Sometimes, your child may need extra help with their math classes. In such cases, you might consider hiring a tutor to provide additional instruction and support. However, finding the right tutor can be challenging. Many people hire a tutor only to realize that they are not a good fit for their child. In this article, I will provide a guide on how to find the right tutor for your child.
Are degree and credentials important?
First and foremost, it is important to ensure that the candidate has the appropriate educational credentials. A prospective math tutor should ideally have a bachelor’s degree in math or a related field. A degree in education or a mathematics teaching certification may also be beneficial because it demonstrates a specialized understanding of teaching methods and curriculum specifically designed for math instruction.
These qualifications indicate that the tutor has a formal understanding of math concepts and knows how to effectively convey them to students. Given that high school math courses such as trigonometry, algebra, calculus, and statistics are complex, a tutor should have advanced knowledge of math. Usually, this means they have completed at least one or two years of college- or university-level math courses.
Does a tutor with a higher degree necessarily mean they are better?
Often, people believe that having a higher degree, such as a PhD in math or science, automatically makes someone a good tutor. However, having advanced knowledge in math is one thing, but if a person cannot effectively teach math concepts to students in a way that they understand, your child will not benefit from their tutoring. On the other hand, not having a bachelor’s degree does not necessarily make someone a bad tutor. Some of the best tutors I’ve worked with were still in university. What matters is having in-depth curriculum and math knowledge, as well as strong communication skills.
In summary, degrees and credentials are beneficial as they indicate that the tutor has the necessary math knowledge. However, having a higher degree does not automatically make someone a good tutor. A tutor must have a strong math knowledge, but other attributes are also important for their effectiveness.
Teaching or tutoring experience
Practical teaching experience is just as important as educational qualifications and knowledge. The tutor should have significant experience teaching or tutoring high school math. Ideally, the tutor should have experience teaching the math curriculum in your child’s province or state. This is because curriculum expectations differ slightly between different jurisdictions. Additionally, the tutor should be familiar with the math course your child is taking. For example, if your child is taking an IB SL Math course, the tutor should have taught IB Math SL themselves or at least have taken this course, in order to competently teach the subject. Each math course has a unique focus, testing expectations, curriculum content, and teaching approach. Having prior experience teaching the course can greatly benefit your child’s understanding.
Communication skills are key
Believe it or not, good communication skills are one of the most important qualities to look for in a math tutor. The ability to break down complex problems and explain them in simple, understandable language is invaluable.
The tutor needs to actively listen to understand where your child is struggling and have the patience to explain difficult concepts multiple times in various ways until your child comprehends them. To assess the tutor’s communication skills, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the tutor patient? Do they show signs of frustration if your child is struggling?
- Do they explain concepts in their own way or do they solely rely on reading out of the textbook?
- Is the language they use appropriate for your child’s age level? Or, is the tutor using difficult terms beyond high school level?
- Do they exude confidence when explaining or do they seem unsure of their teaching?
- Are they personable and likable?
- Do they seem interested in tutoring, or does it seem like they are just going through the motions?
- Does your child understand their explanations or teaching?
- If the tutor has an accent or other distinctive features in their speech, does it make it harder for your child to understand them?
- Do they effectively communicate with you (the parent)?
The ability to evaluate and adapt
Teaching is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Your child’s tutor should have the ability to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and adapt their teaching methods accordingly. Private tutoring or small group tutoring allows the tutor to tailor their approach to each child. The tutor should make full use of this advantage. When a lesson is personalized, you can expect better results from the tutoring sessions.
Furthermore, the tutor should be able to align with your child’s classroom curriculum and reinforce what they are learning in class. They should also be able to assist with homework and test preparation. A good tutor can identify any study skills that your child may be lacking and help them improve not only their knowledge but also their study skills and habits.
Try out the tutor first
Finding the perfect tutor for your child is not easy. A potential tutor may look good on paper but may not turn out to be a good tutor when they start tutoring your child. It is also difficult to assess if a tutor is a good fit just by talking to them. When you find a tutor who you think will be a good match for your child, try scheduling a couple of tutoring sessions to “test drive” the tutor. Observe how the tutor interacts with and teaches your child. Also, schedule a session where the tutor works with your child without your presence. Sometimes, a tutor may be enthusiastic when the parents are around but lackluster when they are not. After a few tutoring sessions, talk to your child about how the sessions are going. If your child is making progress, continue with the tutoring sessions with the same tutor. Avoid committing to a long contract, especially if you have not thoroughly evaluated the tutor.
In summary, a good math tutor for your high schooler will have strong math knowledge, ideally supported by appropriate credentials, relevant teaching experience, strong communication skills, and the ability to adapt their teaching style to your child’s needs. Remember, these are just qualifications to consider. The best tutor for your child will also establish a strong rapport with them and inspire a love for learning.
Richard Zhang, M.Ed., is an educator and a software developer with a Masters degree in education from University of Toronto and an immense passion for education and learning. Until the pandemic, Richard owned an award-winning learning centre in Toronto. For 15 years, he has taught and mentored hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students succeed in academics. He is also an app developer specializing in web and mobile application in educational and business sectors.