Teachers just have a daunting task,” says Maureen Laufenberg, owner of Twin Cities Tutors & Co. “You have 30-plus kids in a classroom who all need different levels of attention and have different interests and ways they learn, so to try to get all of them to be focused and interested and pay attention is virtually impossible.”
That’s where tutoring comes in. With the increasing competitiveness of the classroom, it’s not just for kids who are struggling to stay afloat anymore. Some choose tutoring to help with advanced classes, develop focus and study skills, or to master standardized tests like the ACT and SAT.
Finding a tutoring option that fits your family’s needs—and budget—can be a challenge. Sarah Dodge, owner of Homeworks for Students, also servicing the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and beyond, started her business as a result of her own personal experience. Dodge’s daughter, who struggled with a learning disability, “loved school and wanted to do well,” but didn’t absorb material in the same way as her classmates.
Her daughter was frustrated with being pulled out of her classes for extra help, and Dodge was overwhelmed with the process of hiring a qualified tutor on her own. Her daughter’s tutor “taught her how she learned best” and helped her build the foundation to be academically successful. “Often times problems can be nipped in the bud [with] a solid foundation,” Dodge says.
Does my child really need a tutor?
There’s a maze of tutoring options available for parents in the Twin Cities area, but how do you even begin looking—or even know whether your child needs one?
“October is the busiest month for seeking out a tutor,” Dodge says. At this juncture in the school year, the first few assignments and tests are in the grade book, and it’s becoming evident if your child is struggling with the material, or his or her skills have regressed over the summer. “Don’t wait until it is crisis time,” Dodge urges parents.
Your child doesn’t need to be falling behind to warrant hiring a tutor, however. “There are usually two scenarios/ either you have a student who is not being truthful about their work so [parents are] seeking additional accountability, in terms of making sure the student is … getting things done, and the other scenario is that their student is a very active athlete or [involved in] other things and needs someone to help them sit down and get focused on their work,” Laufenberg says.
Keep reading for a breakdown of the different tutoring options available in the Twin Cities, including their advantages and pitfalls.
National learning centers
When you think of tutoring, it’s likely that names such as Sylvan Learning, Huntington Learning Center, and Kumon—just a few of the national companies with locations in Minnesota—come to mind.
Although each company operates under a slightly different philosophy, there are a few basic things to expect. First, tutoring will likely be at the place of business. For parents and kids with busy schedules, this can sometimes present an additional hurdle to getting the academic boost they need—or be a great place to keep distractions from home at bay.
Secondly, most national tutoring companies operate under a group tutoring philosophy. As Vanessa Johnsen, the district educational manager for Sylvan Learning Center, explains it, a three-to-one student to teacher ratio is proven to help students learn the best. Each student has his or her own program, but all of them are learning from each other as well as the instructor.
Meanwhile at Huntington Learning Center, “Instruction is strictly one-on-one for elementary students and exam prep, but we use a four-to-one ratio for our other programs,” regional director Lane Rossiter says.
Also keep in mind that although curriculum is tailored to fit your child, they usually operate under a broader program, like reading comprehension skills, test prep, or homework help; national learning centers are typically geared toward long-term skills improvement rather than short-term homework help. Monthly parent conferences—or more frequently if desired—are also part of the package, according to Johnsen.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of these national companies is that their broad base allows them to offer financing and flexible payment plans. “Any student can get ahead while [having it] be easy and affordable,” Johnsen says.
Local tutoring companies
In many ways, local tutoring companies, such as Homeworks for Students and Twin Cities Tutors & Co., combine the best of what private tutors and learning centers have to offer. Background checks on potential tutors are taken care of for you, and these companies will typically send tutors to your home, so there’s no need to make a stop at a local strip mall learning center between soccer practice and oboe lessons.
Because they don’t follow any given model and there can be a wide variation between them, be sure to do your homework when looking into private tutoring companies. According to Dodge, all of her tutors either have master’s degrees in education or an undergraduate degree in the subject they specialize in, but don’t be hesitant to ask about a potential tutor’s qualifications.
Many of these companies have their own niche in the market—for instance, Collegiate Tutors allows clients to purchase tutoring time by the hour through PayPal, and Homeworks for Students offers parents online access to weekly progress reports from their child’s tutor.
While local and national tutoring companies take on the responsibility of performing background and reference checks on the tutors they hire, hiring a private tutor requires parents to complete this task themselves. Care.com and tutormatch.com are both good places to start when looking for a private tutor, but word-of-mouth from friends and neighbors or asking your child’s teacher for suggestions can be helpful too.
Despite the extra legwork required, this option has a few advantages. You’ll have access to a larger pool of potential candidates and can make the learning plan suit your terms. Hiring your child’s teacher for after-hours help is a viable option as well, but only if they already have a good relationship and doing so wouldn’t inhibit their interactions in the classroom.
Private tutoring isn’t a bad idea for those students who are motivated and know what they want to gain from tutoring, or have worked with other learning centers or tutors and knows what works—or doesn’t work—for them. •