One of the most important steps to take once you’ve found a potential tutor is to conduct an interview. You want to make sure that the tutor is a good fit for your child (or for you) on every level.
Preparing for the Interview
Consider the following ideas as you prepare to interview the tutor:
Think about what you are looking to achieve through tutoring. Do you wish to improve a grade in a class? To strengthen a skill? To achieve a particular score on a standardized test? To be admitted to a particular school or type of program?
In your conversation, you should share recent evaluation and sample work, official or diagnostic test results (such as PSAT, PLAN results, etc.), and any learning disability details. Make sure to show the tutor a transcript, report card, or narrative report to give him or her an idea of your child’s (or your) academic performance.
Make sure you have a clear picture of the student’s academic and extracurricular schedule. You may have an ideal time you’d like the student to work with the tutor, but understand that the best tutors often have very tight schedules. Come prepared with multiple options in case the tutor isn’t available during your first choice.
Recent tutoring history
Is the student working with any other tutors on this or another subject? Has the student worked with tutors for this subject in the past? For how long? What was covered? What went well or poorly?
Bring a list of any other questions you want to discuss with the tutor.
The initial in-depth conversation can happen by the phone, Skype, or in-person, according to what works best for you and the tutor. Personally, I prefer to have the first in-depth conversation with my junior high and high school aged clients in-person. This allows me to sit down with the entire family and get to know both the parents and the student. Other tutors prefer to handle initial conversations remotely and focus on the parent first. Either approach can work.
When you have the initial conversation, there are a few very specific things you want to make sure you learn:
What to Focus on in the Conversation
1. Get to know the tutor.
You want to get a sense of the tutor’s background and experience level. How long have they been tutoring? Do they just tutor, or is there other work they do? What got them into tutoring? Why do they enjoy it?
2. Understand how the tutor will work with the student.
Ask specific questions about how the tutor will approach the problem at hand. How do they generally structure tutoring? How much work will it take to achieve the goal? How often will they need to meet with the student and for how long? What kind of work will they do when working with the student, and how much homework is expected in the process?
What you’re really looking for at this phase is a tutor who gives thoughtful answers that demonstrate experience and knowledge. You won’t necessarily know the right answers to the questions you’re asking here, but you can probably recognize answers that show a level of expertise and confidence on the part of the tutor.
Understand that some of these questions don’t have easy answers. For example, when new clients ask me how long it will take to prepare their child for the SAT or ACT, if they can’t provide me with a baseline score, my answer will usually be a pretty big range of possible hours and sessions.
That said, I always give context that allows the client to understand when it will take less time and when it will take more, what the variables are that impact how much time it takes to prepare for a test, what the process will look like, and how we’ll gauge progress.
A good tutor will make you feel like you’re in experienced hands, even if the answers to specific questions will often be something along the lines of “I can’t give you a really concrete answer until I know the student better.”
3. Get a sense of how well the tutor will get along with the student.
Any tutor you hire will be working very closely with your child. You want to make sure that the tutor and the learner will get along.
This is why I prefer face-to-face or Skype meetings with my prospective clients. It’s much easier for me to get a sense of how well I’ll work with a student and how well we’ll get along if we meet in-person, even if it’s through a tool like Skype.
A highly qualified tutor who doesn’t hit it off with a student probably won’t provide the same results as a tutor who does hit it off with the student; I think most people work harder for people they like, and in a tutoring relationship, that works both ways. The student will be more motivated to work for the tutor, and vice versa.
4. Communicate expectations.
Be very clear about your expectations, but also listen to what the tutor has to say. If your child is getting C’s in a class and your expectation is an A, the tutor will probably push back against that expectation. A tutor who promises too much is probably just saying what he or she thinks you want to hear so you’ll hire him or her. A tutor who is honest about what can be achieved will be more valuable in the long run than one who just tells you what you want to hear.
5. Make sure your schedules mesh.
As noted above, be prepared to be flexible. Great tutors often have very busy schedules.
6. Be clear about cost.
If you don’t know how much the tutor costs when you start the conversation, make sure to broach the topic. Tutors can be expensive, especially in major markets.
7. Be clear on logistics.
Find out how you need to pay the tutor, whether there are any materials you’ll need to get, what the cancellation or lateness policies are, whether the tutor is independent or works for an agency or company, what benefits that company offers to a client, and so on.
8. If you like the tutor, book the tutor.
Again, many tutors are very busy. If you have a great connection with a tutor, you’re satisfied with the tutor’s experience and approach, and the cost is in budget for you, don’t wait a long time to book. That perfect time in the tutor’s schedule may be gone if you wait a week or two to finalize your plans.
In the final analysis, the initial conversation is all about making sure the tutor is a good fit for the particulars of your family’s needs and situation. Come prepared with questions and with all the details the tutor will need to understand the situation, and you should be able to figure out whether you’ll work well together.