“How do I find a math tutor?” is really the wrong question. Finding someone who tutors math is easy. In the twenty-six years since MATH 1-2-3® was founded, the tutoring space has gotten very crowded. We have seen tutors and tutoring companies come and go. Tutoring is not as simple as it may seem. We have seen that for students and families looking for help in math, finding someone who will tutor a student in math is rarely a problem. A genuine math tutoring company, with real math tutors, is much harder to come by.
There are all different kinds of math tutoring students: those who need to catch up and those who want to get ahead, those who need to pass a test and those who want to ace a test, those who hate math and those who love math – and every kind in between. Experienced tutors who specialize in math understand the difference between these types of students and tailor their work to each student’s individual needs. The goal is to work with the student and the student’s family to understand the goals of tutoring, the student’s preferred learning style and the way in which the student and math tutor can best work together.
Older students who tutor, homework helpers and tutors who do not focus on math, often lack the experience to know how to adapt to teach students of varying abilities, varying goals and varying motivations. Specialized math tutors work to appreciate each student’s goals and how each student needs to learn. For a student who is looking to catch up, who needs to learn previously taught material or who is struggling, the best approach will vary from student-to-student. Some of those students may want, or need, a comprehensive assessment by an experienced math tutor to determine where the student’s holes in knowledge are before the tutor can craft the best approach to working with the student. Others will want, or need, to start the tutoring session with material from a few subjects, chapters, or even a few courses back, to reinforce what the student was not taught, did not learn, or did not understand. For a student who is looking to pass a required class, the approach may be for the tutor to focus the tutoring sessions on large concepts and basic principles that apply to the subject, so that the student is more likely to be able to answer high value questions correctly. For a student looking for a competitive advantage, the tutoring sessions are likely to challenge the student with more difficult problems, to stretch and expand the student’s understanding and abilities. No matter the student’s objectives, the goal is always to meet the student where the student is and work together to get to where the student wants to be.
Yes, some students and their families find that a fellow student who has recently taken the same course can help a struggling student, or a student looking to learn more. Some students and their families are looking for a generalist tutor who knows enough in a range of subjects, like math, English and history to help the student pass math. Some students and their families turn to self-guided online courses or to search engines to help a student with math. YouTube and Google can be great resources for people looking for guidance on do-it-yourself projects repairing leaky faucets, and decorating cakes like famous people, but learning math does not lend itself to a do-it-yourself approach. Other students and their families are looking for a math specialist who is not learning along with the student, but has a real working knowledge of not only the math subject the student is studying, but fundamentally understands the math skills the student needs to tackle that math class and the others to come. It may seem obvious, but someone cannot teach when they do not know. Most students find it more helpful, more satisfying and more productive to work with an experienced tutor who really knows the material and can teach it very well.
Sometimes, students and parents are looking for a “homework helper” who can work through problems with the student. Issues come up when the student presents a homework problem, or test-prep problem, that the helper does not anticipate, and is not prepared to answer. Often, students are called upon to use skills they learned in a prior math class, or earlier in the year. As we have discussed in a prior article, math is a subject that builds on itself and students need to have a good working knowledge of foundational skills. If the student’s homework helper can’t identify which earlier-taught skills are required for a problem and can’t quickly recall those building blocks, then the homework helper will struggle to help the student properly. No students want to hear that the tutor “has to get back” to them with the answer.
Jack-of-all trades-type tutors can work with a student in a wide variety of subjects, but many students find that a tutor who focuses exclusively on math is best-equipped to work with them on math. Math specialists have not only a broader understanding of math topics and math skills, but a deeper understanding as well.
Students cannot develop high confidence in their own math skills when they do not have strong confidence in the adults supporting them in their schoolwork, homework and test prep. The fact that the homework helper or generalist tutor does not know how to answer a student’s question tells the student, although unintentionally, that the math material is not important, or even worth learning.
Other times, issues arise when an advanced, or intellectually curious, student wants, or needs, to understand the “why” behind math problems. Less experienced tutors are often unable to offer that information, leaving students feeling unsatisfied and undermining their confidence in the tutors who are supposed to help and support them.
Many high-level, or advanced, students, are looking for a tutoring experience that not only leaves them more confident in the material they are being taught in school at the time, but are looking to be challenged and stretched, to better prepare for more advanced classes and for standardized tests. High achieving students with already-solid standardized math test scores are often looking for a competitive advantage, to raise their math scores even higher. They may be looking to show colleges higher classroom grades and higher standardized test scores, or they may be looking to achieve certain scores on the AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, or AP Statistics exams to secure college credit.
When it comes to math tutoring, there is a lot more than math that enters the equation (pun intended?). Students, as a whole, tend to have more anxiety around math than they do around other subjects. “Math anxiety” is often discussed, but there is no widespread discussion of “English anxiety” or “Earth Science Anxiety.” An experienced math tutor recognizes and can help lessen math anxiety, by offering strategies that build the student’s confidence. That ability to identify when a student is allowing nerves to interfere with math performance is one of the things that sets experienced tutors apart.
Every math student seeking tutoring deserves the best experience and the best outcome. Finding the right tutor is the first step toward math success. Don’t just “find a math tutor”; find the right math tutor.