Should the parent be the tutor?

Story and photos by Dan Friedman

With the school year starting up and the thicket of issues surrounding homework, academic achievement and responsibility sprouting from the lazy days of summer, parents are apt at some time to consider hiring a tutor. It might be a matter of wanting their child to score in the upper echelon of their class to better position themselves for admission to the college of choice, or just to avoid an F in math.

After I had had enough of teaching, I was a private tutor for a few years to a slew of kids whose parents hired me to help with their kids’ deficit in math, writing or study skills, or sometimes all three.

Tutoring can add a couple hundred dollars per week to the family budget, which I was all too happy to accept since I could buy food with the money. Some kids I tutored needed help, not because they couldn’t get the attention they needed in school, but because it was more convenient to rely on the tutor to pick up the slack. They knew I would be there to explain the concepts they had daydreamed through or re-explain the directions they hadn’t read.

In reality, when I was a classroom teacher in elementary and middle school, few students ever came in for extra help with lessons they clearly didn’t understand or assignments they had not a clue about how to complete. One-on-one teaching is very efficient and a lot can be accomplished in 10 minutes after school. But students had extracurricular activities that beckoned, and socializing with friends overpowered any desire to ask a question during lunch.

Parents shouldn’t have to hire long-term tutors for their kids to succeed in school. Teachers will generally make themselves available when one of their students is struggling. Parents need to talk to the teachers and find out when their student can come in for a few minutes of extra help.

Ask your kid’s teacher what they suggest. Often, the teacher will say, “If they would just ask a question in class, they wouldn’t be lost.” Really, this is a huge issue. If kids would just raise their hand and ask the question ricocheting around in their head, it would help immensely. Participating in class can save parents hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Still, there are times when a kid just needs someone to explain how to divide fractions, or how to write a paragraph one more time in the quiet of their own home, for them to get it.

Marina Koestler Ruben’s book, How to Tutor Your Own Child (Tenspeed Press, 2011) proposes that indeed parents are the ideal tutors for their kids. She provides all sorts of strategies and approaches to make it work. Koestler says in her introduction, “Parent-tutors provide holistic, low-pressure academic support, engagement and enrichment for their children.” Well, yes, they can, but it isn’t that simple is it? In theory, the book is 192 pages of advice on how to be that holistic teacher with tips and methods to organize, explain, re-teach and enrich the lessons kids need to learn.

I guarantee you there will be times when, after a long day and many frustrating attempts to explain how to factor a polynomial, both parent and child will just be butting heads. The parent tutoring effort will be acrimonious and counter-productive.

So, examine your relationship with your child and decide if being the tutor is best. I made plenty of money being the scorned tutor who insisted the student show his or her work on a math problem, and being a pain in the ass about proofreading. But I persevered, the lesson was completed, I got paid and peace in the household was maintained because mean Mr. Friedman left, and the parent could be the good guy.

For the parent who has the energy to be an effective tutor, Koestler’s book is very valuable and useful for the right situation and parent-child dynamic.

Better to get the student to ask questions in class, and get extra help in school before relying on a tutor. Students need to learn how to be more responsible for their education by seeking help. Tutors are perfect for additional teaching and a personalized, fresh approach.


One response to “Should the parent be the tutor?

  1. I very much agree that sometimes parents can be the best tutors. I would add, though, that once kids get to high school, it might be better to contact the teacher of the particular subject that’s proving to be a struggle. If the teacher can’t provide after-school or lunchtime help, then students might look into after-school tutoring provided by National Honor Society students or by school-based grant-funded programs. Parents should encourage their teens to find the initiative and motivation to approach a teacher or school counselor when things aren’t going right.

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