Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Selecting from among the many tutoring organizations and private tutors is similar to hiring an employee who will be working independently at a remote location.  Usually, the tutor needs to have expertise, connections, and experience which the boss (the parent) does not share.  To improve the employment decision, parents should have a clear objective and standards based on an unparalleled understanding of their child.

The objective should address how improvement will be measured: standardized tests, proprietary tests, classroom results, teacher impression, and student response are potential assessments.

When evaluating tutors for potential employment at Tutoring Resources, we explore two qualities: knowledge base and commitment to the individual student.  Here are some of the interview questions we use and the answers we are looking for.

1.  What previous experience does the tutor have with the topics of interest?  In Reading, for example, it is not essential for the tutor to have read “Paddle to the Sea,” but the ability to use a story to explore character development, chronology, sequencing, and vocabulary enhancement is the true purpose of reading.

We might ask an applicant to recall a familiar story or book of his or her choice and to share a little about the lessons that can be explored, how the topic can be expanded, or what a student might find inspiring.  “The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash,” for example, is a short story that moves in reverse sequence....starting at the end and taking one step backward at a time to discover cause and effect. 

2.  What “bag of tricks” does the tutor bring to lessons?  Keeping the student engaged requires flexibility on the part of the tutor.  History (or more broadly, Social Studies) is a good example of a topic which lends itself to a wide variety of learning opportunities.  Creating a timeline to tack to the wall and build on throughout the year can maintain continuity and perspective, portraits and biographies of relevant characters may add a personal connection to dry facts, colored maps can highlight patterns and trends, dioramas might emphasize setting.  We look for a wide range of potential tasks to explore a subject from many avenues.

We might ask what the applicant would do if a student had difficulty with Spelling.  We’d look for a variety of approaches, possibly including sounding out the way a word is spelled (auditory), outlining the shape of a word to create a “train” of tall, midline, and below the line letters (visual),  or arranging scrabble letters to create the words (kinetic).

3.  What successes has the tutor had?  This open-ended question is intended to measure how the tutor will evaluate his or her own proficiency.  We look for comments about a student’s attitude, grade improvements, and motivation to go beyond average expectations.  The number of students is less important than the tutor’s enthusiasm for students’ successes.

A correlated question could ask what challenges have been overcome by past students and how the tutor met the individual's unique needs.

4.  What prompted the tutor to apply for the position? The relationship between a tutor and student is often considered a one-way street when, in reality, the connection must be symbiotic.  A valued tutor GETS as much from the student as the student gets from the lessons.  The difference is that the student gets knowledge, self assurance, and positive reinforcement while the tutor should feel the joy and delight of guiding a child into a future of lifelong learning.  At Tutoring Resources, we are always looking for that special tutor who is truly committed to the success of the child.  This commitment is quite frequently observed in answers to previous questions, signaled by the tutor’s excitement over process, activity, and student improvement.

4.  Is the tutor able to follow the instructions of the classroom teacher?  This issue often emerges when an elevation in grades is the desired objective.  If the teacher wants the student to show a specific step in solving a fraction problem, does the tutor know and follow through?  Should the student focus on names and dates in history or on cause and effect of events?  Will the student get additional points if mistakes on tests are corrected? 

An independent tutor should be comfortable in discussing the student’s progress with the classroom teacher.  (The school may have a specific form for parents to sign, giving permission for the teacher to share relevant information.)  Similarly, input to parents should be a regular occurrence. 

5.  Evaluating Personality.  At Tutoring Resources, we match students with a tutor who has similar interests and compatible personality.  A quiet, sports-minded boy may work best with a low-key, former baseball player.  An outgoing girl who loves horses will have a better chance of connecting with and accepting a tutor with whom she can identify. 

6.  How will the tutor recognize and celebrate the student’s success.  Some national franchises have a plan of reward, giving students prizes for meeting predetermined benchmarks.  Although I am not a fan of this type of motivation, positive reinforcement is an important part of the learning process.  The method of recognition used by the tutor (and approved by the parents) should match the student’s personality and expectations.  The most important aspect of this line of questioning is to verify that the tutor understands the impact of positive feedback.

Appropriate rewards should be discussed and parameters clearly communicated.  I work with teens, and physical contact, for example, is strictly limited.  Shaking hands or a pat on the shoulder is generally acceptable recognition with this age group.  Elementary school students on the other hand are sometimes more demonstrative and parents should  establish the limits for the tutor.

Stickers, stamps, words of encouragement either spoken or written, or a special meeting with parents to share a good result are examples of rewards intended to elevate a student’s pride of accomplishment.  The objective is to generate an intrinsic feeling that the student can take along to high school, college, and life in general.

7.  Follow Up.  Consideration of the tutor's knowledge base, experience, personality, and methods will guide the initial selection process.  Ongoing evaluation of results will determine how effective the tutoring sessions are.  While immediate improvements may be an unrealistic expectation, parents should continue to assess their student's progress and make decisions about changes to the tutorial structure based on their unique knowledge of the individual child.

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