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How to choose a good tutor for a child?

The topic of tutoring has recently been gaining popularity among parents. Some are dissatisfied with the quality of education at school, some are worried about the progress of their child, while others think about the future studies in colleges or universities of their child in advance. This issue becomes particularly relevant in the last term of the year, with the start of the preparation for annual examinations and final tests.

So how do you know if your child needs a tutor? How to choose a good teacher among all of the variety of professionals? Today, we interviewed a couple of teachers who have been working with children for many years and know exactly how to turn extracurricular tutoring into a valuable source of knowledge. Here is a brief introduction of our experts:

  1. Maria Smith —an expert in teaching the English language, especially in native speaker experiences. Over 22 years in the field.
  2. Samantha Browns — teacher, tutor, and coordinator of a multidisciplinary online school.
  3. Leah Sheero — tutor for teenagers, educational and careers center consultant.

How to choose the right tutor?

— What should attention be devoted to when choosing a tutor? What kind of professional criteria are important?

— The first thing a parent need is to understand the exact kind of help they should expect from a specialist, for example, with doing homework with a child or providing them with some real knowledge of the subject.

In the first instance, as a rule of thumb, the only improvement will be in the grade. However, if you really want your child to gain some solid knowledge in a particular subject, and also to expect a good result on the exam, then you will have to study according to the program that the tutor of your choice will be offered.

It is important that after conducting a preliminary test, both you, as a parent, and the child themselves, would understand what is the real level of knowledge of the child and what is being offered in order to raise this level.

Many prefer a highly experienced tutor and are suspicious of recently graduated students. From my personal experience of hiring teachers, I will say that age does not matter. What matters is knowing whether a person is able to explain. Therefore, right at the first meeting, ask the tutor to explain something to the child, and if you both understand everything, you can agree to cooperate safely.

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In my opinion, it is necessary to choose a specialist with whom the child will be comfortable communicating, who will be able to explain the information in an easy language so that the child understands it, and whom the child will trust. If the child will only study because “mom said so”, then you will be able to achieve a good result only in a very long time,

— Maria Smith,
teacher, tutor.

For an English teacher, for example, a good knowledge of the language is a must. The better a person speaks a foreign language, the easier it will be for them to create a native language environment. The possession of an international certificate or the opinion of an authoritative person for you can both serve as good proof of the knowledge of a language. For those who will teach beginners, a B2 level would be enough.

— Where and how to find a good tutor?

— Word of mouth is a proven method. Another important point is that not everyone needs a tutor. Classes in pairs or in small groups are in most cases quite a few times cheaper, and they will not be less effective if the teacher is a professional. Children are social creatures, hence one-on-one work with a mentor without peers would be less enjoyable for them, as there will be no rivals or classmates. A foreign language, for instance, can be learned ONLY in communication with other people.

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The success of the lesson depends not only on the tutor, but also on the child and the parent. This is because the tutor provides knowledge and helps to understand the topic, and the child, in turn, needs to be actively engaged, ask questions if something is not clear, and do their homework. Parents, on the other hand, need to control the process, not to be afraid to ask the tutor all questions and, together with their child, go towards the set goal,

— Maria Smith,
teacher, tutor.

— How to understand whether the child needs a tutor in one subject or another? How to convince the child if they are not willing to study with a tutor?

— It is not worth focusing only on grades at school. Sometimes, high school students with straight As do not have any relevant life skills. However, on the contrary, it can be the other way around: the school teacher may have no idea on how good the child is, because their relationship was not great, and the student simply did not have a chance to prove themselves. What to do in this case? It is certainly worth getting a third party opinion.

If a child doesn’t like the tutor, you understand that this is not a tantrum and you actually think that they have fear, they feel helpless and annoyed– stop harming the child, even if this teacher got recommended to you.

An unshakable rule is of particular importance here: a teacher cannot teach, but rather a student can learn. People are more willing to learn from a person who is pleasant to them and from the one who creates a respectful friendly environment. However, without too much insubordination with the teacher.

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Sometimes parents start looking for a tutor for their child because of several B grades when their child is an A-star student, without really understanding the underlying reason for it. There can be several reasons for this: the child could simply not get enough sleep and become distracted during the lesson. Even being in a bad mood can cause a change in the attention span of the child. Therefore, in this case, a tutor will not be strictly necessary.

However, if the child did not understand a certain topic and/or is afraid or too shy to ask some questions to their teacher, and if some other problems get accumulated together with this one, then the child ceases to understand how to do certain tasks. The problem doesn’t lie in the fact that the child’s performance suddenly became worse, they may simply not be understanding a certain topic or topics. In this situation, a competent tutor will definitely find the reason for it and will eliminate it,

— Maria Smith,
teacher, tutor.

— Do you need a tutor when getting the child ready for school?

— From my own experience as a parent (as well as being the head of a school that prepares first graders), I can say that classes for preschoolers are desirable, but definitely not in a one-to-one format.

The necessary skills are, contrary to what is commonly believed, not reading, writing, or counting, but rather easy adaptability to new environments. Therefore, the emphasis is placed on the development of fine motor skills, memory, attention, perseverance, etc. All of them can be efficiently developed during group lessons.

Read about what is required for preschoolers and future first graders: What is needed to be known about the child’s psychological readiness to learn.

— Advantages and disadvantages of tutoring

— The main disadvantage of the tutor is the difficulty of control over the results and the acquired knowledge. You can be paying the tutor for years for them to do homework for your child, and then find out in the 12th grade that there is no chance for them to get a good grade on the exam. Therefore, regular third-party control is required. It is advisable for your tutor not to object to participation in the exams, but, on the contrary, to help to develop the skills for their successful passing.

The advantages include the opportunity to get a tailored approach for special children, including those with problems in socializing. It is convenient if a person comes to your home, but this is also a disadvantage since in such conditions it would be difficult to create a full-fledged work environment.

— Is there anything in particular in foreign languages tutoring?

— It is important to understand the following about foreign languages: this is not just a school subject – it is a life skill which will allow your child to choose any type of activity in the future and to build a career without restrictions. The brain of a child under the age of 10 years old still contains special neurons that allow them to master any foreign language on a native level. In the future, it would be more difficult to do so since these neurons die off as they are deemed unnecessary by the human body.

Therefore, it is at an early stage that it is important to ensure that the child progresses, and is not just stagnating on the same level.

In which situation will the tutor not be able to help? Working with motivation problems during studies

When a student’s academic performance worsens, parents first of all search for gaps in the learning process: the teacher explains badly, the environment in the classroom is lame, the son or daughter does not make enough effort and does not do homework well, etc. And then they talk with teachers, make suggestions to their children and, of course, look for tutors.

Nevertheless, just as often, it is not learning in itself that becomes a problem, but rather insufficient motivation to learn. In this case, tutors, like all other solutions to making the learning process more effective, not only will not solve the problem but may also aggravate it.

In such a situation, trying to improve grades is like dealing with symptoms rather than curing an illness. Parents run the risk of wasting time and money without achieving the desired result, even if the tutor is wonderful and very competent.

Very often, the desire to learn decreases at the age of adolescence. This is natural as it indicates that the development of the personality of a teenager is running as usual. Teenagers go through a change in the leading motives of educational activity: the words of adults that good grades are important are no longer found convincing. Each teenager begins to look for their own internal motivation to study and for a reason to learn that would be particularly meaningful to them. This is a normal stage in the growing up of a child, however, it is not uncommon for teenagers to be in need of some kind of support at this stage of life.

Starting from year 8, the most effective way to work with motivation is to choose a profession. If the future career has been defined, and a university and specialized exams have been determined, the goal becomes more specific, resulting in clarity on what and why should be learned. For example, if a language specialty is chosen, learning English becomes a priority, and in case of any problems with this subject, a tutor will be very helpful.

Let’s compare it with another option when a choice of a profession or field of study has not yet been made, and the child hears some abstract notions that languages need to be learned “just in case”, at home and at school, because in the modern world not knowing them is very hard. Will these words inspire them as much as a specific and understandable goal? Obviously not.

If you need the help of a specialist, tutors may work effectively with motivation problems. The tutor will figure out at what precise moment and after which events have the desire to study noticeably decreased and will provide recommendations on how to get this interest in learning back and assist the teenager to ignite some inner motivation for education, which will be certainly useful to them more than once in life.

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