A few years ago, when I was only tutoring students in person and not yet tutoring people online, I moved from Boston to Atlanta to attend graduate school. I was really sad to leave my Boston students behind. Many of them asked me to help them find a new tutor, and I didn’t know anyone to recommend. So this is what I suggested that my students do.
Ask around. Ask your teacher to recommend a tutor. Some teachers know great tutors that have been working with their students for years. Ask your school. A lot of schools maintain a list of recommended tutors, though the person in charge of it varies from school to school. Sometimes it’s the math department head, a guidance counselor, a grade coordinator. Sometimes it’s a learning specialist or someone in the front office. If you’re comfortable, ask your friends, and/or ask your parents to ask their friends. Someone you know might already know someone great!
Ask the internet. A lot of independent tutors have websites that include their contact info as well as information about their tutoring experience and philosophy. Some people have found a perfect tutor just by googling. Also, lots of tutors also post on craigslist. Find your city/area first, and then look for tutors under “lessons and tutoring.” If you’re overwhelmed by the number of posts, use the search function. Try looking for tutors who look like they put some thought and effort into writing their ad, or look for ads that say something that resonates with you.
Look for individuals. When it comes down to it, tutoring is about a one-on-one mentoring relationship. So it’s worth it to take the time to find an individual you would trust to mentor you. Look for tutors who promote themselves as individuals. People who are in business for themselves have more invested in their work than tutors who are working for a tutoring agency. If you choose to go through an agency, ones that post bios and pictures of their tutors are probably a better bet than most.
Make contact. Once you get a list of potential tutors, call or email them and tell them what you’re looking for. See what kind of vibe you get from them. The phone is probably best for reading someone’s vibe, but if calling strangers about tutoring seems intimidating, you can email first and build up to a phone call. Your interaction over the phone will give you some clues about what an actual tutoring session would be like.
Tell your story and ask questions. Tell the tutor what seems to be the trouble and see how they respond. Do they seem sympathetic? You can also ask about the tutor’s experience working with your grade level and subject or a particular learning style or learning disability. If you like, you can ask about their tutoring method or philosophy, their experience and credentials, or why they became a tutor.
Pay attention to how you feel. What the tutor says might not be as important as how the interaction feels. Does the potential tutor listen to you carefully? Do they ask you questions about what the trouble seems to be? Do they seem to have a sense of humor? Would you feel comfortable working one-on-one with this person? Trust yourself.
Schedule your first session. You can’t really know how you’ll mesh with someone until you meet with them, so set up an initial meeting before making a final decision or signing up for a long-term commitment. Take your recent homework, current homework, or a recent test. Ask them to help you with the parts that are confusing. The first session will probably be the most awkward since you’re just starting to get to know each other and work together, but that’s ok! By the end of your initial meeting, you should have a clear sense of whether or not you want to continue.
Do they pay attention to whether or not you understand? Do they adjust their approach when you don’t? A good tutor will explain things different ways until they find the way that clicks for you.
Ask yourself, “Do I feel comfortable with this person?” Frequently, by the time someone has their first meeting with a tutor, they’re pretty confused about what’s going on. It really helps to work with someone you feel relaxed with. The more comfortable you feel being totally honest with your tutor about what you don’t understand, the more effective the tutoring will be.
Ask yourself, “Is this person helping me?” It may take several sessions before you start to see improvement in your grades as a result of tutoring, but you should feel like you understand things at least a little bit better after the first session. If you feel comfortable with someone but they aren’t actually helping you, it’s ok to move on to someone who can.
The bottom line: Trust your own instincts and feelings. Every tutor has their own style, and you want to find someone who works with your style. There’s no need to spend time with people who talk down to you, or make you feel bad or stupid. Learning new stuff is hard enough! You just want to work with someone who knows what they’re talking about, can help you understand it, and makes you feel good about the whole process.
P.S. Here’s another good article about how to find a good math tutor.
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