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Top 10 Tutoring Myths

Myth #1: "Tutoring" always means "help with schoolwork."

In fact, most of the "tutoring" centres you know don't actually help your child with his school work at all. Most of the well-known educational franchises use their own curriculum and teach their own lessons. These lessons may or may not relate to your child's school work.

There are two main ways of approaching school problems: remediation and reinforcement.

Remediation is often described as going back to the student's "level" and then re-teaching the basics. This is the method most often used by large, commercial centres who have their own curriculum and their own ways of teaching. People who promote this form of tutoring believe that a child needs to learn specific skills in a specific order in order to ever really "get" math. They offer programs that are completely separate from what the student is doing in school. In fact, they are almost always teaching skills far behind the child's own school work because they are "going back to basics."

Reinforcement is often described as "supportive" tutoring: tutoring that specifically targets what a student is doing right now in school. This method is most often used by smaller tutoring centres such as ours or by independent tutors. Those of us who promote this type of tutoring believe that even students with a weaker foundation can be supported and quickly brought up to their current grade level by strategic remediation, that is, going back and picking up only the specific pieces you need when you need them. They offer an opportunity for the student to translate tutoring into immediate school-related results. For example, after just one reinforcement lesson, a student should be able to complete his current day's homework.

Ironically, most parents looking for help with schoolwork end up calling a "big name" place first, but these are precisely the people who do not offer that type of tutoring. They then find themselves trapped in restrictive, pre-paid remedial programs when they really need a reinforcement strategy. This is because remedial centres are so well known that parents call them first, even when what they are really looking for a reinforcement tutor.Reinforcement tutoring cannot be standardized because every lesson is different. That's why it's so important to know the difference, and to know which one you need before you call a company.

Remediation tends to work well either for younger students (grade 6 and below) or for students who don't need to worry about keeping up in school. Remediation works best when the child can focus on the remediation curriculum and doesn't have to also juggle a separate, unrelated school curriculum. So, remediation can work if you have an agreement with your child's teacher that your child is getting support elsewhere, if your child is home schooled, or if your child is not currently enrolled in math.

Reinforcement is almost always the best selection for struggling junior high or high school students who are best served by a program that helps them with their daily school work. At this older age, students are very sensitive to their performance in class and it is important to help them be successful in this environment. Students who struggle in high school are often pretty frustrated by their school work and are not really eager to take on a second, remedial math curriculum as well. This is why we suggest reinforcement tutoring for Grades 7 and up. This way, the work done with a tutor directly relates to (or "shadows") their own school curriculum and works to bring them up to that current level as quickly as possible.

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Myth #2: In order to sign up for tutoring, you have to commit to a regular, weekly schedule just like for piano lessons.

Many people are hesitant to go to a tutor because they believe they'll be "sucked in" to a large commitment. No student should go to their tutor just "because it's Wednesday" -- tutoring can be on an as-needed basis. Many students do need consistent, regular help because they find even their daily schooling a struggle. But, many students will only schedule a session with a tutor just before a big test to clear up any last minute questions and to get a final boost of confidence.

Tutoring to support school work should only be as regular as the school difficulties, otherwise you run the risk of students becoming overly dependent upon tutoring.

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Myth #3: Tutors need to be certified teachers.

Tutoring is very different from classroom teaching, and requires a very different set of skills.

Tutors are focused on only one student at a time, and they must be highly capable of working one-on-one with students. While classroom lessons can be planned ahead of time, tutors must know how to create a lesson "on the spot" as they identify the strengths and weaknesses of their student. A tutor must be skilled in "reading" the student, and knowing when "I understand" doesn't really mean "I understand." No student wants or needs to be taught something they already understand, and no student can learn harder material when they haven't really understood the earlier work. A professional tutor must be able to judge when it's time to move on, so that the student is neither bored nor lost.

It is important to remember that "certified teachers" (which, by the way, is only a requirement for teaching in public schools, not private, religious or independent schools) have been trained to be public school teachers. Much of their training involves classroom management, public school regulations and policies, and how to deal with paperwork. They also learn how to include all students in the classroom, work with a variety of skill levels at the same time, avoid demonstrating favouritism and how to promote the social, moral and behavioural values of the public school system. Very few skills taught in teachers' college are important for tutors. And in fact, many of the key skills for tutors are never taught in typical teacher training programs: forming relationships, adjusting your teaching style to the student in front of you, letting the student lead the session, coaching a student to talk his way, step-by-step, through problem areas and adjusting your expectations on the spur of the moment.

Teachers have a very specific job to do, and so do tutors. Teachers teach classes of students and tutors teach individual students.

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Myth #4: How much you'll spend on tutoring depends on the hourly rate of the tutor, so look for the cheapest hourly rate possible.

So many families have thrown away money thinking they were getting a bargain. Please don't fall into that trap. The truth is that you cannot predict the total cost of tutoring based on the tutor's hourly rate. The reason for this is quite simple: when you have a better tutor, you use significantly fewer hours of the tutor's time.It is not an exaggeration to say that in a single hour an expert tutor can help a student learn and understand material that would require 2 or 3 hours with a tutor who is less skilled.Often, not only can a tutor who charges *double* end up being cheaper in the long run, but can keep you from wasting your valuable time. Many people think they can't afford "good quality" tutoring. The truth is that no one can afford to waste money on ineffective tutoring!

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Myth #5: It makes more sense to have a tutor come to your own house.

It's the ultimate in service, right? Wrong! A tutor that comes to your house spends just as much of his time travelling as he does tutoring. He is often tired, frustrated from battling traffic, and has to work in unfamiliar surroundings.

Professional tutors use textbooks, workbooks, reference materials, sample quizzes, tests, which they simply cannot carry around from house to house. Since tutors must react to their students' needs, they cannot always predict ahead of time which materials will be useful in a tutoring session.

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Myth #6: Tutors are just people who don't have the experience/qualifications to be teachers yet.

As mentioned earlier, tutoring and teaching are very different from one another.Professional tutors are tutors because they love working one-on-one with students, establishing a personal bond and being able to tailor their teaching to an individual student. Tutors also work very different schedules than teachers, giving them greater flexibility. Also, some tutors have worked or currently work as teachers and choose to tutor, because they enjoy the one-on-one format of tutoring.

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Myth #7: There is such a thing as a "certified" tutor in Canada.

There is no accrediting body in Canada for tutors. There is no Canadian professional organization of tutors. Anyone can call themselves a tutor, so there is no point in asking if a tutor is "certified" because tutors cannot be certified tutors.

You will sometimes see tutors advertised as being "qualified." One would certainly hope so! Remember that the word "qualified" means "able"-- qualified is not a synonym for "certified". And so again, there is no point in asking if a tutor is "qualified" -- that word has no official meaning, and therefore is simply used in advertising because it "sounds good." Instead of asking whether a tutor is certified or qualified ask them more specific questions, which would demonstrate their experience and motivation for tutoring, such as how much experience do they have? What is their education? What courses do they normally tutor students in? What do they like about tutoring? etc.

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Myth #8: Tutoring is only for kids with problems.

About 50% of our students at Mostly Math are "A" students. Tutoring is not a punishment for underperforming students. Nor is it a sign that there's something "wrong" with the student. Some of the best students in the class have tutors.

Tutors help strong students become even stronger, especially when they can't get enough personalized attention in the classroom.

"A" students get tutors because they care about doing well and they know exactly what they don't know. These students are often in very demanding schools or academic programs where the competition is high. Some schools expect their students to have tutors in order to keep up with their academic demands.

We also work with good students who are just having a rough year. Maybe they've been ill or away and missed a lot of school. Maybe there is a problem with their teacher at school or they've had substitute after substitute and for whatever reason, just haven't learned very much this year.

Our summer tutoring especially brings in several high achieving students who understand the importance of preparing for the next year. We often work with students by filling in any gaps from the previous year as well as pre-teaching next year's material. These students walk into the next year confident and skilled enough to be the "A" students that they know they are.

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Myth #9: Kids who are tutored always become dependent upon their tutors.

When you have the right tutor, you learn academic independence as well as content. In fact, as students have more tutoring, they learn how to use tutoring to their best advantage. Students who first sought tutoring because they needed help with even starting their homework learn the skills necessary to tackle homework on their own. Soon, they come for tutoring with their homework mostly done, just needing help with a few difficult questions. We've worked with students who had such little confidence, they couldn't write a paragraph without help. Eventually,these students come for tutoring with their essay drafts done simply asking for ways to improve and polish their work.

A large number of students who have been tutored become tutors. These students have learned not only their course material, but they have learned how to help themselves, and in the process, how to help others.

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Myth #10: You should wait until the situation is bad enough that you need serious help before looking into a tutor.

Perhaps this should be Myth #1 as it's perhaps the most common, yet avoidable, mistake people make.

Most students should not need more than 1 or at most 2 hours of tutoring per week. Yet, by the time the decision to get a tutor is made, most students are so far behind that it's simply not possible to catch up and keep up in just an hour or two per week. There is a great deal of material that the student never mastered.As the year goes on, the pace of a class picks up as teachers need to get marks in and cover the necessary units for exams etc. One hour of tutoring per week in September can mean no "catching up" to do in October, when the material gets more challenging.

Truly, an hour of tutoring at the beginning of the year, when problems are easy enough to catch and it doesn't take much work to get completely caught up, is worth five or more hours of tutoring later in the year. Not only are you saving time and money, but you're reducing fear, grief, frustration, fights and complaints. At the same time, you're increasing confidence, self-esteem, motivation and attitude.

The time to see a tutor is the first time you can't do your homework.

If you think that's too soon because you don't need that much help, consider this: if your problems are all cleared up in 20 minutes, then that leaves 40 minutes of an hour session to get ahead and learn the next day's lessons. After that, you are already going to be able to do the next day's homework, too. Instead of being just a little shaky after one day, a little more shaky the next class and letting things build up until you simply can't do your homework, you could be ahead right from the beginning! In the first situation, you came only once for tutoring. In the second situation, you probably need at least 2 or 3 hours to get caught up to the same level of confidence.

Which option makes more sense?

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