Many students and parents hire math tutors unaware of what they should get out of the tutoring process. After finding a math tutor, there are key things you can do to evaluate whether the tutoring experience will be successful and whether you have found a good tutor.
So what sort of qualifications should you look for when choosing a math tutor?
- Experience as a schoolteacher
- High standardized test scores and other impressive academic achievements
- Years of tutoring experience
Seems important, right? Well, not as important as you might think. Let’s take a look at what not to look for in a math tutor and a tutor in general and then follow it up with some helpful guidelines in determining a good math tutor.
Assumptions About Teachers
Many people feel that being a teacher is an important qualification to look for in a tutor after all, a math teacher has years of experience teaching kids and is state licensed.
Let’s take a look at licensing. A state license is just that; a legal document that allows someone to teach in a public school, private schools have no such requirements. We all have had both good and bad experiences with licensed professionals such as: doctors, lawyers, mechanics, contractors and teachers are no different. There are many good teachers, but having a license does not guarantee that someone will be a good teacher, let alone a good tutor.
Teaching and tutoring use different skill sets. A teacher focuses on a group, but tutoring is personal. A good tutor is less of an authority figure and more of guide, helping the student discover math and figuring things out for themselves. Don’t assume that a trained public speaker would be an equally good therapist; so you can’t assume that a teacher would be a good tutor either.
Academic achievements typically get our attention. Attending an Ivy League college, having a high GPA, amazing test scores, accolades and advanced degrees all make a potential tutor stand out from the pack.
Unfortunately, being great at something doesn’t mean that you can teach it.
There are two circumstances when it makes sense to seek out an exceptionally academically talented tutor.
The first is when you have an overachieving, type-A kid. For example, if you child wants to get perfect SAT’s scores or go to an Ivy League college.
The second is when your child is exceptionally smart but completely unmotivated.
It is good to select a tutor with a good amount of experience. You don’t want to work with someone that is completely inexperienced. But what is a good amount of experience? A year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years 20 years?
The most important and effective quality that a tutor can have is not so much experience, proficiency, professionalism or something that can be taught; it’s enthusiasm.
Most new tutors are full of enthusiasm and energy, even though they don’t have much experience. On the other hand, a tutor that has been working with people for 10 or 15 years may be quite seasoned, but are they still excited by helping people learn or has it become just a way to pay the bills?
Guidelines For a Good Math Tutor
Now that we discussed what not to look for in a tutor, let’s focus on some key things you can do to evaluate whether the tutoring experience will be successful and whether you have found a good math tutor.
- The math tutor should be asking questions involving the student during the session. If the student is falling behind in school due to lack of engagement on the part of his or her teacher or text, a tutor who falls in the same category will not help. If your child is the one being tutored, don’t be too obtrusive. Listen from another room to hear if the math tutor asks questions and encourages involvement from the student. Some students will initially be shy but if you have hired a good tutor, you should begin to hear them speak up more in response to questions after a couple of tutoring sessions.
- A good math tutor should be able to give the student, parent and teacher appropriate progress reports. The student should get detailed and accurate feedback on his or her work. A parent should know how well prepared their child is for a test and a teacher should be informed of what mathematical concepts the student is having difficulty.
- After a few sessions, a good math tutor should be adapting to you or your child’s learning style. The tutor should be able to explain the way your child learns so the parent and teacher can better reach the student. If you are the student, ask the tutor about your learning style and how you can apply it in all your subjects. If you are the parent, ask the same about your child. If the math tutor cannot give you an answer, this may be a bad sign.
- A good math tutor will be able to come up with extra examples, metaphors and resources to help explain the material. Ask yourself or your child if the tutoring sessions consist solely of watching the student do math homework problems and making comments. If so, your tutor is not doing his or her best to help you or your child understand the material.
- It is important that the math tutor encourage the student to think independently. The tutor should show the student how to recognize and where to apply mathematical concepts so that the homework and tests become easier. Depending on the academic situation, this might not happen right away. However, a good tutor should be able to explain how this will eventually help the student be able to work more independently. For example, the tutor might explain how to “translate” key words in word problems.
- A good math should be able to help you or your child come up with general study skills that correspond with personal learning styles and are applicable to other school subjects.
- Tutor and student personalities should be compatible. If you are the one being tutored, you can make this call yourself. If you are dealing with a child, remember that he or she probably doesn’t like “tutoring” in general. Ask your child this question: “Is ________ a good tutor if you have to have a tutor?”
- If your child has a hard time paying attention, listen to see if the math tutor uses creative ways to keep your child focused and incorporates visual information. The same holds true if you are the student. Math tutoring sessions should be more visual, engaging and helpful rather than doing schoolwork on your own. Sometimes short conversational tangents can help students stay interested in the material and place trust in the tutor. A good math tutor will quickly work these back into the work at hand and avoid a child’s attempts to spend the session talking.
- A good math tutor will be truthful and realistic, but supportive and optimistic when questioned about a student’s immediate grade potential. The tutor should not promise you or your child all A’s, but will do the best to help the student understand the material to get the best grade possible with your child’s individual circumstances. Often math tutors are faced with having to bring a student up to date on past concepts that are lacking. If this is the case, the tutor should be able to explain to the student or parent how he or she will divide up the time between review and current material.
In short, you can find a Yale graduate with years of experience as a teacher and a tutor, perfect S.A.T. scores, piles of awards and accolades. However, none of these qualifications will guarantee a successful tutoring experience. They will, however, guarantee a hefty hourly rate.
Ultimately, what we really want is someone that just works well with us and our kids. A good math tutor that possesses those difficult to describe personal qualities that makes things click.
Hope you found this article helpful and good luck in finding a good math tutor.
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