How to choose a tutor
Choosing a tutor is a daunting prospect. Every parent wants the best for their child, ensuring that their education holistically helps them to thrive. In my 10+ years of teaching, I have heard many of the same questions. How do I know who to trust? If my child is really struggling, how do I know that a tutor will not be making it worse? I have had a really bad experience with a previous tutor. How do I know I am getting the right fit? How can I help my child learn how to learn (not learn helplessly)? There are some steps that you can take to ensuring that you find the right tutor at the right time for your child.
Ask about personality and interests
One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make is picking the tutor with the most attractive-looking CV. They may be a Harvard or Cambridge graduate, but are they going to motivate your child? From warm, encouraging and chatty to disciplined, hard-working, structured tutor, style is a key aspect of fit. Ensure that you have discussed how your child learns, their strengths and weaknesses, and any extra-curricular interests that may be causing distraction. If your child is obsessed with Rugby, consider a tutor who has been successful at Rugby (or any other sport) in addition to their academics. The tutor will understand the unique challenges posed with balancing a demanding sports schedule with homework commitments and be able to offer tips and advice. The tutor will also be able to stress the importance of school-work.
Consider “expertise” when it comes to exams
Every tutor should be able to tackle the core subjects of Mathematics and English for a child under the age of 16. However, some exams are very niche: UK 11+ exams for the country's elite private schools is the prime example. It pays off to have a tutor who themselves went through the exams for Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster, Wycombe Abbey, Downe House, etc. An additional tip is to find a tutor who is an ex-scholar from any of these schools as they will have been stellar at these exams.
Reach out early
Even if it is too early to start tutoring, it never hurts to reach out and ensure that your needs are recorded for when it is time. Think about your holidays and what free time is available. Discuss timings with an agency. Chances are they have had many students asking the same questions and know which approach is generally successful. Starting too late may risk that your child has too much ground to cover and may impede their day-to-day school work. I have seen parents schedule 3 hour daily sessions after school for two weeks before a critical exam. The risk of burn-out is high, especially in younger students.
Ensure that you receive feedback
A strong tutor will give you actionable feedback on how your child is performing: their strengths, weaknesses, and areas that they are working on. The feedback should vary based on what you need. For an exam, weekly check-ins may be needed. At a minimum, ensure that you receive feedback once a month.
Don’t be afraid to have trial sessions
You don’t have to stick with a tutor if it’s just not “clicking”. Feel free to have a trial session with a couple of tutors and select the one your child works with best. Ask the tutor how they experienced working with your child as their perspective on fit may be useful. For very young students, it often helps to sit in on the first lesson (although do warn the tutor in advance!).
Leverage your tutor if your child’s schoolwork or exam preparation is going off track
If a student’s preparation is going off course or if it emerges that a student’s basics are not on track, work with your tutor to develop an action plan. A great tutor will then map your child’s progress against this plan and further flag any changes needed. A concern from Gulf schools is often the quality of English as most students are studying it as a second language (compared to the US or UK). I once made a plan for a parent to work with their child whose English was not ready for the entrance exam to US middle school. In addition to tutoring, the parent and child had a daily 30 minute reading session, flashcards, and a film each weekend. Not only did the student improve enough to gain admission to US schools, but the parents were very grateful for the improvement to the family’s English in advance of the move.
Katherine Wiles is the Founder of Wentworth Tutors (www.wentworthtutors.com). She holds both a medical degree and a first class Cambridge degree in Natural Sciences. Raised in both Princeton, New Jersey and Cambridge, England, Katherine is an expert in the American and English educational systems and helps families every year apply to schools and universities across the world. She has been tutoring since 2005 as both a private tutor and in the non-profit sector. Katherine recently spoke in the American School of London's TedX talk about college interview questions.