The value of a private maths tutor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 January, 2015, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 January, 2015, 5:11pm

My son is falling behind in maths. I've tried to help him at home, but it always ends up in an argument. His teacher agrees that tuition would be a good idea, but how can we find a reliable and good maths tutor?

Some parents ask: why get expensive and time-consuming tutoring when we can do it ourselves? But anyone who has tried to teach their own children at home will empathise. It can be difficult and frustrating even if parents have the knowledge and skills to do it well. To save family relationships, it can be well worth hiring a tutor. Tuition can certainly be the answer for some students who need extra help in a certain subject and who may find the pace of school lessons a little too much.

However, you could explore the possibility of your son receiving extra maths support at his school. Meet with his teacher to ascertain his level of struggle and key areas of weakness. From class assessments and test scores, the teacher may be able to identify what resources the school might employ. Even if extra support is not possible, this information will be useful in helping him move forward.

One of the problems is that extra lessons can be even more overwhelming for children who struggle at school and have to work doubly hard to keep up with their peers. Although some parents opt for tutoring, think about it carefully and avoid feeling pressured by the decisions of others around you. Don't rush into such a commitment as it could lead to over-scheduling of academic activities at the expense of your son's happiness.

Talk to your son first and gauge his reaction. Would he go along to a tutor willingly or would he begrudge the time spent on extra maths sessions? Perhaps a few trial lessons might help to see if it works for him or not. In the end, it has to be the right thing for the child.

If you opt for a tutor, do your research as the quality varies widely. Good teaching is far more than having good subject knowledge. Ideally, the tutor can build a good rapport with the children and make sessions interesting, stimulating and fun. Chat to possible tutors to ascertain their levels of expertise and enthusiasm.

Qualified full-time teachers sometimes offer twilight tutoring, but this is usually more expensive and hard to come by. There are an increasing number of franchised operations following well-structured programmes. Small groups can be better value for money than individual tutoring and can be more enjoyable for the child as there is interaction with other children. High costs do not always translate into quality tutoring and value for money.

Check that tutors have a degree in the subject and have current teaching experience; there are those with few credentials and little relevant experience. And ask around, as someone recommended by another parent has been tried and tested. As far as the safety of your child is concerned, don't assume that other parents have made these checks.

Make sure you communicate your son's mathematical strengths and weaknesses and exactly what he needs to focus on. Short-term targets set by the teacher would be useful here. Check that the sessions will aim for a deep understanding of mathematics concepts and not just number crunching and calculation tricks. Although it is important to be able to manipulate numbers at speed, this has limited impact if there is little understanding of the underlying concepts and how to apply them to problems. There is an array of fun online activities that can help the development of arithmetic and problem-solving skills. Ask your son's teacher to recommend some.

Don't underestimate the importance of practising multiplication tables at home. Short, regular sessions aiming for instant recall are crucial for speed and confidence.

Make a mental note to use everyday opportunities to help your son practise all areas of maths, especially estimation, which is at the core of the subject. These include using money and checking change, weighing and measuring, and reading timetables and graphs.

Good teachers differentiate tasks so children are working at a level that is attainable but challenging. However, in a large class of students, they can only give limited attention to individuals. The key to your son progressing is confidence. It is important that he is willing to try different strategies and learn by making mistakes.

Julie McGuire teaches at a local primary school