Expert Math Tutor
My Story

Professional Tutoring Services
Audience: all

Professional Tutoring Services seem to be popping up all over the place. I can walk to four of them from my house. I think all these services are started with good intentions. But let's make no mistake. These services are run as businesses. And businesses have challenges. They have overhead - rent, advertising, and employees. They need customers. They must acquire customers and retain them. And they want their customers to use their service repeatedly.

How do they get customers? They employ professional marketers and/or professional marketing techniques to acquire them. It's the job of the marketer to bring customers in. It is not the marketers job to ensure the quality of the service provided is set to any standard. Good marketers do their job well. They entice and manipulate potential customers to obligate themselves to the tutoring service. They do not have your best interest in mind. That's not their job. Their job is to get people in the door. That's just the way businesses run and when competitors employ these techniques, they take market share away. This causes the business owner to employ the same techniques or go out of business. After all they have a business with expenses that have to be met. The business owner has no choice but to employ the same technique of doing whatever it takes to get the business in their doors.

Contrast this with the service I provide. I don't have a store front, my advertising cost is minimal, and I'm the only tutor. I guarantee the quality of the instruction I provide. In fact, if you're not happy with the instruction I provide, you do not pay. I don't have the pressure of having to meet overhead expenses. I can make sure I'm providing excellent service. I don't have to watch the clock while I study with a student. I can take the time to make sure my customers are taken care of and are getting value for their money.

All professional services I know of employ a business model of 3 students to 1 tutor. They attempt to sell this as a feature. They say this works well because after a tutor explains concept(s) to a student, the student has time to apply the concept on their own until the tutor comes back to see how their doing. This is a farce! The tutor needs to watch the student apply the concept(s) to problems. Students, more often than not, have difficulty seeing how to apply concepts and the tutor needs to guide the student through a few problems. The student will have plenty of time to try and apply the concept(s) on their own when the tutoring session is over and they're at home. The tutor should dedicate his time to making sure the student is assimilating the concept(s) and is able to apply them. But professional tutoring services can't afford to provide this level of service. They have expenses and "need" to have multiple paying customers for each tutor they have on the clock. This isn't the best way to help a student with math. The best way is to have a tutor that will sit with the student and watch the student attempt to apply the concept(s). That way the tutor can "read" the student and better understand where the student's understanding is breaking down. That way the tutor can teach to the student instead of simply explaining concept(s) the way the tutor understands them. Tutoring is an art.

Professional tutoring services can not afford to have exceptional tutors on staff. They would have to pay them too much. However, I'm certain most, if not all, tutoring services do have "some" very good tutors working for them. There are very good tutors who do not want to find business for themselves and would rather rely on the tutoring service to find students. These tutors could certainly make a better hourly wage if they found their own students. And the business model of 3 students to each tutor prohibits these good tutors from doing their job to the best of their ability. Any competent tutor will tell you it takes insight into where the student's understanding is breaking down in order for them to know how to cater their explanations to the students level of understanding. As a result, what you get from professional tutoring services is less than ideal. Add to this the fact that sometimes employees don't show up for work. Do you think tutoring services will turn away students when their tutor:student ratio is less than 1:3? Also, students are not guaranteed to get the same tutor each time they go to the tutoring service for tutoring. This is a negative because the tutor and the student develop a rapport over time. That rapport is very important to the students growth in understanding of the subject matter they are studying. The tutor and the student dial in to one another and this allows the tutor to know how verbose they need to make their presentation. This allows the tutor to know where they need to slow down and where they can speed up. It also allows the student to have confidence in the tutor. The student becomes aware that the tutor is an expert in the subject matter and is willing to listen when the tutor wants them to think about something in a different way or wants to guide them in a specific direction.

Also, tutoring services are expert in charging fees. Unnecessary fees! They want to charge registration fees and they want students to take costly assessment tests. Registration fees can cause the customer to feel locked in to a tutoring service. After all it will cost time and money to switch from one tutoring service to another. They say assessment tests will pinpoint where and what a student is not understanding. Students, almost always, want help with homework. They are already taking a class. The school they attend has already assessed the student and has put them in a class that is appropriate. I have a tough time believing that the tutor that works at the tutoring service makes any use of the assessment test. The tutor simply knows how to do the work and shows the student how they would do the problem. This is less than ideal and the assessment test is a waste of customer money.

Another thing tutoring services do is charge more for tutoring in subjects that are thought to be "more" difficult. Subjects like Calculus. Does this make sense? Is it not true that High School instructors want to teach Calculus? Why is that? It is because when you teach Calculus, you normally get a student that is more experienced with math. In Calculus classes you get students who do not have problems with "order of operations" or fractions or etc. You get students with a more sophisticated understanding of computational techniques. Students who understand computation are always much easier to teach than students who get stuck not understanding how to apply factoring, distribution, common denominators, and a myriad of items that are learned in the lower levels of math. You get students who not only can do the computation but who understand why the computation works the way it does - they are ready to expand their understanding. This is a much easier student to study with. If I had it my way, I'd charge more for Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, and Algebra II. But I can't - it just wouldn't be understood. I could charge more for Calculus but my own sense of what is right prohibits me from doing that - it's just wrong. Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus are all much more enjoyable (easier) to tutor than lower levels of math. It's just the way it is and it's evidenced by the fact that High School teachers would rather teach Calculus classes than Algebra I classes. There are exceptions to this. Statistics is a subject that is just inherently difficult to teach. The concepts are very involved and take a lot of focused effort to explain. And the problems encountered in a Statistics class are all word problems where you need to be very focused and detailed when you read the problems. To a much lesser extent Geometry is like this. Geometry is usually a students first real encounter with applying concept and their first encounter with doing proofs. This is difficult for many students. Especially difficult for students who do not possess strong computational skills and/or good study habits.

I hope this essay helps you understand how professional tutoring services fit in to your pursuit of education. The only real benefit I see to professional tutoring services is that they're easy to find.

Related essays:

SMART MONEY: 10 Things Tutoring Services Won't Tell You

Why do you charge more for Statistics?

Rates and Services Comparison

Send Email