Hi. My name is Becton. I’m a 43 year old stay at home father who loves his kids and is very involved in their education. I believe education is important. I believe a good education is one of the greatest blessings you can provide your children. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Brigham Young University in 1998. That’s me in the picture above with my son Jaren (to the right) and my daughter Emma (to left). We’re attending Jaren’s kindergarten graduation.
Fast forward six years. Jaren is now 11 years old. He’s starting sixth grade and he’s struggling. This story is about him.
Beginning of a New Year
It was the beginning of a new year. Every night after school I’d check with Jaren to see how school was going and ask if he needed help with his homework. I’d typically get the same response, “It’s going great. No homework today. Got it all done at school!” or “My teacher hasn’t assigned any homework yet.” About two weeks into the term I decided to log onto his online grade book to check his progress and to my surprise my son was failing three subjects. I didn’t understand. My son was bright, driven and had always done okay in school. What had changed? What was going on?
When I confronted him he confided that he just didn’t like school anymore. So I dug deeper. “What is it about school you don’t like anymore?” He said it was hard, there was too much to do, he couldn’t keep up and he just wasn’t as smart as the other kids in the class. Try as I might to help him get caught up and motivated, he resisted my help and continued to struggle. He’d get particularly frustrated whenever I would try to help him work his math problems. I was making little progress.
I met with his teacher to discuss what might be done to help my son and she asked me if I had ever considered hiring a private tutor. I told her that my son was bright. He didn’t have any trouble understanding the subject matter, he just wasn’t motivated. How would a tutor help? She said, “I think you’d be surprised.” So I gave it a try. What could it hurt?
This is what I learned.
1. Tutors Aren’t Teachers. Tutors Aren’t Parents.
Doing a little online research I discovered that our local university, Utah Valley University (UVU), offered a community outreach tutoring program for children grades kindergarten through 12th grade. I gave them a call, scheduled an intake interview, gave them my credit card number, and we were off! A few days later I received a call from Jaren’s new tutor, a young college student named Cole who was attending UVU – a History major who loved to read. I thought to myself, “This will be interesting. Jaren doesn’t like to read and the last thing he’s going to be interested in is History.” I had tried earlier in the year to get Jaren to read “Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans” with lackluster results. Cole was in for a surprise.
Turns out, I was the one who was surprised. Cole possessed a special quality unique only to tutors. He wasn’t Jaren’s teacher and he wasn’t Jaren’s parent. Cole was a kid just like Jaren, going to school, doing homework and trying to succeed. The first thing I noticed was that my son responded to Cole in a way he didn’t respond to either his teacher or myself. He didn’t resist Cole’s instruction and he even listened to him when he gave advice. Honestly, I felt a little betrayed. Every time I offered my son advice or help with his school work the response was a predictable “Dad! I don’t need your help.” And he was right. He didn’t need my help – but he did need help. He needed help from someone who wasn’t an authority figure, someone he could identify with, someone who could reach him.
It’s a misconception that tutoring is only for students who struggle academically or are disabled. I now believe that tutoring can help just about any parent who has a child in need of a helping hand with school.
2. Tutors Provide One-on-One Engagement
My son and I love to throw the football around, play sports together, and go out and just have a good time. But I’m also his dad. The enforcer. The boss. The guy who is always looking over his shoulder, pushing him to do better and telling him what he can and can’t do. But when it comes to helping him with his homework he reminds me, “Dad, you’re not my teacher!” It’s hard for me to provide the one-on-one engagement he needs to really excel academically. And he’s right, he does have a teacher. Unfortunately, his teacher has 28 other students she must attend to each day and she just doesn’t have the bandwidth to provide the one-on-one engagement he needs.
That’s where Cole comes in. Tutors have the ability to provide students with the one-on-one engagement they need to excel academically. I noticed right off the bat that Cole was able to engage Jaren in a way that he would not allow me – and his teacher didn’t have time for.
Jaren continues to receive instruction from his teacher and his dad (me). But Cole provides the engagement my son needs to work through difficult concepts and get motivated.
Tutors provide one-on-one engagement.
3. Tutors Provide a Different Perspective
So often when I’ve tried to work through a math problem with my son he’ll say, “That’s not how my teacher does it.” With national Common Core standards being implemented in most public schools throughout the nation, simple arithmetic isn’t so simple anymore. Trying to help your child learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide has become as complicated as calculus. When trying to help my son with his math homework a few weeks ago I found myself stumped by unfamiliar terms like “area model” and “rectangular array” and wrestling with division problems that require the use of dots, squares and slashes. I found myself having to relearn basic math I already knew in order to help my son learn math.
When I met with Jaren’s teacher to discuss the dilemma I was having, she said she understood and told me I wasn’t the only one. She also explained to Jaren that there were several ways to do the math problems that she was teaching in class and the way I was showing him at home was also acceptable. I appreciated the vote of confidence but it didn’t resolve the situation. Jaren still resisted my “old school” approach to math and continued to struggle as he learned math via the newer “common core” methodology. Not only was I concerned about my son’s emotional stability, but now I was wondering if he was really acquiring a sound understanding of math that would serve as a building block for future learning.
In enters Cole.
Even though Cole was a History major with a love of reading, he also had a sound understanding of basic math concepts and principles. When I asked him if he’d tackle some of Jaren’s math problems with him, he said he would. This is what I found. Cole’s understanding of math was similar to mine. While he understood the newer Common Core standards, he still preferred the “old school” approach. He worked with my son to help him see the logic in the way the teacher had explained math in the classroom as well as the approach I had taken at home. Through one-on-one engagement, Cole was able to provide my son a different perspective and bridge the gap between what he was learning in the classroom and what I was teaching him at home.
4. Tutoring Bridges Gaps
So playing homework and catching up with my son wasn’t much fun. It was a lot of hard work and tearful nights. He was missing 18 assignments, mostly in math. He was going to class each day struggling to understand the new concepts being taught because each new math concept and assignment built on previous knowledge he should have acquired but hadn’t. He had finally thrown in the towel and decided he was going to enroll in the military at age 18 instead of attending college. I told him that even the military would require him to be able to read, write and understand basic math – and that I didn’t have a problem with him enlisting if it was what he really wanted to do, but it wouldn’t be because he flunked out of school.
Children attending elementary school have a lot of work to do. They’re learning how to read and write, comprehend what they’re reading, develop mathematical skills required for future learning, while trying to find their way through a new and ever evolving landscape. When children fail to master fundamental skills, they struggle to grasp more challenging concepts and often fall behind. Yet most public school systems will not offer any special support unless a student falls two full grades behind. And even smart students can fall behind when they don’t receive one-on-one attention.
As children grow older, gaps in education become even more apparent as they struggle to keep up with classmates and fall farther behind in their studies and understanding. Tutoring helps to bridge these gaps and support a child’s ability to acquire critical comprehension and analytics skills before a situation arises or becomes critical.
5. Tutoring Supports One-on-One Learning
Jaren has a great teacher. She’s been easy to work with and seems truly concerned for my son’s academic success and welfare. She desires for him to succeed. Unfortunately, concern and desire, as noble as they may be, only go so far. What my son needed when he was struggling was one-on-one attention.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), as of 2015 the average class size in public primary schools, middle schools and high schools was 26.8 students. Smallest average class sizes were in Alaska with an average of 18.7 students while largest class sizes were in Nevada (34.5) and California (32). Any way you cut the pie it’s clear, classrooms in the United States are overcrowded – and overcrowding is the one of the biggest issues affecting a child’s ability to learn in a classroom setting. The larger the class size, the more limited a teacher’s ability to provide students one-on-one time to fully explain difficult concepts and answer their questions. As much as my son’s teacher was concerned for his welfare and desired him to succeed, with a class of 28 students, it just wasn’t possible for her to provide Jaren the one-on-one attention he needed.
Private tutoring, whether in person or online, gives a child the opportunity to take as much time as they need to explore difficult concepts, fully understand their classwork and ask questions. Additionally, tutoring provides children a safe place to ask questions they’re too shy or embarrassed to ask in class.
6. Tutoring Helps Build Confidence and Self-Esteem
On the outside my son is confident and self-assured – borderline cocky at times. But sometimes the most apparently self-assured and confident child is the one who struggles the most – as was the case with my son. One night after exploring with Jaren the academic struggles he was having at school he finally broke down and said, “Dad. I’m the dumbest kid in the class. Everyone else understands what’s going on except for me” – and I could see from the look in his eyes he really believed it. I reassured him that wasn’t the case and as soon as he got caught up he would feel differently.
A tutor worth his or her salt will take the time to get to know your child and create a safe space for self-expression and learning where they can discuss issues that might be affecting their ability to learn. This will enhance their feelings of self-esteem and worth as well as strengthen their skills at school.
As Cole helped my son understand math concept after math concept, and get caught up with his school work, I saw his confidence return and a new sense of self-worth and ability emerge.
7. Tutoring Helps With The Common Core Standards
If you’ve read this far, you know the struggles Jaren and I have faced with Common Core. Whether you’re for or against Common Core Standards the fact is they’ve now been implemented nationwide – so you can’t ignore them. If you’re struggling with the overly complex Common Core methods for teaching math and other basic subjects as much as your child is, private tutoring may be your best solution. Many tutors are now familiar with Common Core Standards and can help your child digest, understand and apply Common Core methodologies. More importantly, in my humble opinion, a good private tutor will make sure that your child is learning the basic building blocks required for future academic growth and development.
8. Tutoring Provides Customized Learning
In my line of business, a “one size fits all” approach never works. Each of my clients has unique needs and demands. Anything less than a customized product or service is unacceptable. A “one size fits all” approach is also not the best practice when it comes to early childhood education – yet that’s exactly what most children receive in our public education system.
No two students are the same. Some are auditory learners while others are visual learners. Some learn better in groups and some prefer working by themselves in a private setting. Some children pick up complex concepts quickly, while others require more time. My son Jaren is a visual learner. And while he loves to socialize, he is able to stay more focused and learn better in a private setting by himself. Private tutoring provides a customized learning environment and experience tailored to the unique learning style and preferences of each child.
9. Tutoring Helps to Maintain Acquired Skills During the Summer
One of the biggest battles I’ve ever had with my son was over the idea of doing homework during the summer. He thought that was the most absurd idea he’d ever heard of. He explained to me – his father of limited experience, understanding and wisdom – that summer was precisely summer because there was no school. If he was forced to do any school work during his summer vacation it would cease to be summer vacation by definition. In addition, to bolster his position, he said making kids do school work during the summer is child abuse. (He is by far my most dramatic child.)
For obvious reasons, tutoring can be beneficial for children over summer vacation. If you want to make sure your child will not lose the ground they’ve gained over the past school year, tutoring over the summer break is an effective solution. The biggest advantage of using a tutor over the summer months, as opposed to going at it on your own, is that the tutor becomes the bad guy, not you. In actuality however, once you hire a tutor, and your child is expecting it, tutoring becomes a rather routine affair that most children don’t object to during the summer months.
I recommend that summer tutoring be used simply to ensure children retain what they’ve learned and to help them transition to the next grade level, but that it should not be aggressive.
10. Tutoring Helps Children Excel on Standardized Tests
I graduated from high school at the top of my class with a 3.88 grade point average. Even though I achieved straight A’s my senior year and passed three AP classes, I still struggled with the ACT. For many students, even some of the smartest, standardized testing is challenging. It can be particularly difficult for children with learning disabilities or those who experience any type of performance anxiety. Even though there are a million arguments against standardized testing in the classroom it is still one of the most popular forms of academic performance evaluation.
If your child struggles with standardized testing or needs to score well on a specific type of standardized test, such as the SAT, ACT or ISEE, then working with a tutor that specializes in standardized testing can be very effective.
If you’re interested in learning more about private tutoring for your child, I recommend clicking on the link below and requesting more information from Varsity Tutors. This organization is one of the largest and most reputable tutoring companies in the nation.