Tutoring choices abound; just do your homework

When science project time arrived for sixth-grader Katya Gutierrez, her mom hired a tutor.

“I got the idea from another single mom,” said Barbara Gutierrez, remembering talking with a fellow parent at Coral Gables Elementary about how she and her daughter “were so overwhelmed and so drained” doing previous projects. “Now it’s very complicated, “ Gutierrez said, requiring a power-point presentation as well as a display board.

Tutoring in all academic areas has exploded, say Dr. Sandi Ayez, executive director of the National Tutoring Association. “There are probably more than 3 million [individuals] in the United States that are involved in tutoring,” said Ayez, whose organization trains and certifies tutors.

“The negative aura surrounding tutors has lessened,” Ayez said. Parents hire tutors for help with a difficult subject, for prep for the FCAT and even for help applying to colleges.

While some companies advertise names of private tutors online, tutors and parents overwhelmingly recommend word of mouth. That’s how Gutierrez, a media relations officer with the University of Miami, found her daughter’s tutor — “from other mothers at Coral Gables Elementary.”

With a personal reference, “people can share what kind of experience” they have had, said Dagmar Murphy of Kendall, a retired teacher who has been tutoring since 2005.

Longtime tutor Debi Griffith, special ed coordinator at Devon Aire K-8 Center, suggests asking school counselors or assistant principals for names or getting involved with the PTSA where it’s easy to find others who’ve hired tutors.

“One of the biggest mistakes a parent makes is they interview the tutor but they don’t let the child. I suggest [you] let the student be in the room and listen to everything you say to the tutor. Then leave the tutor with the student for a sample lesson,” Ayez said.

After the tutor leaves, ask for the child’s opinion. They tend to be very honest. The ultimate decision about who gets hired should be up to the student, Ayez said.

Current teachers are popular choices as tutors. They know the curriculum and what is being covered in each nine-week period. They also have undergone a background check.

However, Ayez sees advantages with hiring younger, less expensive tutors. “A lot of college students that we train have a good rapport with students,” said Ayez. “Don’t discount another high school student who’s doing awesome in the subject your student’s needing, or a college student.”

When hiring, make sure the gave references and background check, Ayez said, then listen for cues.

Do they act like they have a passion for what they’re doing? Do they have experience teaching a child like yours? Are they tutoring to earn money or because they love it? What is their teaching style? Are they willing to communicate with the child’s teacher?

Kirk Nieveen, a science curriculum specialist with Miami-Dade schools who tutors middle- and high-school students, said the tutor needs to ask about the child’s strengths and weaknesses, “not only the parent’s vision of what the situation is but what the student thinks it is.”

“If a tutor says I can guarantee I’ll raise your child’s grade to an A, don’t hire him,” Ayez said. Children learn at their own pace. What a tutor can do is “guarantee over time your student will do better,” Ayez said.

How much time that will take can vary from weeks to months. In one study, children tutored in reading for two months improved their reading comprehension at 4.4 times the normal rate and were still improving at twice the normal rate four months after the tutoring ended.

An analysis of 65 studies on tutoring’s effectiveness found positive, though modest, gains in achievement.

In South Florida hourly rates for one-on-one tutoring vary from $25 to $75, depending on qualifications. Specialized tutors often charge more. Jeannie Floyd, principal of Nob Hill Elementary in Broward, said certified teachers she knows charge $40 to $45.

Andre Dominguez, 24, charged “maybe $10’’ when he was tutoring fellow students at Miami-Palmetto High School.

“The difference between then and now is I was basically sharing information’’ rather than “being a guide on the side” helping students figure things out for themselves, said Dominguez, who is now an NTA-certified tutor.

Even at $45 an hour for a private teacher, parents would pay “way more than that” to send their child to one of the commercial tutoring companies, said Charise Coleman, principal of Central Park Elementary School in Broward.