In my last blog posting, Should I Even Get A Tutor?, I made an initial case for why everyone ought to consider retaining a good tutor for their academic work.
Perhaps you heeded my sage advice, and decided to, at least, research the possibility of retaining a tutor. You started your Google search, and then were met by an onslaught of options and costs, got a bit overwhelmed, and stepped away. You’ll just ask a friend tomorrow for the name of their tutor, as they already went through the process, vetted tutors, and chose one that they liked. It seems to be the easiest way to do it, no?
Except, how do you know that that tutor your friend used is the right tutor for you, or your child? What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. We need some way to evaluate if a tutor is a good fit, and if the cost is right (you do get what you pay for, typically). In fact, wasn’t a lack of a plan and a set of criteria what overwhelmed us when we went to Google in the first place?
- Credentials. There are two sets of credentials you want to look for.
- Subject Matter. The first is whether or not the person has what we call in the field “mastery of the subject matter,” which, simply put, means that they know their field inside and out. If you are retaining a chemistry tutor, you want them to be an expert in chemistry, preferably through an undergraduate curriculum.
- Teaching. Equally important is your tutor has to be able to teach, and thus have both practical experience and professional training. There is a reason why all of the tutors in my organization are classroom teachers! Just imagine some of the STEM professors you have encountered. They may be brilliant in their field, unbelievable researchers, and cannot teach save their lives. You want a teacher, so make sure to retain one!
- Teaching Experience. Not every subject is taught utilizing the same pedagogy. The same is true for different age groups, from high school through undergraduate, and up into adult programs. In our group, each teacher specializes in a given STEM subject, be it chemistry, physics, and mathematics, and this is done deliberately, as teaching mathematics is a different matter than teaching chemistry. And each teacher has training in the how to teach both high school and college students. You want your teacher to have the same specialization and experience.
I would even scrutinize further. If you are looking for an AP Chemistry tutor, for example, has the tutor you are researching taught AP Chemistry, or gone to an AP Chemistry Institute for training by the Collegeboard? Is your tutor a public or private school teacher, and for how long? Are they a graduate student, looking to pick up some extra money? Everything depends on what you need, and not all experiences are the same. Be sure that the teacher you want matches the needs you have.
- Philosophy and Focus. This is something typically overlooked, usually out of haste. You want to take a moment and see how your prospective tutor approaches teaching, how they teach, what they think about education as a whole, and how they work with students and their families. I require all teachers who wish to join our group to submit teaching philosophies, and many of them are fluff pieces, so be aware. I look to see that a teacher will
- push a student to excel, because they care and believe in their students,
- is honest in their assessments and recommendations,
- believes in constant and open communication,
- is willing to make students try something with an assigned math or science problem, and ask questions about where their confusion lies, even if it leads to an uncomfortable silence,
- shows dedication and a willingness to go above and beyond for a student, rather than try to punch a clock and bill time,
- is patient, and will explain and demonstrate a concept twelve different ways until a student understands
- understands that tutoring isn’t just limited to answering questions about math or physics, but involves teaching study skills, organization, stress management, and can be an advocate for the student.
Maybe I am giving away trade secrets, but it’s important. This is about getting the student to succeed, so if others reading this raises the bar, I am happy. In fact, I invite you to read my group’s philosophy by clicking here: Quantum Prep’s Philosophy
- Speak in Advance. Nothing beats speaking with your prospective tutor before the first lesson. You can get a good feel about them as a person, their personality, and see if they do “talk the talk.” Some folks stick to e-mail with me, which is fine in this day and age (some say I type as I talk!), and my e-mails are lengthy because they are full of information. However, I always invite all prospective students and parents to call and chat with me. You want to be comfortable with the person you will be inviting into your home. And I want to get to know whom I may be teaching as well, to make sure it is a good fit! Besides, I’m naturally gregarious.
- Plan for First Lesson. Finally, after describing your particular needs, see what kind of a plan your prospective tutor develops. Don’t be too critical of details here, because any tutor needs to have a first lesson to really gauge where a student is and what they will specifically need. But they should map out some broad strokes of what their initial opinion is, and what they’d like to do. In a following blog post, I will discuss in much more detail how to have a great first lesson with your tutor, and how to decide if you wish to stay with your tutor or not.
There is a lot of information in this posting, but I hope that it helps you sort out who will be the perfect tutor for you.