you with a typed invoice for tutoring. If so, keep them in a file folder and make a notation on them about how you paid. If you pay with check, write the check number, amount, and date paid on the invoice. If you pay with cash, simply make a notation of the amount paid in cash and the date you paid it. If you want, you can even have the tutor initial the information for verification. This kind of record keeping ensures that there is never any discrepancy between you and the tutor regarding payment.
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