Parents search for a tutor for one reason, improving their child’s grade. I can’t always accomplish that, but it is my goal. There are many factors affecting my students’ grades, and I am just one component. On average, my students see a marked improvement in their grade, but I do not guarantee this result.

In the first session, we review their current grade and relationship with math. I want to know; did they ever like math, or consider themselves good at math. If so, when and why did that relationship change? Also, what are their goals for each session? (This question is especially important for high school and college students.) My top priority is to identify weaknesses in foundational math. I can’t devote an entire session to addressing these weaknesses because we need to stay on top of new concepts. For example, if fractions are a problem, then I take every opportunity to work on them. I scan the assigned problems to see if they address weak spots. If not, then I look at the ones not assigned and pull from those.

Typical sessions include work on assigned homework and test prep. For my focused students, they come prepared with specific areas of concern, and we focus on their list first. With the time left over, we preview new concepts that will be covered in the next week. A lot of my students only want to work on the assigned homework for that night. They want to be done with Math when they leave the session. I understand this goal, but I’m rarely in favor of it. I select representative problems from the current assignment and then review previous assignments for problem areas.

Quiz and test preparation are another focus. And again, my focused students come with questions in hand because they’ve already worked on the review prior to the session. The other half haven’t bothered to look at the review. I try to work the entire review with them. We usually run out of time, and the topics we do cover are not as in-depth as I hoped.

Teachers can’t tailor their style to each student’s needs; it isn’t feasible with large numbers of students. They don’t get the feedback of sitting next to their students while they struggle with a problem. Tutoring sessions afford me that luxury. I can slow down when my students really struggle. I know which students can skip steps and which ones need detailed step-by-step instructions. Sometimes, I present a topic five different ways before hitting on the method that works best for them.

I love math and try very hard to share my passion. Many kids come to me apathetic about math. They don’t like their teacher and hate the subject; motivation is a huge problem. Parents have asked me to threaten their kids into studying more. There is nothing I can take from them that will impact their study habits outside of tutoring sessions. I take responsibility for presenting the topics in as many ways as a student needs until they can understand it, but I do not take responsibility for their study habits. I am a tool the student can use to improve their understanding of math, but they must choose to use the information I give them. It’s not possible to reach every student, but I try every time one of them sits in the seat next to me. I never give up on them, even when they give up on themselves.

Coming next week: How to help your kids get the most out of tutoring.

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