BY JACK NEWCOMBE
In 1991, Will Smith’s hit single “Summertime” boasted that summer is a time to “sit back and unwind,” but like Smith’s singing career, summer must eventually come to an end. And though most parents and kids focus on clothes and bookbags, the most important thing to consider as school gets back in session is your child’s education.
Your child’s education is full of choices that you have to make—for example, private or public, single-sex or coed, transfer or stay where you are. But one choice that might get overlooked is whether to hire a tutor.
A tutor teaches a specific subject or skill to an individual student or small group of students. Such attention ideally allows the student to improve knowledge or skills more rapidly than in a classroom setting. Tutors may be privately hired and paid by the student; the student’s family; or an agency; such as that allowed in the No Child Left Behind or for special education remediation. Some tutors are used for remedial students or others needing special attention; some provide more advanced material for exceptionally capable and highly motivated students, or in the context of homeschooling.
Kathy Kubo is a college professor who has tutored off and on since she was 14 years old. It wasn’t until Kubo left her career at an accounting firm to get her master’s in mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles, that it became a passion in her life.
When discussing the value of tutoring, Kubo mentioned that there are certain perils that parents should consider before engaging a potential tutor. Specifically, “you don’t want someone who just gives answers and just spoon-feeds the correct numbers. You want someone to encourage ‘productive struggle.’”
When asked to define the “productive struggle,” Kubo said: “If students don’t have that experience of struggling and working through a barrier, then when it comes to taking a test, they won’t know what to do. They are used to having a crutch, someone to give them the answer immediately. As a tutor, you want to moderate and facilitate those types of discussions.”
Kubo also warned that when looking for a tutor, you should look out for “people who have difficulty explaining concepts in multiple ways; one way doesn’t work for all students.”
Mathnasium of Macon offers, for example, a customized math program for grades K–12. The center uses the results of their Comprehensive Written and Oral assessment to develop a learning plan and provides curriculum materials that cater to the unique needs of the student. Students receive one-on-one guidance from a qualified Mathnasium math tutor when they visit the center.
The curriculum focuses on primarily written materials and mental math, and includes manipulatives and other teaching tools when appropriate. Learning new concepts is balanced with practicing those that have already been learned. Kids usually “work out” two or three times a week for about an hour.
According to Mathnasium of Macon’s Director, Sima Ekhtiari, the center’s math instructors provide homework help that addresses gaps in knowledge and teaches proper study skills. Homework will be seen as a welcome challenge and an opportunity for further learning.
The value of a good tutor is immeasurable and certainly worth the money—’good’ being the operative word. In fact, “If you can choose the right tutor, someone who is a good fit for your child, then there are benefits beyond mastering the subject matter,” Kubo states. Specifically, “Good habits for math and the mindset that accompanies those habits can be translated into other areas for success, even other areas of life.”