Choosing a tutor: The ultimate guide

For families

If your child needs tutoring, how do you know how to find the right professional to meet their needs? In the following, we will help you break down the process of finding the right tutor to encourage your child’s love of learning, and help them capitalize on their unique strengths.

First steps in choosing a tutor

No two students, even within the same household or classroom, will have precisely the same needs. Similarly, each child presents a unique set of strengths and personality traits that define their learning style. 

As with any complex problem, don’t put pressure on yourself to find the one true solution off the bat. Allow yourself to determine your child’s needs and unearth candidates on a “warmer/colder” basis, making educated guesses and modifications as you come closer to the best tutor for your child.

What are my child's strengths?

Sometimes, we can be so preoccupied with fixing a problem quickly and efficiently that we neglect to focus on students’ innate problem-solving capabilities. We recommend looking at your child’s existing strengths first. Including these as part of the learning experience will automatically and organically help address weaknesses, instilling your child with much more confidence.

Begin by asking:

  • What are the subjects where your child succeeds with the least struggle, or appears to enjoy the most?
  • If given a choice, does your child prefer to read, to watch, to listen, to physically engage with movement, or some combination of the above?
  • What are their favorite hobbies or pastimes? 
  • When given the choice, what is their favorite way to experience something they like that can be enjoyed multiple ways (If watching a movie, would they prefer to stream it on their own from home, go to the theater with their family but sit alone, go out with a group of friends, etc.?)

Examine your responses to look for any commonalities. Perhaps your child seems to thrive under individualized attention, or loves any subject that includes a creative component where they can express themselves without relying on written text. Some children prefer quiet contemplation, while others love a high degree of interaction.

Don’t assume any blanket guidance in this area to be more pertinent than your own parenting instincts. You know your child better than anyone else, and you want to build upon that knowledge rather than doubt yourself. For example, although many students struggled with remote coursework over the last two years, there are other students who excelled in virtual classrooms. There are no “rules” about which will be best for your child moving forward; if it works, move in that direction. 

Practical considerations for choosing a tutor

Next, you’ll want to consider how these preferences might look in the context of an actual tutoring session. 

Some questions to consider include: 

  • Does your child prefer solo or group learning experiences?
  • Does your child seem to prefer online, in-person, or hybrid learning? Do they tend to prefer synchronous (meeting in real-time), or asynchronous (with the student viewing pre-recorded materials and completing assignments on their own)?
  • Does your child tend to prefer working with one instructor in multiple areas, or with a number of different instructors over the course of the week?

After you have formed a list of preferred criteria, then you’ll want to inventory the resources that can be applied to tutoring. These include:

  • Your available budget per month.
  • Expected time frame (are you looking for short-term assistance with a specific project, or do you think your child might require longer-term support?) 
  • Your child’s scheduling preferences (when would they prefer to have free time, and what periods of the week such as before school, after school, one weekend morning, etc. would they be willing to designate as additional “homework time?”) 
  • Note: Most children benefit from frequent, shorter sessions rather than longer periods to allow for the most amount of practice, but the least amount of overwhelm. 
  • Preferred qualifications for a tutor (type of academic credentials, amount of experience with your child’s age group or demographic, specific knowledge of the local curriculum or school district, etc.).

Other considerations in choosing a tutor

Compile a wish list of any other factors or desired types of experience that might help your child feel more connected with the tutor. 

Although it might not always be possible to accommodate these requirements, it keeps you considering the human factors influencing your child’s success, which may be more critical than an Ivy League diploma. 

These might include:

  • A shared extracurricular passion, such as in music or athletics.
  • Proficiency in a second language your child speaks, or any other cultural commonalities.
  • Specific instructional experience with, or maybe even first-hand experience with a common learning difference (a tutor who identifies as an accelerated learner, a student with dyslexia or on the autism spectrum, etc.). 

Also, keep in mind that relationships take time. Give a few sessions for the tutor and your child to meet, get to know each other, and give the tutor the opportunity to figure out your child’s learning styles and craft the best teaching methods personalized to your child’s response.

Vetting potential tutoring candidates

After you have a prospective job description, it may be a good idea to recruit a professional service to help locate qualified options. These can provide prescreened lists of certified teachers, saving you a great deal of time and trouble in meeting prospective candidates. Some also specialize in specific disciplines, such as Remind Tutoring, which hires certified teachers with classroom teaching experience.

These agencies will also have performed background checks, called references, verified their employee’s transcripts and degrees, required the tutor to go through assessment tests, and completed other onboarding tasks required to guarantee the safety of your child. 

Many services will permit parents to schedule a preliminary session for free, which can be used to help assess the child’s needs. In the case that the first was not the ideal fit based on your child’s feedback, tutoring services will frequently allow you a trial with another candidate. 

Do bear in mind that not all online tutoring services are created equal, and can have very different standards for their employees (and are priced accordingly). If tutoring sessions seem inexpensive, then it’s very possible the tutor is not certified or has a low amount of teaching experience. Always ask for specific information on the candidates, including their education, teaching background, and direct experience with your child’s specific variety of learning needs. 

Online versus in-person tutoring

Over the last few years, a lot of parents have expressed concerns about “Zoom Fatigue” and whether or not online learning is effective. Although it’s certainly true that we have a lot to learn about best practices with these modalities, there are definite benefits to online tutoring to consider:

  • Meeting one-on-one or in small groups allows the tutor to closely monitor each student’s progress (many of the problems experienced by classroom educators during the COVID-19 pandemic were due to the sheer number of students per online classroom) 
  • Virtual learning allows the instructor to access limitless media to enrich the session, including music, visual examples, interactive whiteboards, and other tools that may not be available in every learning space. 
  • All participants can look at materials at the same angle, as well as modify materials as needed at the moment (tutors can instantly pull up a supporting document, enlarging text, using digital highlighters, etc.)

In addition, online tutoring tends to be less expensive, present more flexible scheduling options, and facilitate seamless staffing changes. Online tutoring also provides students to have a continuous learning platform in the face of other unexpected shifts, such as school closings due to COVID-19 outbreaks, etc. 

And, finally, preparing for your first session

In preparation for your first session, make sure to frame the tutoring session as an opportunity rather than a punishment. Let your child know that you’ve listened to their needs and that a private tutor allows them to make a given subject feel more like one of the things they love. 

You may wish to sit in at the beginning of the first session to speak with the tutor, to establish some common expectations for the first day, and allow your child to ask any questions. Depending on your child’s age, degree of independence, and personal preference, you’ll likely want to allow them at least some one-on-one time the first day so they can get to know one another. This also allows the tutor to fully tune in to your child’s process and focus on strategies that can best support their growth. 

Afterward, you’ll want to do a brief post-mortem with your child, to ask what went well, as well as what areas for improvement became clear. Be very sensitive as to their comfort level with the teacher, as good rapport is often the best indicator of future success. You’ll also want to connect with the tutor to ask about how you can best reinforce tutoring objectives in small, casual ways over the course of the week. 

As mentioned earlier, it may take a few sessions for your child and the tutor to build rapport and a trusting relationship.

Iterative cycle of learning

Finally, remember that learning to maximize your child’s success with tutoring is a learned process for all involved, and a certain degree of trial and error might be necessary to strike upon a winning formula. 

In other words, don’t be afraid of making the wrong decision. Simply use your best judgment, and continue to look to your child for clues as to whether they’re thriving. Be as patient and loving as you would with any other aspect of your child’s life, and know that your desire to truly help, combined with your willingness to educate yourself, is all that is required to make an informed choice.