find a tutorMaybe your child has started to struggle in a certain subject. Maybe he’s forgetting to turn in assignments. Maybe she needs help prepping for a big test. Maybe it’s time to consider a tutor.

Tutors and tutoring programs can provide extra help in a particular subject area, but they can also help high-achieving kids get extra enrichment. They can motivate kids, keep them on task, and teach organization. But finding a great tutor—someone who challenges your child and builds his abilities and confidence—can be daunting.

Issues to Consider

Before hiring a tutor, speak with your child’s teacher. While you might assume that your child doesn’t understand math, the teacher might see it as an organizational or study skills issue.

Make sure you’ve got the right reasons for hiring tutoring help. Eileen Lambert, head of the Saddle River Day School, a K-12 independent school in Saddle River, has seen everything from preschoolers being taught to read before kindergarten to middle schoolers being tutored to get into an honors class. Neither, she feels, is the best choice for the child.

“The level of competition right now is very high,” she says. “But the early readers aren’t necessarily the brightest students by middle school. Kids’ light bulbs go on at different times, and for some kids it’s not until sixth or seventh grade. Not all kids are ready for the rigors of an honors class.”

Finding a Tutor

Because the tutor relationship is personal as well as professional, finding the right tutor can be tricky. Lambert suggests asking the child’s teacher for recommendations. He or she may have worked with tutors or tutoring programs in the past, or there may be teachers in the school who offer tutoring services.

Word of mouth works, too. Try asking friends and other parents for their recommendations. “A good tutor should be able to build a good rapport with the student and make them comfortable,” says Lynn Bowen, a private tutor in Hamilton. “Sometimes word of mouth gets you that info. Sometimes trial and error.”

Choosing a tutor—>


Choosing a Tutor

Make sure the tutor has experience in the subject and grade level that you need. Children with diagnosed learning disabilities need a specialist.

Whenever possible, the tutor and teacher should connect and work together to help the student. “I communicate directly with the child’s teacher,” says tutor Lynn Bowen. “Parents should always make sure that the teacher knows that the student is getting extra help.”

Once you have a few names, conduct a standard interview and ask some simple questions. Find out what experience and credentials the tutors have, how they stay current with the latest educational methods and strategies, and how they tailor their lesson plans. Ask what they enjoy most about tutoring, and ask for references. Inquire at tutoring centers about student-teacher ratios, staff credentials, and turnover. If possible, schedule a visit to see the facility and talk personally with the staff. 

And don’t forget to talk about payment. Discuss cost and payment schedules upfront, and find out in advance about policies for missed appointments and additional fees for books or supplies.

A Tutoring Session

Most private tutors meet with students in a location such as a library or in your home on a set schedule. Sit in on a few sessions and observe how the tutor and your child interact. “I make sure that parents understand that they’re always welcome,” says Bowen. “I also give parents feedback after each session…The parents are a big part of it.”

Keep in mind that a tutor won’t replace hard work. Whether she needs help catching up or help getting ahead, the student will need to study and do her homework. No tutor should promise you a certain grade at the end, but tutoring should give your child the tools to become successful. That may mean an improvement in grades—but it could also mean increased independence, self-esteem, and motivation.

Laura Amann is a freelance writer and the mom of four children. 

Did you find the perfect tutor for your child? Please share!