As you remind your children to show appreciation for their schoolteachers on Teachers’ Day, do remember that tutors provide an invaluable service as well, and are equally deserving of thanks and recognition. But gifts and words of affirmation aside, what do tutors really need from parents? We spoke to three experienced tutors to find out.
#1 Look beyond numbers when hiring a tutor. “One mistake parents make is choosing the tutor with the highest qualifications and the best ‘track record,’ without considering whether their kids will learn best with the teaching style of that particular tutor,” says chemistry tutor and assessment book author Cecil Sie. “Personality and teaching style matter a lot. It’s not uncommon for kids to lose interest in a subject just because they don’t like a tutor, and they start to hate lessons as a result. This has a negative impact on both tutor and child down the road.”
#2 Let tutors do their jobs. Parents should never hire a tutor they don’t trust, and once you’ve chosen someone, it’s time to sit back and let tutors do what they do best. “I have had tuition sessions where the parent insisted on sitting in during the lesson, and also sessions where the parent kept interrupting the lesson to give me instructions,” says Serene Martin, a former junior college teacher, now an English/General Paper tutor and life coach. “Do give your tutor the freedom to teach. Sessions that become a tug of war are not only stressful for the tutor, but also the child.”
#3 Provide feedback at an appropriate time. “If parents want to give comments or suggestions about how a tutor can better meet their child’s needs, they are certainly entitled to do so,” says Serene. “But it would be best to have such discussions before or after a session, and not during lessons.”
#4 Be realistic about a tutor’s responsibilities. “Because of the one-to-one nature of private tutoring, there tends to be a heavy responsibility placed on tutors to bring a child’s grade up, even though we see our students less frequently than schoolteachers do,” says Diana Soh, who tutors primary and secondary school students in English, maths, and science. “Some parents forward us the syllabus and test or exam schedules and expect us to do the rest.”
Even with tuition, parents should never lose sight of the fact that learning is a child’s responsibility. On the home front, a parent can provide support by helping children draw up a schedule for completing assignments and revising concepts prior to tests and exams. “Parents need to oversee this process until kids can take charge of managing their time, as this is not second nature to kids,” says Diana.
#5 Respect a tutor’s personal time. Do remember that your tutor is being paid an hourly rate. “With the service industry, it is tricky drawing a line as many end up working overtime in the name of ‘good service,'” says Serene. “While this varies according to the threshold and preference of individual tutors, I don’t think it’s appropriate for tutors to respond to detailed queries over SMS or WhatsApp outside of tuition time. A tutor needs time off too, and it’s not practical to have extended discussions about writing an essay or solving a math problem over WhatsApp.”
Serene recommends having a child keep track of questions that need to be clarified, so they can be shared with the tutor when a lesson is ongoing. “If your child requires regular off-site support, you should let prospective tutors know during the preliminary discussion,” she says. “But be mindful that a fuzzy boundary between work and personal space can lead to frustration, and does not usually bode well for all parties involved.”
#6 Be patient. “I would strongly suggest that parents not set goals like scoring 80 or 90 on a test, because this can backfire and prevent the kid and tutor from working well together,” says Cecil. Instead, he says parents should focus on small improvements rather than pressuring tutors to show results quickly.
“Some parents might think that if their kid gets 65 marks now and 67 marks the next semester, it’s not much,” he says. “But they have to remember that their child is not just picking up new content, but improving his or her understanding of concepts learned in the past. If a child is able to improve every semester, at every test, after two to three years, he or she will be an A student.”
#7 Assessment books are no cure-all. Cecil adds that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for improvement, and that some strategies may work well for certain subjects but not others. “For instance, a parent might think that completing assessment books is the best way to help a child improve in any subject, but that would not be the right strategy for a child who is weak in English, as experts agree that reading is one of the best ways to improve language skills,” he explains.
#8 Listen to your tutor’s advice. Although high expectations are placed on tutors to deliver results, Diana observes that there are often instances where tutors’ views are not taken seriously. “I once pointed out a child’s learning needs to his parents, but it was only after a schoolteacher did the same thing, months later, that they acted on it,” she recalls. “Support could’ve been given to the child much earlier if the parents had believed me.”
#9 Don’t shift discipline responsibilities to a tutor. “I’ve had parents use my name to place restrictions on their children, such as saying that I forbade a certain activity, or that homework should be done to avoid getting a scolding from me,” says Diana. “Discipline is a parent’s responsibility; please don’t make tutors the bad guys.”
#10 Where possible, give a tutor advance notice. “There is quite a high incidence of last-minute cancellations when it comes to private tuition,” says Diana. “It might be because parents feel they’re paying a premium, and therefore flexibility in timing should be part of the deal.”
Diana’s policy is that last-minute cancellations are chargeable, and she says it has helped reduce cancellations. “Parents also tend to request last-minute lessons leading up to exams, as well as breaks from tuition during the school holidays,” she says. “Tutors are prepared for this and many have alternative sources of income, but it would still be nice to let us know, perhaps a month in advance if you have holiday plans, so we can make our own plans with the time freed up.”