Educational Mercenaries

By Jack Newcombe

June 6, 2012 4 min read

In 1991, Will Smith's hit single "Summertime" boasted that summer is a time to "sit back and unwind," but like Smith's singing career, summer must eventually come to an end.

And though most parents and kids focus on clothes and Trapper Keepers, the most important thing to consider as school gets back in session is your child's education.

Your child's education is full of choices that you have to make -- for example, private or public, single-sex or coed, transfer or stay where you are. But one choice that might get overlooked is whether to hire a tutor.

Kathy Kubo is a college professor who has tutored off and on since she was 14 years old. Even while working at a large accounting firm, Kubo would tutor at her old high school for free because the importance of doing pro bono work and giving back was ingrained in her at an early age.

It wasn't until Kubo left her career at the accounting firm to get her master's in mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles that tutoring became a reliable source of income for her, and it helped pay for her own education. But tutoring seemed to be much more of a calling than it was a job or a revenue stream.

When discussing the value of tutoring, Kubo mentioned that there are certain perils that parents should consider before "getting in bed" with a potential tutor. Specifically, "you don't want someone who just gives answers and just spoon-feeds the correct numbers. You want someone to encourage 'productive struggle.'"

When asked to define the "productive struggle," Kubo said: "If students don't have that experience of struggling and working through a barrier, then when it comes to taking a test, they won't know what to do. They are used to having a crutch, someone to give them the answer immediately. As a tutor, you want to moderate and facilitate those types of discussions."

Kubo also warned that when looking for a tutor, you should look out for "people who have difficulty explaining concepts in multiple ways; one way doesn't work for all students." When asked what the most important quality is in a tutor, Kubo declared, "Patience."

However, according to Kubo, the value of a good tutor is immeasurable and certainly worth the money. In fact, "if you can choose the right tutor, someone who is a good fit for your child, then there are benefits beyond mastering the subject matter."

Specifically, "good habits for math and the mindset that accompanies those habits can be translated into other areas for success, even other areas of life."

Life lessons aside, there is still value in having a tutor, as opposed to a teacher or even a parent, educate a student. "Some parents don't have the time or the expertise to work with their kid, so they need somebody." Also, it is "nice to have somebody else explain a subject, because the student will be more likely to listen to the tutor than the parent if there is a good relationship." When dealing with parents, there is the potential for other issues to cloud the learning process, and with a teacher, it might be difficult to have a one-on-one relationship with a student, but a tutor can give the guidance of a teacher without the emotional baggage of a parent.

You cannot definitely say whether tutors are worth the money. The right tutors are certainly worth the money, but they are hard to find. Kubo declares that tutoring "can be worth the money but is not always. If it's not a good fit, then the parent should pass. It's all about finding a good fit."

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