What Makes A Good Tutor? - National Education

My wife and I run a small "mom and pop" tutoring center in Naples, Florida. During the past few years, we have come across tutors and tutor applicants who demonstrated that they were not here for the student. Neither one is working for us!H. Michael MogilBut, the interactions caused me to think anew about our center and how we operate. It also gave me an opportunity to define what makes a good tutor.First, you have to understand that our center began as a serendipitous event. It wasn't a planned thing. One day, we simply realized that we had discovered a niche market.Now, our whole operation has become a work in progress. There is no master business plan because things change by the day, the hour and even the minute.But, as we have evolved, we seem to be doing the right things (i.e. thank goodness serendipity continues and our critical thinking skills are operating well).First and foremost, we are NOT following the money, as some of the larger national chains do. Having done some mystery shopping and careful listening to our clients, I have discovered that these larger companies often want significant upfront payments and/or a very long-term contract. While wearing my "mystery shopper" hat, I discovered one Maryland tutoring company that wanted me to sign up for 150 hours of SAT tutoring for my "fictitious" high school son, sight unseen. That bill amounted to almost 7 thousand dollars!Instead, we key on the student, even if the client doesn't hire us. We even http://privatetutoring.us/ - http://privatetutoring.us/ - often follow up just to be sure the student has gotten the needed help either at school, through another tutor or through a home-based learning program. We also provide ideas for overcoming problem areas outside of a paid tutoring environment. In the process, we have discovered that the money follows the student.We like this approach a lot better!Our tutors are in lockstep. They often go "Above and Beyond the Call of Duty" (which I refer to as ABCD). This includes just chatting with the student about things like last Friday night's school football game and knowing who the quarterback was, places they have both visited or lived, the latest movie or the latest technological gadget. You'll be amazed at how these small interactions enhance the camaraderie and bonding between tutor and tutee.For example, consider the tutor who sees their student arrive with iPod buds in their ears. Some tutors might start off by asking that the child put the iPod away and get out their homework. Imagine the bonding that takes place instead, if the tutor asks what the child is listening to and comments about the neat color of their iPod before embarking on the study session.Good tutors also don't stop at the end of the hour and ask students to put their things away. Instead, they might inquire about weekend plans, sports team practice, or other things.Recently, one our tutees queried her tutor about college. She wanted to know if she should go immediately to the college of her choice or start locally and then transfer after a year or two. Our tutor shared information and experiences and discussed the matter with the tutee and with the tutee's parents.In addition, our tutors will often rejuggle their busy schedules to accommodate student needs (e.g., weekend tutoring, evening tutoring, shifting tutoring date and/or time to accommodate a test). Several tutors are now tutoring students online, while several others meet students at local libraries or at their homes. A few weeks ago, I even tutored a student at a local airport because it was the only place we could meet, given the student's test timetable and my travel plans.These interactions and adjustments, above and beyond the actual tutoring session, make the tutee want to come back because they see that someone really cares about them.A good tutor is a good tutor regardless of the subject being taught. This means a tutor that can connect with your child - his/her personality, learning style, and needs and can guide and mentor your child to build knowledge, skills and abilities. You don't want to have your child take hours upon hours of tests to define where any difficulties or shortfalls may lie. A tutor should be able to pick up on these through a review of student tests and homework; discussions with the student; and a careful assessment of watching the student do his/her work at the tutoring session.Although we don't provide formal assessments concerning learning issues, our tutors can provide information to parents that may lead them to this type of support. They have also flagged and explained issues such as parent-child conflicts, recommended eye exams and answered questions about various medications, sugary foods and the like.Our tutors are also savvy when it comes to assessing what the students are covering in class or supposed to be covering. Recently, we discovered there was a disconnect between what was being taught in one classroom and the types of questions found on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). In this elementary classroom, students were shown math concepts via one step problems. On the FCAT, word problems dominated.One reason we can do this is that we have bought copies of most math textbooks used in our county and many local private schools, other resource materials (including some computer-based software), and even some "cool" math games. As we continue to expand beyond math borders, we'll do the same for language arts and other subjects.Currently, we are reviewing several SAT prep books to determine the best one (math and language sides of the test) for our tutor's to use. Our tutors are providing feedback in this process.We have also recommended some products to parents outside our fiscal realm that they can access at low cost to help out beyond tutoring. Several parents have subscribed or used these and are reporting excellent results as their child uses these for review and fresher work.We also pride ourselves in not being just a homework helper. We work to ensure that the student understands key, underlying concepts. Then we work with the student so they can do their own homework problems. This applies to classroom, online and even test preparation work. Speaking about tests, we REFUSE to teach to them. Instead, we teach the knowledge, problem decoding skills and test-taking strategies needed for students to earn "needed" scores.And, our tutors often add some humor and story-telling to our suggestions for improving test scores, taking notes and the like (Fig. 1).Some of our tutors are certified teachers. But just having a teaching degree doesn't mean one is a good teacher/tutor. The key is not how one teaches in a larger setting, but how effective they are one-on-one. This is because when it comes to tutoring, you will most likely want your child to receive individualized attention.This is where you want the tutor to connect with your child at several levels. Your child needs to view the tutor as being there to really help. Just being there may not be enough. So, capturing your child's confidence, learning about your child (even beyond the subject matter being addressed) and demonstrating the ability to explain complex subjects easily (at the child's level) is paramount.For the actual subject matter tutoring, you want the tutor to be able to take complex topics, break them down into manageable pieces and show your child how easy each individual piece can be. For languages, for example, reading comprehension means "reading" and "comprehension." Hence, your child will have to go back and answer specific questions about the paragraphs they just read. If the answer isn't obvious, they will have to search for clues. Can the tutor show them how do this in a meaningful and understandable way? In chemistry and physics, mathematical equations and scientific interactions can be quite complex. Can the tutor provide real-life examples to support the math and science involved? Recently, I was teaching circular motion in a physics context to a student. I used examples such as circular highway entrance/exit ramps, Earth orbiting satellites, and even amusement park rides. If history is the subject at hand, can the tutor place an historical event (even hundreds of years in the past) in context with things happening today? For math, numbers, shapes, patterns and computations abound almost everywhere one turns.This type of "real-life" focus often goes a long way toward helping a child internalize or "own" the subject matter.Finally, for math and language, nothing beats playing games. If your child's tutor can take a few minutes out of an hour tutoring session to play a relevant game, that will make the tutoring experience even more "fun." The game doesn't have to be presented as a math or language activity. Rather, it can be offered as a reward for a good job or a break because the first 45 minutes involved such intense learning. And remember that games work for young and old. In fact, game rules can be adjusted to match the age/grade level of the tutee. In the game, "SET," one has to create sets of three cards in which four attributes are either completely matched or completely mismatched. For younger tutees, I typically adjust the number of matches/mismatches down to 2 or 3.Regular card and board games almost always have a math angle (e.g., probability of rolling a specific number, exchanging money or ordering cards).Don't forget the newspaper or new computer, tablet and smart phone applications. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, Jumble and more all build critical thinking skills.Yes, you should check for tutor credentials and reviews from previous students, but remember that your child is unique. What worked or didn't work for a student last year or with another tutor may not have any bearing on your child's current situation. Just realize that there are other intangibles that may be more important than credentialization.We know that our approach is probably replicated in almost every city and town across the Nation (in http://www.simplyhired.com/k-math-tutor-jobs.html - http://www.simplyhired.com/k-math-tutor-jobs.html - one form or another). This applies to companies, as well as individual tutors. But we know that there are some tutors that are not quite as student-driven and some companies that are driven by profit. Be on the lookout and avoid the negatives.You'll also know quickly if your child is paired with a good tutor. He/she might smile, eagerly look forward to attending a tutoring session, or simply tackle schoolwork a bit more eagerly than before. Your child will also likely see a dramatic improvement in grades and in self-developed self-esteem (Fig. 2).For example, one parent recently shared that our tutoring completely transformed her son's outlook on learning. In another case, the tutee arrived for her first tutoring session close to tears; she left smiling. Mom was amazed at the transformation. Note that instantaneous transformations are the exception, not the norm!And, through the grapevine (sometimes we just don't get direct feedback), we learned that a student we tutored 3 to 4 years ago is now doing outstanding work in his high school Algebra class.With all of this background, it is important to recognize that the learning curve varies by grade level, the child himself/herself and other factors. Typically high school and college students produce the fastest turnaround. Younger learners take longer to internalize concepts, operations and other parts of a subject.The bottom line is that once you have a good tutor, keep him/her. With connectivity in place, learning often follows fairly quickly and steadily.Finally, I urge all parents to recognize the need for tutoring intervention early. We have tutored high school students who have "always been weak in math." There's no reason for a child to suffer until they approach SAT or ACT testing for tutoring to enter the scene. Sometimes, just understanding a few concepts, learning some study and/or test-taking skills, or being shown different ways of tackling a topic may be all that is needed to transform a student.Remember that a tutor is only part of the overall educational setting. A tutor cannot replace a school, become his/her own textbook or take a test for your child. But, a tutor can make a big difference. We know from hundreds of clients; nationwide, our peers have added hundreds of thousands of other examples. 2011 H. Michael Mogil