Parents’ Guide to Finding the Right Mathematics Tutor for Your Child

Why read a guide about finding the right maths tutor for your child?

Unfortunately, most kids don’t get the benefit their parents hoped for when seeking help in mathematics.

In fact, some tutoring is not just ineffective – it’s counter-productive!

I shudder to think how many millions of dollars unsuspecting parents waste each year on bad mathematics tutoring without seeing any benefit (private tutoring became a trillion dollar global industry in 2018).

Even worse, if your child has a bad experience with a tutor (or some other program of help with mathematics) he or she may conclude they must really be “dumb at mathematics” if even a tutor couldn’t help them.

A bit of research on your part can save you from wasting thousands of dollars over the course of your child’s education and have a tremendously positive impact on your child’s self-esteem and career opportunities.

Why listen to me about mathematics tutoring?

My 25-year obsession with helping kids learn mathematics includes:

  • Delivering 20 000+ hours of face-to-face and online tutoring
  • Building (then abandoning) a mathematics tutoring agency
  • Building (then abandoning) an education centre
  • Obsessive research including four years of educational psychology at Deakin University, meeting and corresponding with “thought leaders” around the world and intensive study of past approaches to mathematics education.
  • Investing tens of thousands of dollars licencing specialized mathematics programs and thousands of hours developing my own

Regardless of whether you end up engaging me as a coach or consultant to help your child succeed in mathematics, I hope sharing some of lessons I learnt over the past quarter of a century will help you find a solution that works for you.

Let’s get started with . . .

7 Mistakes Most Parent’s Make When Choosing a Mathematics Tutor

Mistake #1: Looking for a tutor who is naturally “good at mathematics”

While understanding the content a tutor is teaching is obviously a prerequisite to being an effective tutor, it’s only one small piece of the puzzle.

In fact, people who naturally “get” mathematics can be terrible tutors. Everything comes so naturally to them that it is hard for them to break concepts down into manageable “chunks” that their students understand.

An analogy: When my son was 5, he had trouble with some aspects of speech. I paid $150 per hour to engage a fantastic speech pathologist. It took about a dozen 45-minute sessions to resolve the issue.

How do you think it would have gone if I just took him to someone “good at talking”.

Many parents discover that being good a mathematics doesn’t automatically make that person a good tutor the hard way . . . usually by having a student who did well in mathematics tutor their child.

Mistake #2: Thinking the tutor’s only job is explaining things

Explaining things is another prerequisite to being an effective tutor.

A lot needs to happen before a tutor starts explaining something though . . .

What gaps in the student’s knowledge that need to be addressed before tackling the question at hand?

What’s the most efficient order to address those gaps?

Is the question presented by the student even the most important area to address in the context of the student’s current position and upcoming topics in class?

You get the idea.

Our next mistake is closely related to focussing too heavily on a tutor’s ability to explain things . . .

Mistake #3: Letting the tutor do too much of your child’s work

If most of a lesson involves the tutor explaining your child’s questions then the tutor isn’t addressing the underlying reason your child got stuck in the first place.

Your child may be happy with the lesson . . .

If the tutor’s explanation made sense and your child got their homework out of the way, what’s the problem?

The problem is that your child probably didn’t get the same depth of learning as doing those questions independently.

(Kind of like a trainer at the gym lifting weights for a client.)

Here’s a tell-tale sign that a tutor is doing too much of the work in a session:

You overhear the tutor reviewing your child’s disappointing test result and saying something like “But you know how to do this, I’ve seen you do it with me.”

Mistake #4: Letting your child become dependent on the tutor

Even if a tutor is vigilant about getting your child to practice on their own, there is a tendency for many students to tune out in class and think “I’ll just ask my tutor.”

Despite being aware of that tendency with my own clients and being vigilant to avoid it occurring, it took me a long time to develop effective strategies to change that dynamic.

Tutoring should focus on building students’ independence and engagement in their school mathematics classes.

Mistake #5: Assuming a teacher will be a good tutor

If you engage a teacher, especially one who teaches the specific mathematics curriculum your child needs help with, you are more likely to find someone who understands the mathematics your child is studying at school.

(Sadly, though, based on my experience running a tutoring agency – it’s not a given!)

Also, a teacher is more likely to be able to clearly explain concepts your child is covering in class.

What I have found, though, is that many (not all) teachers lack the flexibility to uncover exactly what the “sticking point” is for the individual in front of them and adapt their explanation to that unique client. . .

It’s quite a different skill set to teaching a class.

How do I know this?

Well, in addition to my firsthand experience hiring teachers back in my tutoring agency days, I noticed something in my education centre days, too . . .

My centre was in an area (Kew, Melbourne, Australia) that has about the highest concentration of expensive ($32 000 to $38 000 per year) private schools in the world. At those schools, unlimited extra tutoring from the teachers was generally available before school, during lunchtime and after school.

Nearly all my clients were from those prestigious schools. Yet, every day I would hear words to the effect of: “I went to math help and the teacher explained it but I still don’t get it.”

(Pro tip: You need to be especially careful about Mistakes #3 and #4 with teachers!)

Mistake 6: Enrolling your child in a “conveyer belt” program at a tutoring centre

Typically, large chain tutoring centres like Kumon, Mathnasium and Sylvan Learning have their own mathematics “curriculums” your child works through.

Think of tutoring centres as the other end of the spectrum compared to the let-the-patients-prescribe-their-own-medicine approach of most individual tutors.

Leaving aside any concerns I have about the specific curriculums offered at these places, the bigger issue is this:If your child has a test on geometry next week, she is going to find it frustrating if the centre wants her to focus on algebraic fractions (because it’s where she is up to in the centre’s curriculum).

Back when I had my own education centre, I investigated all the popular franchises. Despite advertising to the contrary, it seemed to me the role of the “tutors” at these centres was primarily to shuffle kids between pre-designated computer programs or worksheets.

Mistake 7: Ruling out online tutoring

Have you had a horrible experience with poorly set up online lessons or been disgusted with your child’s “home learning” experience during COVID?

If so, I can understand why you might not currently be considering online tutoring!

You might be sceptical that aspects of a face-to-face lesson, like having a tutor watch your child as he or she works through a problem or establishing a motivating and supportive environment, can be recreated online.

Unless your child has had a positive experience with online mathematics tutoring, it is probably hard to imagine how it would work.

The big advantage of online tutoring, though, is that you are not restricted to tutors in your local area.

Many of my happiest long-term clients would have preferred to see someone in person but still found our online lessons far more valuable than any tutor available to see their child face-to-face.

There are aspects of face-to-face lessons I miss but, overall, I have found online tutoring to be more effective than face-to-face lessons. . . when done right.

Just as tutoring needs to be focussed on adapting to your child’s unique situation and learning style, so does the online set-up.

I could write a whole guide just on what to look for in a tutor’s approach to online delivery, but I won’t make this guide any longer!

My point is this: It’s worth trying tutors who are only available online and seeing for yourself how the experience compares to face-to-face options in your local area.

So, how should tutoring work?

Your tutor should be helping your child get to place where, ultimately, he or she doesn’t get stuck very often with classwork.

Unless your child gets to a point where he or she can work productively in class, there will always be a backlog of work your child is behind on . . . and needs the tutor’s help to cover!

Once your child is engaged and productive outside of tutoring lessons, then tutoring can be used to focus on:

  • tackling more challenging problems
  • retaining everything your child has covered so far
  • giving your child an edge in tests and exams.

Getting students to that “sweet spot” where they are ahead of the game requires:

  • diagnosing what bits of prerequisite knowledge that need brushing up on to support upcoming classwork
  • teaching effective strategies to learn independently
  • predicting likely “sticking points” to smooth the path ahead
  • having a program of revision to retain what has been learnt and apply that knowledge in assessments.

To get firsthand experience of what an effective tutoring lesson should look, feel and sound like – book a FREE Introductory Consultation with me.

PLEASE NOTE: This consultation is not a “sales pitch”. It’s not an intimidating “assessment” of your child.Instead, our lesson is a sample of what a mathematics tutoring session with me is like and a friendly chat with you and your child.

If I think I can help your child become more successful in mathematics, I’ll explain how. If I don’t think I’m a good fit for your child, I’ll tell you.

Either way, you will leave our consultation with a clearer idea of what to look for in an effective maths tutoring lesson.