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I call myself semi-retired, because I don't work in classrooms anymore. But maybe I should just retire: kids' attitudes today have me slightly baffled. I recently began working with a new high school student who had a summer reading requirement, a modern play, before his AP English class started. To aid him, so I thought, I researched and found (and printed out for him) a secondary reference article, giving some historical background on the play's topic. When I returned and asked him if he'd read it, he confessed that he hadn't. "Well," I said, "go get the article and we can discuss it together." He came back a moment later, somewhat sheepish: "I don't know where it is. You see, in school, we're never given anything on paper, so I don't really know how to keep track of papers. We are always given PDFs." I'm afraid my mouth dropped open a little-- no paper? You don't know what to do with a paper if I hand one to you? He explained, if you would just send... read more

It does happen sometimes- you've met a new student once, or twice, and they don't return. There are many possible reasons for this; it could be the tutor's approach, the student's expectations, or other external factors. This happened to me recently, despite all my tutoring experience, and I'll explain why. This college student came to me two days before an essay was due, with a poor first draft full of grammatical issues along with a poor grasp of the topic and supporting readings for it. She was desperate, and I believe expected me to just fix her paper for her. When I asked her how she deals with her second-language grammar problems, she explained that she uses an online program that supposedly corrects her grammar on her submitted draft. That is, she isn't really learning the grammar herself, but depending on a software program. In addition, she didn't grasp the admittedly-hard readings assigned in her text, and was very vague on her thesis. I reviewed the essay and suggested that... read more

I am occasionally contacted by parents of high school students with a request like this: "help, my child has an essay due next week/Monday and he's really struggling. He needs help with grammar and editing." I never accept these assignments and I will explain why. I also hope parents with such requests will think twice before seeking help like this. The problem is this: the student (likely non-native speaker) has been faltering, or receiving artificial support with homework that doesn't teach him how to write on his own. Suddenly a grade is on the line, and the parent expects a quick "band-aid", as if one lesson or editing the essay sentence by sentence will help. But there are problems with this approach. First, the teacher will probably recognize work not really prepared by the student. Second, the student is still not learning how to write; instead he is learning to "cheat" by having someone help him out, write it for (or with) him. I have even had... read more

An article on math education in the NY Times (July 23, 2014) wrote this about our teacher quality and resulting education: " In addition to misunderstanding math, American students also, on average, write weakly, read poorly, think unscientifically and grasp history only superficially." I would like to focus on my area of English: writing and reading. The article discussed teacher training and techniques to improve teaching results. I would like to add that for us tutors also, techniques to present our subjects are critical to help students. Some tutors are former or current professional teachers; others may be retired people from business, housewives earning extra money, college students, or even working professionals in various fields. It's fine to teach business skills to graduate students if you are an executive, swimming to children if you are a swimming coach, or history to high schoolers if your major is history. Yet, simply tutoring in your major field may not be... read more

A recent article in the New York Times on higher education stated that, "A review of MOOCs [large-scale online college courses] co-written by Professor Hollands of Columbia University’s Teachers College concluded that the typical community college student often did not have the literacy or the drive necessary to benefit from courses that require a lot of self-motivation and offer little if any face-to-face interaction." I want to emphasize the word "literacy" here since I teach English. In fact, the professor isn't referring to the simple ability to read a short text, but the ability to read a long and complex text, critically (or "deep reading"), and then being able to respond to it, criticize, analyze, evaluate, and summarize it, that is the skill of critical thinking. When I work with high school juniors and seniors, I find this skill being poorly modeled or practiced. A student recently asked when I assigned chapters in a novel to read, "should... read more

As a writing tutor for both adults and senior high school students, I sometimes get requests or face students with expectations, that I can't meet. If you ask a tutor for this kind of service, you might get refused, for good reason. First, if you are writing on a highly technical or specialized subject, such as engineering, psychiatry, or biotechnology, and expect a tutor to help you conceive of your paper, its sources, organization, literature review or other content, I may not be able to help you, especially after an hour's meeting. At least I would need time to learn a little about your field. But in fact, this is not what a tutor can do for you. A tutor can give feedback, suggestions, or editing assistance, but the content is your own. Second, if you are a student, applying to college for example, and want a tutor to help you shape your personal essay  or cover letter to make it sound polished or "unique", you also may not get this kind of help. To represent... read more

Although everyone wants to make a successful contact, find the right tutor or right student, sometimes it just doesn't work out. This happens to me occasionally, and my lesson has been--just move on, gracefully, politely, without hard feelings. Don't take it personally, it's a professional contact that sometimes misses. For tutors, you should know your requirements, your limits, your preferences. You may prefer a certain age, a certain gender, a certain skill level for your subject. You should note those in your profile's introduction if possible, so that prospective students don't waste their time in contacting you if it's not right. You should also determine after the first, or at most, second lesson if you feel this student will work, and if not, politely inform him/her or the parents, of this so they can search for a better match. Of course sometimes the problem may develop slowly with time, and again you should let them know if it's not working in your opinion, and why not... read more

In a NYT article of June 29, 2013, a recent report on employment from researchers at USC was quoted as follows: “When it comes to the skills most needed by employers, job candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving,” the report said. As an English and writing teacher, I found the part about "written communication skills" to be especially pertinent. It's what I teach-- to Silicon Valley engineers with advanced degrees, to high school students, to law students, and graduate students working on their thesis. It is a critical skill, hard to learn, hard to teach, but necessary. It is also most students' least favorite subject, one that makes them nervous to the point of tears sometimes, one that they can't understand why they need it, because unfortunately what they practice in school isn't much related to what happens on the job. It's only when I tutor a business... read more

We have all read news stories about American students' poor reading and writing skills, about plagiarism at the highest levels, about functional illiteracy. Anyone who tutors in any English subjects is on the front line of trying to improve our literacy and communication skills for all citizens. Therefore, we might receive requests to help students in "going over their papers", "cramming for a major test", or "writing their university application essays". If you do, please think twice about what service or dis-service we provide in enabling students to attain a goal they aren't really prepared for. When English tutors help students write their papers, apply to university, or take a major exam such as SAT, we must be held accountable for the amount of guidance we give vs. what we do on the students' behalf. Parents may want to apply pressure to have you help their child, who seems desperate and likely to fail, or get a poor grade. You must set a... read more

I have sometimes received inquiries about my tutoring work, with very limited information about the intended student, their current status and needs. If you are going to request information from a tutor or ask about their availability, I would suggest you write a thorough note and include this kind of information in it: * the student's first name, age, school level or working status (job title), and city or neighborhood * a brief statement of the student's current need and difficulty (for example, "I'm having trouble writing emails in my office") * the student's availability- days and times (for example, "an hour a week after 2 PM" or "Monday evenings") * an estimate of the total time you are considering (for example, "this school year", or "up to Christmas") * when you plan to begin (for example, "starting in June") * where you would like to meet- at home, in the office, or somewhere else The more... read more

Students may wonder, when they begin private tutoring, how much time they need to "improve their skills". In the case of English, either writing, or improving their foreign language skills, I have found that 15-20 hours is a good initial target for both students and tutors. This is enough time to become familiar with the tutor's methods and style, to relax and get into a learning mode again, to compare a "before" and "after", to make a self-evaluation. For tutors, this should be enough time to move a perceptible degree in the field, not a whole "level", but enough to show the student that he can improve, and you can help him. It also shows the student how intense this work can be, and helps him decide if he wants to continue the process. After about 20 hours, the student and tutor can discuss the progress to date, and any potential future work together. This is the time to review the original goals, any new or modified goals, a new or... read more

I find that nearly all private tutoring is quite intensive for both me and my students. The concentration, focus, attention, demands are often more than the students are prepared for when they seek tutoring. It's hard for someone who's never received private instruction to know how difficult it can be. Maybe for this reason, many students don't last beyond 10-20 hours of instruction. Especially in my area of ESL, lower-level students who claim they want to improve their skills quickly find that the work is too intense to sustain for long periods. Is there any way for a tutor to help moderate that intensity? In fact, there are a few ways, but nothing will fully alleviate the pressure of sitting one on one with a tutor. Taking a short pause is sometimes helpful, lightening up the mood, digressing to some personal asides, making a small joke, reflecting the focus back onto the tutor, are small actions that can relieve the focus. Yet learning any language, including English, from... read more

I sometimes teach advanced ESL to business professionals in Silicon Valley, where we have a large foreign population. These adult students come to me seeking help with their oral or written language when they face some crisis or deficit at work that they feel must be overcome to advance in their job, profession or field. They are often desperate to improve their skills immediately, even after having lived in the country 5-20 years or more. Silicon Valley is highly competitive, and they have scrambled hard and long to make it up the ladder, to compete with native-speaking peers, to pass job reviews and interviews. Suddenly they must return to a study mode with a private tutor, often after years out of school. Unfortunately, their learned business habits, their ingrained competitiveness, sometimes gets in the way of establishing a successful relation with a tutor. A tutor may be independently employed, "in business" so to speak, but I am not the VP of Human Resources... read more

In working with higher-level (usually adult) students in my field of ESL, sometimes I have noticed that they seem to actually need little help, yet they request services for what they feel are their deficiencies. Even after I listen to them carefully and assess their oral skills as quite good to excellent, with few or no obvious errors except for an accent, they insist they face difficulties which need remediation. While my pay is beneficial to me, I sometimes would like to tell potential students that they don't really have much of a problem that I can address. Yet they insist. This is when I remember that they may simply need a dose of self-confidence and a positive assessment from a perceived expert such as me. The need for positive reinforcement and confidence building is probably necessary in other disciplines too. I think sometimes students have seldom heard others praise their abilities or coping strategies, whether family, teachers, colleagues or superiors. In my field... read more

As a tutor who works with adults, I find that students have various, and sometimes hidden, motives for seeking to hire a tutor. Sometimes these motives seem to have little to do with learning English, for example, and instead are related to such outside factors as a job promotion, a negative job review, an outside income such as blogging, or even as a way to gather inside information about how the business of tutoring works, in order to promote a similar business themselves. It's sometimes impossible for me to determine, even when I ask a straight-forward question, why a potential student is seeking to hire a tutor at this particular time. This can be difficult for a tutor who tries to plan a particular curriculum, only to find the process cut off just as it begins; it can also be difficult for a student who doesn't explain the real reasons and goals for the tutoring he/she seeks. Let me give an example. A woman with advanced English skills came to me who had recently received... read more

Every tutor at WyzAnt sets his/her own fee for services, and every client choosing a tutor must decide how much he is willing to spend on education for himself or his/her child. The setting of fees involves many factors, including the local economy, competition, personal needs, and a view of professional value based on the skills offered. Clients determine how much they are willing to spend based on their budget, value for money, and comparative worth of a tutor’s qualifications. Unfortunately, sometimes these two perceptions don’t match. As a former college and corporate instructor, I know that teachers in an education system earn far more than they can ever charge in a private market, except under unusual circumstances. My former colleagues shake their head at my relatively low fees, unaware of the nature of the tutoring market. If you are leaving full-time employment and taking up tutoring for any reason, expect to earn less money. You will now be self-employed, will cover... read more

Both tutors and students (and maybe their parents) may wonder how to actually see student progress. In the case of English or ESL, there are subtle and indirect signs, but seldom anything stark or quantifiable. Therefore, I have to pay careful attention to notice when a student has actually "learned" something, such as new vocabulary, sentence structure, or how to read a complex article. Yet the signs are there. Here are a few examples. One student who I helped with writing first showed me some essays written for various classes, which were frankly failing papers in my estimation. They were full of sentence errors, mechanical errors (spelling and punctuation), and generally failed to make a strong point. I helped her by showing her the types of errors, and having her make corrections and do other practice exercises in her weak points. At the end, I asked her to produce a new paper from scratch, and with essentially no help from me, she produced a decently-written three-page... read more

A student told me recently that she was only the third person in her family who ever went to college. She has recently finished her B.A. and will soon start an M.A. program, at the age of 50. I told her how proud I was of her achievement and perseverance. But what most impressed me was her answer when I asked, so what do you feel has changed about you now that you have been to college. She answered, now I know I shouldn't waste my time on meaningless activities, like watching silly TV shows. I know that reading is much more interesting and stimulating, and I even enjoy doing the research required to prepare my school writing assignments. If there was ever a reason to be educated, this is it. Education means you know better than to waste your mind and your life on empty pursuits, and you might even decide that tutoring to improve your skills or knowledge, to have better career options, is something worthwhile. This kind of new awareness in a student is what makes me want to be a tutor.

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