Trilogy Blog

How to Tell If a Student Needs Tutoring

Author: Erika R. Carson, Ed.S.

Published: August 28, 2020

“To tutor or not to tutor … that is the question.” Actually, the question should be “Does my student need help?” and if yes, “what type of help do they need?” The solution to helping students with their schoolwork doesn’t always mean hiring a tutor, coach, or mentor. Sometimes kids are struggling in school because they can’t hear the teacher, they can’t see the board, or they just have too many extracurricular activities. In those cases, you would just adjust the students’ seating and/or get them the assistive devices they need, and/or reduce the number of unrelated obligations. However, if your student is just not understanding what they are supposed to be learning or performing in class, don’t wait too long before stepping in and exploring what is behind the issue.

It’s very possible for students to be successful in a class that they don’t like or in a class with a teacher they just aren’t connecting with – many kids are wired to power through any issues because they are self-motivated and hyper-focused on the end goal. For other students one negative experience with a class or a teacher can mean a lifetime of struggles, so early intervention is critical. Students who need support may be fragile – they may not realize they need help, or they may not want it when if it’s offered, because they don’t want to be different, so parents, guardians and/or teachers need to navigate this process very carefully. Blaming students or personal attacks will only send kids running in the opposite direction.

Start with talking to the student – parents, guardians, and teachers should be checking in on their students regularly so that they have a well-developed understanding of how their student performs in-school from day-to-day. It is possible that there is a non-academic issue that is impacting their academic performance. Consider that there may be issues with bullying by other students or a teacher, there may be family issues going on, there may be issues with abuse, there may be medical issues, or there may be financial instability. From experience, I can say that I have had some very bright students struggle because they were being shuffled between homeless shelters every evening, and it was taking an extreme emotional toll on them. Ask the student about what’s going well, what’s not going so well, and then what the difference is between the two.

You’ll need to be able to put all the puzzle pieces together in order to identify the most appropriate supports for a student. Talk to all of the student’s teachers and advisors, talk to the student’s parents if you are the teacher, talk to the parents of his/her peers to see if they are struggling with the same courses. Then explore what resources are available to your student inside and/or outside of school. You’ll have to make a decision based on what’s the best fit for your schedule, finances, and your student’s particular needs.

If the student needs support with organizational skills or confidence an academic coach might be the best fit, however, if they are struggling with a specific concept related to one or more subject, getting a tutor or academic mentor with a higher level of expertise may be a better way to go. Whoever it is that is helping the student, make sure they are vetted, make sure that the student is comfortable with them, and check in regularly to see if they are having a positive impact on the student – a bad fit can be worse than no support at all. Early action can be the difference between long-term success and self-advocacy for students, and a lifetime of unnecessary struggles, so don’t hesitate when your gut is telling you something doesn’t seem right with your student. Doing this work upfront will make a big difference in the student’s life. So, going back to the initial question… “to tutor?” Yes, if it’s the best solution.

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