When Push Comes to Shove: When and Why Baltimore Parents Hire Tutors

Tutoring relationships often start out something like this: it’s late in the grading period, and your freshman or sophomore is struggling in Algebra II. He barely passed the class last semester and swore he would try harder, but he’s still floundering. So you decide he needs extra help and seek out a tutor.

Or, perhaps you have a bright junior who took the SAT for the first time last month. She does nowhere near as well as she thought she would, so you enroll her in a SAT class with all of her friends. But the class turns out to be a waste: the strategies she learns are vague, she receives little individual attention, and her score hardly improves. So you scramble to find a personal tutor who can rectify the situation by May or June — the last two months of SAT test dates before fall of senior year.

In these cases as in most, the impetus for hiring a tutor is an ardent hope to fix an immediate problem, immediately. The issue with this approach isn’t just that the time constraints make the prospect of success more of a gamble; rather, it undermines a tutor’s potential to make a significant impact on your child’s academic trajectory.

In other words, even if your son ends up with an ‘A’ in Algebra II or your daughter improves her SAT score by 200-300 points, the tutor who made each feat possible is only addressing one specific, albeit important, area of academic concern. A great tutor, in my opinion, views this success as one facet of the bigger academic picture for your child.

To illustrate this point, I’ll examine each case individually. In my experience, your Algebra II student is not just struggling because of the new, difficult concepts in class. Rather, he likely lacks a strong foundation in Algebra. Or, perhaps he excelled in Algebra last year but is finally confronting a level of difficulty that necessitates the effective study habits and time management strategies that seemed unnecessary before. A stellar tutor recognizes these underlying issues and implements a long-term plan to address them.

For many, the bigger picture becomes a study of all the small details that add up to influence a college admissions decision. This reality is certainly the case for that bright junior who needed help preparing for the SAT. She probably has a few very selective colleges at the top of her list, and improving her SAT score is a fantastic way of boosting her chances. In such a competitive college admissions environment, however, a strong SAT score is just one of many factors that impact an admissions decision. In terms of standardized testing, SAT Subject Tests and AP (or IB) tests are also very important. So are questions like who will write her recommendation letters? Will her recommenders characterize her as intellectually curious or simply a hard worker? Does she have an academic passion, if so, how has she pursued it outside of class? Is her course load challenging enough for her? And what extracurricular activities help her stand out among her peers? The list goes on.

In this sense, the hard work your daughter put into improving her SAT score will be far less valuable if she ignores everything else that influences the admission decision. This is also true for your Algebra II student, who has more time to impact his college prospects.

If you are in the market for simple homework help, well, that’s a different story. On the other hand, if you consider tutoring a real investment in your child’s future, now is the time to search for a tutor who has the experience and expertise to guide your child through high school. Maybe your student doesn’t need tutoring at the moment, but a conversation with someone who can advise you about what’s ahead will undoubtedly help.