A few years back, my first-grader stepped off the school bus in tears. The words he squeaked out in between sobs cut me to the soul. He said, “My teacher hates my reading ‘cause I’m stupid.”
It was the start of the school year, and he had been placed in a tutoring group of five students to receive specialized instruction with a reading specialist. Testing revealed that for reading, he ranked 19th in his class of 21 (these rankings were obviously not shared with students).
By the end of that school year, tutoring royally paid off, and his rank soared to the second highest in the class. This journey with our son, who through the primary grades wrestled with low self-esteem and achievement, led me into a career of professional tutoring, where I have helped dozens of students thrive.
I share the following advice not just as a seasoned educator, but as a parent of a struggling student. I understand well how it feels when teachers appear hopeless about your child’s progress. I understand feeling consumed with worry and doubt your child will ever catch up. I understand willingness to do anything to spare your child the agony of repeated failure.
It may be time to hire a tutor If…
1. Your child’s teacher suggests it.
If your child is underachieving and his or her teacher thinks extra help will be beneficial, it may be time to seek help outside of the classroom. As a professional tutor, I love collaborating with teachers and mapping out a customized plan to optimally increase learning and achievement.
2. You suspect or have been told your child is lagging developmentally.
It can be frustrating when they are simply a little behind their peers, but don’t lose hope. Time really does heal a lot of wounds, and extra practice and encouragement from tutoring are healing too. If your child feels discouraged by a developmental delay, remind him of a skill he once could not master yet now does with ease (like tying shoes or riding a two-wheeler). He’ll get there eventually!
3. Your student is muddling through a rough patch.
Sometimes life gets messy: hormones, moving, a new baby, unemployment, illness, etc., can all wreak havoc. Since children are not immune to stress, they may fall behind in school work or be distracted in class. Tutoring can provide a safe haven to study and learn new strategies to navigate a rough patch.
4. You find yourself hiding under the bed during homework time.
It can be emotionally traumatic for both parent and struggling student when school work is too confusing or difficult. An alternative to climbing into the dryer (I suppose there are other more comfy escapes) and hoping for the best is to contact an expert. Don’t feel guilty when a teacher demands parents be involved at home. Tutoring involves patient, mindful and sensitive measures to empower your child without bribes, yelling or guilt trips. I’ve received calls from desperate parents at the height of a parent-child homework meltdown (and can hear the wailing in the background). It’s OK and normal if what your child needs is anyone other than you to help.
5. Your student struggles with a teacher.
Like their students, teachers aren’t perfect, and not all student-teacher matches are made in heaven. My own son is oversensitive to whether a teacher likes him, and if he perceives dislike, he shuts down and misses instruction. Our other son struggled with a teacher who frequently raised her voice. Tutors may be able to reach students who are shut down by earning their trust in friendly, upbeat sessions. It’s much easier to be funny, gentle and attentive with just one student—far more challenging with 30 students in the room! Often teachers are stretched thin across a varied group of learners with multiple learning styles. Your student may benefit from a one-on-one arrangement where they feel connected and heard.
6. The classroom is overwhelming.
Not everyone learns best sitting at a desk indoors with a group of distracting peers. While some students come alive in a given environment, others may feel over-stimulated or anxious. While it’s tough to control a classroom’s dynamics, some tutoring help may fill gaps where understanding breaks down due to distraction or disruption.
7. Your child says the issue is boredom.
Boredom can affect learning, but students may attribute underachievement or failure to boredom when they are actually overly-challenged or behind. Since your child may not be able to diagnose or articulate why they are struggling, a tutor may be able to determine if extra support will help.
8. Your child has fallen behind due to absence.
If your child has missed school and is struggling to complete make-up work and learn new material, a tutor may keep him or her on task and teach missed lessons. The students I help in this capacity are often quite stressed about the accumulation of work to complete, and it truly helps to partner with someone with a plan to get back in the game.
9. You want to keep new skills anchored in memory over the summer.
Learning can be rewarding and fun during the summer when everyone is more relaxed without the pressure of grades. Enrichment can also give students an edge when school resumes, leading to a confident and robust start to the year.
10. Your child has test anxiety.
Tutoring encompasses more than flashcards and quizzing; it can be a valuable source of emotional coaching for students who feel anxious, defeated or discouraged. The right tutor will be able to advocate for your child, equip them to perform to their full potential on exams, and help them cope with worry.
Michele Ranard has a husband, two children and a master’s degree in counseling. She is happy to report her son made great progress and has learned invaluable life lessons as a result of his academic struggles.