When a student is struggling in a class, a lot of well-meaning parents throw a tutor at the problem. A good tutor can be wonderful for a student who's struggling. But if you want the investment of your money and your student's time to pay off, here are five questions to consider before you enlist tutorial help.
1. Is your student getting at least a "B" in the course?
No student excels equally in every subject. A kid who's trying his best in chemistry and getting a "B" should be proud of the effort he's making. Hiring a tutor can send a message to your kid that his best isn't good enough and that only "A's" are acceptable. Some over-achieving kids put that pressure on themselves and they're prepared to handle it. Many others are not.
2. Is the problem something that a tutor can fix?
Before you hire a tutor, try to diagnose the problem first to see if it's something a tutor can address. If your student isn't paying attention in class, or just isn't studying for exams, those aren't problems that a tutor can fix.
3. Is it a comprehension problem, or a study skills problem?
A tutor can help a student who just can't seem to wrap her brain around trig. But if the student's study skills are lacking, it's a problem that a math tutor might improve, but probably won't solve. That would be like hiring a hitting coach for a player who's got a pulled muscle in her back–you're addressing the wrong issue. I've written a couple posts about study skills here, here and here, and they recommend some resources that might help.
4. Has your student talked to his or her teacher?
The first step with any academic struggle (assuming you've considered #2), is for the student, not the parent, to approach the teacher and ask for advice. Any teacher will appreciate a kid who comes to her and says,
"I studied like crazy for that last test and you saw how badly I did. I really want to get better at this. Can you give me some advice where I should focus?"
Most teachers will be willing to help a student who takes ownership of the problem like this and genuinely wants to improve.
5. Does your student seem relieved by the idea of a tutor?
If your student seems relieved by the idea of a tutor, you know you're doing the right thing. A tutor should be like an academic lifeline that a student is grateful to receive. It should be a positive thing where your student feels, "I'm struggling, I can't seem to fix it myself, and my parents are getting someone to help me."