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School Report Woes

– Myths and Tips in Finding the Right Tutor for your Child

Parents, you blinked and the previous term and a short holiday were all gone in a flash. With schools already publishing the next exam dates, it is time to get your child all the help needed to improve that disappointing school report.

Your child’s academic progress and time is too important to make a mistake in finding a good tutor. Below, we address some myths, share some tips and alert you to some traps to avoid, helping you find a solution that will deliver concrete results. Foremost it requires an understanding of what your child may be experiencing:

Your Child’s Experience

  • A lack of confidence and consistency

‘A loss of confidence is the recurring theme we hear from parent after parent,’ explains Dr Charl du Plessis, a Director at Flip-a-Switch Tutoring (FAST). Even when a learner battles with only one subject, it affects their general motivation for all schoolwork and spills over into exam-day performance.

The South African curriculum is well within most kids’ intellectual ability. However, very few schools teach learners how to study, and many inadvertently tempt them away from the books with exciting, yet exhausting sport and other extra-curricular activities. As a result, one of the cornerstones of academic success – namely, consistent work – hardly has a chance. Most often, homework is done in a hurry and at the last minute, entirely missing its purpose of consolidating learning.

  • Anxiety and loss of control

Teenage anxiety is at an all-time high after lockdown and is intensified by the ubiquitous presence of social media. When your child’s grades fall short of their own or your expectations, it creates further anxiety and a sense of things spiraling out of control. The normal response is avoidance and withdrawal, at that critical life stage when active ownership of their own learning is essential for academic progress.

  • Tension between parents and child

Dr Tanya Goodman, (PhD, Yale), points out that it is only natural for teenagers to push back against their parents. “When academic commitment is already a bone of contention in the household, having to rely on parents for help with tough homework questions after their own taxing day can only add fuel to the fire. That is why our tutors at FAST remain available 24/7 between tutoring sessions to assist in a role we call ‘homework buddies’. These tutors help learners with homework questions and show them how to solve problems with healthy study methods, taking an enormous lot of pressure off parents.”

Next, let’s address some unsubstantiated myths parents encounter when looking for tutoring help:

Tutoring Myths

  • Myth 1: My friend has a child who can help

Knowing something does not mean one knows how to teach others. Your friend’s child at varsity would just as much accept an au pair or bar-tending job if the pay was better. If he or she took the other job, training would have been a requirement, so who will train your friend’s child to be an effective tutor?

Avoid the slick-looking ‘dating-app’ style tutoring advertisements all over the web where anyone, with or without training or experience can list themselves as tutors and rather look for professional services where tutors are carefully selected and interviewed, trained and supported with the correct teaching tools and curricular materials. An unskilled tutor could do more harm than good if not sensitive to what your child is experiencing.

  • Myth 2: My child needs private lessons

Given your child’s loss of confidence, the last thing he or she needs is to sit across from yet another adult while feeling exposed and ‘on the spot.’ Small tutoring groups (research suggests between 2 to 8 learners) create safety in numbers and alert your child to questions he or she may not have thought of asking. A well-trained tutor will ensure that each member of such a group can ask pressing questions and actively participate.

The exception to this rule would be strong and confident learners who need just that little nudge to get to targeted results (e.g., for high school or university applications) and have clearly identified topics on which their tutor can focus.

  • My child needs in-person tutoring

Your child lives in a digital universe. Sometimes this is part of the academic problem. Yet, this is where they have ‘agency’ – a sense of control – and many have developed skills that exceed those of their parents. It is no secret that many schools were caught ill-prepared at first lockdown, despite valiant efforts by teachers to quickly learn how to teach large classes online. Luckily, online educational technology (with over $38 billion invested globally last year alone), as well as our children’s familiarity with this environment, have grown in leaps and bounds since then.

Live, online tutoring not only saves parents another extracurricular trip, but also offers your child a safe, familiar space from which to work from while at home. They are not sitting in an intimidating physical space with a ‘Sir’ or a ‘Ma’am’. A well-trained tutor can share materials instantly (and with access to the Internet for anything else that arises during class discussion) and will monitor each child’s face close-up for fatigue, distraction or puzzlement. And the learners see one another – creating a sense of camaraderie. Why then replicate the teaching conditions at school if a professional online method that directly addresses what your child is experiencing delivers fantastic outcomes?


Here are a couple of important questions to ask when appointing a tutoring service:

  • Are you able to consult with someone knowledgeable and experienced about your child’s needs?
  • Can you have the confidence that the tutor will be carefully matched not only to your child’s academic needs, but also to the circumstances and his or her personality?
  • What are other parents saying? Does the company and its tutors have positive reviews and frequent recommendations?
  • Are you confident that the tutor who will work with your child has been screened and carefully selected not only for academic excellence, but also for teaching capabilities and a service ethic? Or can tutors merely list themselves on a platform without any proper screening? Was your child’s safety even a consideration raised in the process, or could predators abuse the platform?
  • Does your child’s tutor have the support and training within their own company to ensure your child works on the correct materials and in a manner conducive to improvement?
  • Does your child have any support from the tutor between weekly tutoring sessions? And how quickly is that support available, if at all?
  • Does the tutoring service teach my child how to study and become an all-round better student?
  • Can you cancel a tutor immediately and without penalties if it is not a good fit between the tutor and your child?
  • Do you, as parent, have a direct line to communicate with the tutor about your child’s needs?

Finally, avoid any system that asks you to pay upfront; purchase pre-paid vouchers; or subscribe with fixed monthly payment instructions to your bank. Just ask the private boys’ school mother, who paid a tutor in advance only to be notified that the tutor has left for Thailand, how well that worked out!

In the world of carpentry, they say ‘measure twice, cut once’. May the insights above help you and your child find the caring support needed for a return to academic success.

This article was prepared by Dr Charl du Plessis (MBA, Yale; PhD, UVA), of Flip-a-Switch Tutoring (FAST). (www.fastclass.co.za). FAST offers more than 100 weekly live, online tutoring sessions across all subjects between grades 6-12. It is a subsidiary of The Chapel Lane Academy, that further facilitates over 200 live, online Cambridge Curriculum class attendances from across the globe each week. Charl can be reached for comment or questions on 082-452-8110

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