Go to the head of the class
Author: Laura Amann
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It’s that time of year again – the school bell is ringing and the kids are off! Each fall thousands of kids begin a new school year full of hope and high expectations, but sometimes things don’t go quite according to plan. Maybe your child starts to struggle in a certain subject; maybe he forgets to turn in
assignments; maybe she needs help prepping for a big test.

Maybe it’s time to consider a tutor.

Tutors frequently provide extra help in a particular subject area but they can also help high-achieving kids get extra enrichment. They can motivate kids, keep them on task and teach organization. But finding a great tutor, someone who challenges your child and builds his or her abilities and confidence, can be daunting.

Issues to consider
Before hiring a tutor, speak to your child’s teacher. Some parents assume that their student doesn’t understand math, while the teacher may see it as an organizational or study skills problem.

Have some clear goals to convey to potential tutors. Do you want to see better grades or higher test scores? Less stress and anxiety? Or does your child need organizational help?

Make sure you’ve got the right reasons for hiring a tutor. Some parents feel pressured to have their preschoolers reading before kindergarten; others want their middle-schoolers tutored for admission to an honors class.

“The level of competition right now is very high,” concedes Eileen Lambert, head of school for a K-12 institution. “But the early readers aren’t necessarily the brightest students by middle school. Kids’ light bulbs go on at different times, and for some kids it’s not until sixth or seventh grade. Not all kids are ready for the rigors of an honors class.”

Finding a tutor
Because the tutor relationship is personal as well as professional, finding the right one can be tricky. Lambert recommends asking the child’s teacher for recommendations first. It may be another teacher in the school or she may know of experienced tutors who can help.

Word-of-mouth works also; try asking friends and other parents for their recommendations.

“A good tutor should be able to build a good rapport with the student and make [him or her] comfortable,” recommends Lynn Bowen, a private tutor. “Sometimes word-of-mouth gets you that info. Sometimes [it’s] trial and error.”

Choosing a tutor
Make sure the tutor has experience in the subject and grade level you’re seeking. Children with a diagnosed learning disability need a tutor who specializes in those issues, and there is specific help for math, reading, time management, etc.

Once you have a few names, conduct a standard interview and ask some simple questions. Find out what experience and credentials he or she has, how he or she stays current with the latest educational methods and strategies and how he or she tailors lesson plans.

Ask what he or she enjoys most about tutoring and ask for references.

A tutoring session
Tutors can meet in a public location, such as a library or coffee shop, or in your home on a set schedule. Do not agree to a session in an unknown location without a trusted adult present.

Sit in on a few sessions and observe how the tutor and your child interact. “I make sure that parents understand that they’re always welcome,” assures Bowen. “I also give parents feedback after each session or keep them updated through email. The parents are a big part of it and they need to know what’s going on.”

It’s a good idea to have the tutor and your child’s teacher connected and working together. “I communicate directly with the child’s teacher,” Bowen adds. “Parents should always make sure the teacher knows that the student is getting extra help.”

And don’t forget payment. Because of the one-on-one relationship, these topics can get tricky. Discuss cost and payment schedules up front and find out in advance about policies for missed appointments or additional fees for books or supplies. Also, no tutor should promise a certain grade at the end of the session, but he or she should give your child the tools to become successful. That may mean an improvement in grades but it could also be increased independence, self-esteem and motivation.

Tutoring can be a great tool to get your student to a level appropriate for his grade, or to give him a boost and help him excel. Keep in mind, however, that a tutor isn’t a replacement for hard work; your child will still need to study and do his/her own homework, but the extra boost can be just what he needs for success!

Laura Amann is a writer and a mother of four who has occasionally looked for help in fine-tuning the skills of math and reading.

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