You’ve seen the splashy adverts on busses; you’ve had the WhatsApp messages about must-try tutors from your friends. But how do you choose the tutor that’s right for you and your child? And once you’ve chosen, how do you get the most out of the tuition itself?
Here’s some career-honed advice on finding the best tutor for your child.
Over half the students in Hong Kong have after-school tutors. In fact, a LegCo publication put it at 50-75 percent of kids here, and they’re doing almost five hours a week. (Those figures were taken before the closure of school campuses and subsequent online learning. So, the percentage is likely to be even higher now.) That’s a lot of kid time and a lot of parent money, so you want to make sure you’re getting the most from it.
Choosing a Tutor
In one way – and only one way – finding a tutor for your child is a little like dating. There is no best tutor, only what works best for you. Put some time into figuring out what your child needs so you know what your version of best is. This really helps when you speak to potential tutors; you can easily spot the ones who respond well to what you’re looking for.
Have a specific goal in mind – This might be ‘Increase my child’s understanding of calculus,’ or ‘Improve my kid’s oral presentation skills.’ If your goal is just to follow a friend’s recommendation of a great tutor, your child’s not going to get the most out of it. The clearer you are on the specifics, the better you’re able to choose the right tutor for your child.
Know what your broad focus is – In HK, it can be easy to get sucked into always thinking of the next exam or test. But education is a marathon, not a sprint. Your long-term aims are important for a tutor to work towards. So, be clear whether you want to prepare for a future move abroad, to foster independent thinking, or perhaps cultivate creativity.
Require original feedback – Some tutors just tell you what they think you want to hear – if you say your daughter has weak grammar grades, those tutors will suggest a grammar class. However, a good tutor will give you specific feedback related to your focus and goal. They’ll assess the deeper issues behind your child’s grades.
Perhaps your kid understands grammar rules perfectly well, but she’s careless. In that case, grammar classes would be dull and unhelpful. The tutor might suggest some drilling in the run-up to exams, but they won’t recommend a weekly class of it. Instead they might advise a writing class to improve self-checking and grammar use in context, which will also help with long-term improvement and enthusiasm for the subject.
Tutors do not do the same work as school teachers. Of course, a well-prepared tutor follows a curriculum, but they also adapt it to fit a child’s needs. If you want to get the best out of that individual attention and flexibility, make sure the tutor is well-informed about your kid from day one.
Share your focus and goal – A writing class can be tweaked to emphasise descriptive vocabulary, creativity, or grammatical accuracy among a host of other things. Remind your tutor about the focus and goal you have for your child in the first few weeks to help them prepare exactly what your kid needs to improve.
Set expectations – If your child doesn’t have time for homework, make it clear straight away. Or perhaps your little angel has a habit of ‘forgetting’ their homework and needs a note sent home specifying what’s been assigned. Requests like this are easy to accommodate. There are many things which parents wait too long to tell tutors they want, such as exercises which follow the school curriculum, or good enough grades to switch sets. The parents who get the most out of tutors share this information early and follow up on it often.
Key dates – If your child has exams coming up (e.g. Cambridge YLE, IELTS, or school tests), tell the tutor about these. It’s best if you can write these dates down so that busy tutors can keep track of them easily. A good tutor should be able to give advice and assistance regarding upcoming exams, even if that’s not the usual focus of their lessons.
See also: Learning Mandarin Hong Kong – The Basics
The big thing which sets apart parents who get the best out of tutoring from the rest is their sustained relationship with the tutor. They go further than passing on key dates and exam scores by sharing excitement over upcoming holidays, talking about their kid’s hobbies, and asking how the tutor’s weekend went. This helps the tutor build a connection to their kid, and everyone goes the extra mile for someone they have a bond with. Not only that, but by doing this, parents open up conversations about some really important things.
Long-term planning – Unlike school teachers, tutors get a very close picture of different types of kids. They teach these students for several years. This means the tutor can tell you that you needn’t worry about your son’s low maths grades in primary school. For example – he’s mixing up school work with more advanced things he’s studying independently, but kids who can understand these things at his age are always acing tests within a few years. Let your tutor know that you’re thinking about the long-term and they’ll give you some great input for your planning.
Push-back – Once you’ve got past the initial politeness of a parent-tutor relationship, you can make it clear you’re open to push-back on your ideas. You might complain that your child is doing badly at school because they’re lazy. A tutor with whom you have a good relationship will feel able to correct you if they don’t agree.
Your kid isn’t lazy – they’ll happily conduct twenty different experiments to make the biggest baking-soda and vinegar explosion. They’re not lazy; they just need to be more consistently motivated. If you can make it clear that you welcome this sort of push-back, you can get some very useful feedback on your kid. What’s more, the tutor will likely have some great tips on what works with kids like this.
Willow Hewitt is the Head of English at the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of i-Learner Education Centre. She has been teaching in Hong Kong for several years.
This article was updated in September 2020.