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Finding the Best Tutor…

Summer's a great time to help kids catch up with schoolwork, with economical on-line tutoring services
Illustrative picture of kids and technology. (photo credit Serge Attal/Flash90)
Illustrative picture of kids and technology. (photo credit Serge Attal/Flash90)

Ahh…end of the year exams – a time when the majority of parents with kids in middle and high school often find themselves painfully revisiting chemistry or calculus or having to find tutoring help to get them through the year. In Israel, the “pre-Bagrut” season brings mass hysteria from parents while in the US, this usually happens before midterms and finals.

The good news is that tutoring des not need to break the bank. There are affordable and reasonable options out there if you know where to look. When searching for a tutor for your child, start by asking the following questions:

  • What is our goal? Is this a short term fix? Or, do I want to be pro-active and start tutoring from the beginning of the year?
  • How am I going to judge the service being provided? Is the sole goal to pass the final exam or do I also want to improve my child’s attitude and overall opinion of the subject?
  • What is my budget? This is sometimes a tough question to answer, as we parents of course want the best for our children. The most expensive options however do not always equal the best choices.

A lot of parents here in Israel start the search process by trying to find another peer to tutor their child. Sometimes, this can be a good short-term fix, but let’s remember that a friend or peer does not have the training or expertise to deal with any learning issues that may come up along the way. There is a reason teachers must be trained and certified. A good school would not have someone teaching biology, simply because he received an “A” in the course. Teaching is an art, and there are countless stories where tutors have helped students develop effective learning and study strategies that have really paid off. The friend down the street may be a great (and cheap) stop gap measure, but long-term, parents need to think about the big picture, even if it will cost more than 25 NIS per hour.

So, where do we go next? Most communities in both Israel and the US have available private tutors. Some are current teachers looking to earn a few extra bucks, and some are retired educators who want to stay active. When finding and selecting a tutor for your child, their qualifications, while important are not the only factor. When you find someone, request a trial session before committing to a long term arrangement. See if your child’s personality is a good match to the tutor. Just because this tutor helped your friend’s son, it does not mean it is a good match for your child. If a tutor refuses to do a trial, move on to someone else, as this should be an immediate red flag.

The challenge with in-person professional educators is the cost. These tutors know they are in high demand and, hey, they are also trying to make a living. Depending on your geographic location, tutors can cost over $100 an hour. A friend of mine who now lives in Israel used to tutor a private math student in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She used to receive $100 per session + dinner + transportation to and from. Not every location is New York, but finding good help is not always cheap.

Luckily, there is another option that as an online technology educator, I see more and more as an effective solution. An increasing number of students are taking advantage of online tutoring programs. Using one of the many platforms available (either general studies or Hebrew/Judaic studies programs), students can receive help in virtually any subject for a fraction of the cost of an in-person teacher. This type of option has only been around for a few years, but the feedback is starting to trickle in. Students and parents are often apprehensive about going the online route at first, but most students who give it a chance come away satisfied.

Of course, it all comes back to the format and style of the online services. Some online tutoring providers enable you to try out a few different tutors until you find a person you like. With other platforms, it is just luck of the draw, and you receive help from whoever happens to be online. When selecting an online tutoring platform, you should look for the following:

  • Where are the online tutors based? One online tutoring company received a lot of criticism because their tutoring staff was based in India where the accents and differences in dialect made it difficult for US students to really understand and collaborate with the tutor at the other end.
  • Is your school familiar with the online tutoring provider? If other students have used the same platform, the school can usually provide feedback and pointers. Some online platforms actually work together with the school to ensure that the tutor is on the same page as the classroom teacher.
  • Will the program agree to a trial session? As with in-person tutors, what works for one student does not always work for the other. Before making any long term commitments, it is good to have a chance to try it out.
  • How are the online reviews? Do your homework! This is still a new area so don’t get nervous if you can’t find any reviews. That does not mean it is a bad platform. Negative reviews though, should at least raise questions.
  • What tech support is offered? With anything online, there may be tech issues. If this happens what do you do? Is there a toll free number to call? Is there a searchable knowledge base? What happens to my session if there is a tech problem? Do I still need to pay?

The good news about online tutoring is that most platforms do not require extensive long term commitments, but it is still important to know what to expect from a provider.

Finding and providing help for our children can sometimes be a frustrating and expensive experience. However, if parents look at all the options and make an informed decision, they can find the best solution for their children, without breaking the bank.

About the Author
Aryeh Eisenberg is the CEO and General Manager of Bonim B'Yachad, an online education technology provider for schools and individuals. Based in Israel, Bonim B'Yachad works with students all over the world.
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