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  • Writer's pictureMark

Education Frustration: I think my child needs a tutor. What else do I need to consider?

Updated: May 22, 2018

Woman trying to decide when to hire a tutor
Deciding to get a tutor can be a frustrating process. (Photo:

You suspect a tutor might do your child good. Now what do you need to consider?

Many have written online about the cues for parents wondering if their child needs a tutor. But fewer have written about the practical considerations that go into deciding to get a tutor. Even if your child shows signs, how do you move forward?

When you start to suspect a tutor might be helpful, here are some further thoughts to keep in mind:

Can you make time for a tutor?

Of course, your kneejerk reaction might be, “Yes! Anything for my child!” But before you declare your unwavering support, think about schedules.

Deciding that your child in theory could benefit from a tutor is one thing; finding the time in everyone’s schedules is quite another. We each work with practical time constraints: Your child might have an active afterschool life, you might have a demanding job, and your tutor-of-choice might only tutor at certain times of the day or week. Getting the stars to align could be no small feat!

Start with examining your child’s schedule and priorities. School is non-negotiable, of course. And a certain sport or club might play a key role in your child’s development. So, what might be the lower priority activities? Downtime is important for child development, but are there other time slots your child could take advantage of? As you think through scheduling, consider when your child has energy lows and highs that might affect concentration, or when a packed day might lead to burnout.

Perhaps you can’t find many slots now, but a sport season is ending soon. Are there other gaps in the timeline of the school year when you could build in tutoring? Or (God forbid) a summer break or vacation? Getting a rhythm going with a tutor during a quieter time might make easier integrating help into a tightening schedule down the road.

Next, think about your own availability and that of any spouse. Tutors often like to have a parent accessible for questions, follow-up, or simply presence for in-home tutoring. If no one is available during likely session hours, can your child readily meet at a nearby library, bookstore, or coffee shop? Can you otherwise make yourself available to the tutor (by text, phone, or email) for ongoing issues? The tutor will want to know that he can have easy access to you to communicate as needs adjust over time, and on simple matters such as weekly scheduling.

Woman imagines juggling schedules as different clocks.
If only juggling schedules were this easy. (Photo:

Finally, think about likely time constraints of a tutor. Most are happy to work from after school to early evening. Some avoid weekends. If your likely slots seem to be later evenings and weekends, this might limit your options of a preferred tutor.

Online or In-Person?

Online help is part of many tutoring services today. Some tutors offer slick online formats while others keep it simple or focus on in-person sessions. Some subjects lend themselves to easy online interaction while others prove more complicated.

This question, however, goes beyond technology: What do you think would work best for your child and his or her needs? Even though children grow up on social media, some might internalize learning better in an in-person setting. Depending on the scope of learning activities, some students might find success with “surgical” online interactions while others might require more complete, in-person sessions. As you think about some of the cues that got you this far down the road of considering a tutor, don’t forget to consider how the mode of interaction would best suit your child.

Where are you in the school year?

You certainly should feel comfortable seeking a tutor whenever you start to suspect your child could benefit from one, but consider the arc of the school year before you pull the trigger. If you’re nearing the end of the school year, and you can’t practically (or financially) afford to have a tutor spend intensive time with your child (and your child needs substantial help), you need to adjust your expectations, or, perhaps, your strategy. More frequent sessions will be costly for you and demanding on your child -- and still might fail to help your child achieve his or her goals. If you’re in this position, you’ll need to take these constraints into consideration before hiring a tutor.

If your child’s needs, on the other hand, go beyond the end of a grading period, then consider a plan for the long-haul. Starting a tutor now with a focus on improving performance over time affords you more options. If you have thoughts of hiring a tutor earlier rather than later, you have much greater flexibility as you consider the other questions raised in this post.

Game letter blocks spell out the word "vision."
Hiring a tutor means thinking about your timeline (Photo:

How often would you have the tutor meet with your child?

Many parents think, “A-ha, I need a tutor.” But how often? And how do you decide how often?

Here are some factors to consider:

· The most obvious, of course: How much does the tutor cost and what can you afford?

· How often could your child pick up/set down the topic without losing learning gains between sessions?

· How intensive are your child’s needs?

· Do you have plenty of time before you child needs to demonstrate improvement?

· How often could schedules practically align on a weekly basis?

Will a tutor address the issue?

A tutor might not be the answer to your child’s needs! Students naturally struggle at different points but can find great success with hard work and parent support, perfectly tutor-less. Even if you see cues of a possible need, you could simply monitor them over time to see if your child manages any challenges. Meeting a challenge and finding success can be a valuable and rewarding experience for your child.

If you decide a tutor could help, your child's needs still could be quite different.

Even tutors with extensive training and experience typically focus on academic improvement and are not fully equipped to handle more deeply rooted emotional, social, or physical challenges that might be holding your child back. A good tutor might help spot these issues for you and seek other specialized help, but you need to be on the lookout as well.

You should have this possibility of greater need on your radar from the beginning. Of course, there’s no sense in reactively jumping to conclusions about your child’s needs when struggles or attitudes about school begin to change. If, however, you’ve got serious suspicions that your child’s issues go beyond academic support or typical stages of development, you might be delaying your child's success by focusing on a tutor instead of other professional help.

But you don't need to have this all figured out from the beginning! Remember: A tutor is not forever and shouldn’t require a grand commitment. You should feel free to give one a try. You should always be able to adjust the amount (or eliminate altogether) the time your child spends with a tutor. That is the essence of one-on-one instruction that you’re paying for: The ability to address your child’s needs flexibly as they change or you wish to adjust your strategy.

Child yelling at microphone
Can you hear what your child is really saying? (Photo:

What is your child telling you?

Which brings me to the biggest conclusion: Listen to your child! Your child’s actions and words might lead you to the conclusion that a tutor could be helpful, or maybe your child is reaching out and asking for other help. To discern between the two is beyond the scope of this post, but is certainly a critical inquiry.

Even if you decide to get a tutor, as a parent, you know this is not a unilateral decision. Children might see a taboo in getting a tutor, or feel like they have somehow failed you or themselves. Seek out advice for the best way to approach your child on this topic, but, above all, don’t neglect to do so. You will need your child on-board, feeling positive about the opportunity, and willing to work with a stranger, if you have any hope of securing the gains of hiring a tutor.

Then, enlist your child in the process, to the extent age-appropriate. You’ll find that, as you consider the above practical aspects, your child might have some thoughtful insights as you move toward selecting a tutor.

Future Posts

Later, I’ll post on an obvious topic: “How do I select an appropriate tutor?”

I’ll also address, “How do I know if/when/how much ACT/SAT test prep I should get for my child?”

Hopefully, I can help answer these and other tutoring-related questions you might have as you make the tough education decisions that come with being a parent!

For more information on the author, feel free to browse Mark's bio.

* Mark wrote this post from the perspective of a parent considering a tutor for a child, but these practical dimensions could just as easily be applied to adult learners considering a tutor for themselves.


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