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Thinking of hiring a tutor this school year? Make sure to keep expectations realistic

As the new school term begins, students and their parents may be considering tutoring for those times when additional support, guidance, or lessons may be needed in a certain class or subject. Tutors can help students who are ahead in a class by offering supplemental lessons or discussions. They can help those who fall behind in a class by providing individualized attention that helps them catch up. Many tutors even offer comprehensive subject tutoring and can help a student who does not feel ready for their new class to learn material they need to learn for a successful start to the school year. 

Tutors are great resources if you need to catch up, clarify, or supplement your learning. They can tailor subject matter to your learning style, break down concepts more than your classroom teacher, and suggest resources you may find more useful to your particular goals and needs. Tutoring may supplement your education whether you are in a class or self-taught. But there are a few things tutors should not be asked or expected to do. 

Tutors are not there to do your academic work for you. 

A tutor’s job is to help you learn to do your coursework better, not to complete the work for you. Never approach a tutor with a test or a quiz, unless your teacher has told you that the test is “open book” and “open note” and that it is okay to have help completing it. If your teacher has not given permission to receive assistance with the quiz or test, taking it to a tutor is no different than asking your classmate to give you the answers in class. It is cheating. 

Your tutor is not there to edit your papers for you. They may suggest that you go over your paper and re-edit it for grammar, but it is not their job to sit there and fix all of your mistakes for you. They may suggest you add more detail on a certain subtopic. You still need to find and add that detail yourself. 

They are not your research assistant. If you are struggling with research, your tutor will suggest places to find the sources you need. A tutor may go over your notes or your sources with you and discuss the material.  They will not compile a list of sources for you.  Discussions with tutors are meant to generate ideas for your work. But writing down everything a tutor says and inserting it into your paper is dishonest. A tutor who offers to discuss your paper topic with you is not offering to dictate a paper to you. 

Unless the tutor is employed by the university or school, they do not have access to your syllabus, your teacher’s lectures, or your assignment instructions. 

Taking a specific assignment to a tutor for help is perfectly acceptable. But if you expect help on a specific assignment, you need to provide the directions, and any notes from your classroom instructor as well. An independent online or in-person tutor has no way of knowing that the person who teaches your English class offline at the community college in your hometown expects you to use at least four sources for each paper, or doesn’t want you to include a counter argument paragraph for this unit, unless you either provide them with a copy of your directions or notes, or tell them. Make sure they have this information at the beginning of your lesson. Showing up with a vague request, letting them help you for fifteen minutes, and then suddenly announcing that you need to complete the assignment according to certain requirements only wastes your time, and if you are paying for the service, your money. 

Work with a tutor is intended to enhance, not replace, the work done in a class.

Unless it is otherwise indicated in a school’s catalog, work with a tutor is not coursework. A student who does extensive work in a subject with a tutor will still have to take a course to earn academic credit, even if the material learned with the tutor is the same as what they would learn in the class. 

It is entirely possible, for example, for a language student to work with a tutor until they have reached intermediate, or even advanced levels of speaking ability in the language. But if that student wishes to receive academic credit for their knowledge, they will have to either test out of the course, or take the course, depending on the policies of their school. 

Tutoring is not childcare.

Childcare workers and tutors have completely different jobs. Your childcare provider or program may offer homework help or learning activities, and your tutor should provide a safe, healthy space for your child to learn, but the tutor is not there to save you a trip to the daycare center or give you time to run errands or finish up at work.  Tutoring is intended to meet needs related to academics and learning. Group activities, meals, snacks, exercise, and entertainment may be provided for your child through some tutoring programs, but this is not true of all of them. Always ask rather than assume. 

Never leave your child alone at home in front of the computer with an online tutor, reasoning that the person will watch them. They can’t. The online tutor has no way to monitor anything they can’t see on the webcam, or step in during any situation that may come up offline in the house while you’re away. Your child will still be home alone. 

Your tutor is not your therapist.

A good tutor will listen to your academic struggles in their subject, and help you work through solutions. It is absolutely appropriate to share frustrations with learning a new type of citation, or dealing with a classroom teacher who does not seem to care that nobody understands his lectures or trying to learn a quickly evolving subject with an outdated textbook. 

But the tutor is not there to provide mental health care. Even if the tutor is a licensed mental health practitioner, it would be unethical for them to diagnose and treat you outside of a therapeutic relationship in a therapeutic setting. If you know, or suspect, that a serious mental health problem is impacting your learning, make an appointment with a licensed mental health care provider who will accept you as a client of their therapy practice. 

The tutor is not there to enhance your personal or social life.

Sometimes, friendships, even romantic relationships, develop between adult tutors and their adult students. As long as everyone involved in the situation is a fully consenting adult, it is not illegal, though it may be against the rules of the tutor’s workplace. But even if there are no legal or ethical concerns, it does not mean the tutor agreed to work with you because they really want to go out with you, flirt with you, adopt you as their new sibling, or fix you up with their best friend. 

Tutors are not personal assistants.

Just as a tutor is not there to provide childcare or therapy, a tutor should not be asked to assist with chores or do work outside of the learning assistance and support they have been hired to provide. Tutors who meet you in a public place such as a coffeehouse or cafe are not there to purchase or fetch your drinks for you. A tutor is under no obligation to pick you up for the session or drive you home afterward. They should not be expected to wait for you, holding the session without additional pay, while you run errands, talk to someone else on the phone, or answer emails. 

Finding and hiring a tutor can be a daunting process, especially for those who are new to working with a tutor. Approaching this process, and potential tutors, with respect and reasonable expectations is a first step in helping that process go smoothly for all involved. 




Jess Szabo
Jess Szabo
Jess Szabo' is a novelist, writing teacher, and content writer for Utica area artists. Her online workspace can be found at

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