Updated: Jul 7
Determine whether a private math tutor or a tutoring center is the better fit for your child!
Walking into the first tutoring session with a new student brings me nerves and excitement. But this time, my heartbeat raced faster.
This was the first student asking to learn an entire subject outside of school.
I put pressure on myself before I even met the student. I worried her success or failure rested solely in my clammy hands.
Despite her confident stride walking through the library doors, I can’t imagine how anxious her mom must have been. Worried about finding a reliable tutor. Someone who would help her child learn. Help her child succeed.
What if the tutor isn’t experienced enough to identify her child’s learning style? Or can’t explain math in a way that makes sense? Will she be able to get ahead without having gaps in her understanding?
A petite red-headed girl appeared from behind her mom’s shadow. As I smiled at her, she looked away, reluctantly flashing a smile with a mouthful of braces.
Despite being shy, she did not shy away from any math problem I threw her way.
Emily was advanced in math but her middle school didn’t offer advanced math courses. She wanted to get ahead. She wanted to learn Algebra I as an 8th grader so she could start high school in Geometry, a year ahead. She tried going to a local tutoring center at first, but the instruction was not personalized enough for her goal.
Private Math Tutor or Tutoring Center?
Perhaps you’re in a similar situation, wondering if private math tutoring or a tutoring center would be a better fit for your child. Follow the flow chart to help you decide. Once you identify your child's needs, see the matching description below for further explanation.
1. The teacher moves too quickly.
The biggest difference between tutoring centers and private tutors is the small group versus one-on-one instruction. If the pace of class is too fast for your child, a small group setting may not be effective. When multiple students are taught simultaneously, instructors must teach “to the middle.” This pace for small groups may still be too fast. One-on-one sessions with a private tutor ensure the pace is appropriate for your child.
2. My child doesn’t understand the teacher's explanations.
Hearing a topic explained from a different perspective helps. A different explanation can come from a friend, another teacher, or a tutor. Finding someone who can clearly explain math topics can be found at a tutoring center or through a private tutor.
3. Studying doesn't result in successful grades.
Your child may not know how to study math. In the video, I suggest solving different types of problems, so students are prepared for any type of test question.
The best tutor in this scenario would be a private tutor who has taught the subject. That way, the teacher can provide practice tests for students and predict test questions based on common student misconceptions.
4. They've struggled for a while and have gaps in foundation.
To diagnose gaps in foundation, you’ll want a tutor who offers a pre-assessment. All tutoring centers offer pre-assessments and some private tutors do as well. The pre-assessment gives a starting point to begin instruction.
Let’s assume you found a private tutor who offers a pre-assessment. The difference between a tutoring center and that private tutor is in the planning and teaching stages. From my understanding (and brief experience tutoring at a learning center albeit years ago), the instructors at tutoring centers don’t plan. They are told where to start and have books and worksheets to have students complete to fill in gaps in understanding.
A private tutor takes on all 3 stages: pre-assessment, planning, and teaching. Because all these stages are connected, lessons are more personalized. If a private tutor recognizes a student is mastering a concept, they have flexibility to jump ahead to the next gap in understanding. A tutor at a tutoring center may have to follow a predetermined lesson plan.
5. I want them to learn the next subject to get ahead.
While tutoring centers offer enrichment to challenge students, they don’t typically teach the next subject to students. This is the predicament Emily was in.
Instructors at tutoring centers are typically students in high school or college with no education or math degree. While they may be knowledgeable enough to cover the content of a course they’ve previous taken, they don’t necessarily know the scope and sequence of curriculum. Thus, they may not know the next topic the student will cover at school.
And as I mentioned earlier, tutoring centers mostly teach in small group settings. Hypothetically, Emily would have been grouped with Algebra I students, who are enrolled in Algebra I at school. Emily wasn’t in Algebra I at school so she would be at a disadvantage in that group. She would need more individual instruction.
The best case scenario is to find a tutor who has taught the subject your child needs. They will already have prepared notes, assignments, and assessments to ensure your child is on track and meets state standards.
6. I want to ensure they excel in their current class.
Again, tutoring centers do offer enrichment. However, I think the best way for students to succeed in their math course is by reviewing old content and previewing new content. An experienced teacher will give mastery “quizzes” regularly to assess students understanding of concepts. The important idea is to assess content from the beginning of the year as well as current content so older concepts are remembered and connected to new concepts.
Once the current class topics are mastered, an experienced teacher can teach the next concept. Students can go into class being ahead and confident in the new material.
It’s useful to note that higher level math usually requires more individualization. As students get into high school or college, several math concepts may be involved in one problem. Having the one-on-one support of a private tutor will ensure deeper understanding.
7. ACT/SAT Preparation
Tutoring centers offer all subjects whereas most tutors only specialize in one subject. If you’re looking for a wholistic approach to the standardized tests, a tutoring center would be best. If your child only needs help on the Math ACT section, for example, a private tutor may be more beneficial.
Consider renting a test prep book from the library or checking out Khan Academy for SAT prep. If your child is self-motivated enough to go through a study plan on their own, it could save you money.
8. AIR Test
Perhaps your child gets anxious about taking state tests or needs a review of the content from throughout the year.
From my brief research, it doesn’t appear that tutoring centers offer AIR test preparation so a private tutor may be your only option. Try to find an experienced teacher who can offer additional student resources, review guides, and can reteach concepts that your child struggled with throughout the year.
What is best for your child?
Emily’s mom decided a private tutor would best suit Emily’s needs. Although she wasn’t enrolled in Algebra I in school, I taught her the content and assessed her along the way. Are you interested in how she fared on her Algebra I placement test? Read the rest of the story, including her struggles with solving quadratic equations.
I will tell you that I had no reason to have clammy hands in the beginning. Her mom left a review saying:
“Meryl has been a great help for our daughter. She has taught our daughter so much in such a short time. We tried other math tutoring facilities but you were not given one-on-one instruction and the teachers were not adequate for the subjects covered. Meryl's services are far superior and the cost is in line with the competition.”
The factors most important to Emily's mom were finding a high quality tutor to learn the next subject, getting one-on-one help, and cost.
The cost of tutoring can vary dramatically, from about $20/hour for a high school student as a tutor to over $100/hour for a top-notch certified teacher with years of experience. Here is a breakdown of prices for various tutoring centers and online tutoring sites.
The table below summarizes differences in private tutoring and a tutoring center.
As you’ve seen, there are many factors to consider in hiring a private math tutor or going to a tutoring center. The best choice for one student may not be the best for another.
If you choose to find a private tutor, read more tips for finding best tutor.
I want you to be confident that you’re offering your child the best chance of success in math. If you’re still not sure if a private tutor or learning center is better for your child, please email me any questions or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.