Our experience with tutoring services: urggh

Over the years we tried many things to help Nathan, and none of them really “worked,” but the tutoring service is the one I look on with the most gnashing of teeth. We spent a huge chunk of money with hardly any result. Even worse, I felt we were taken. I don’t like being taken, especially when the issue was not a clunker of a car or an un-fabulous vacation, but our struggling son’s future.

I’ve decided against naming the name of the tutoring service, because I don’t want to mention it in this blog alongside all the resources that “have their heart in the right place.” It is a local enterprise. If you live in the Inland Empire and are considering a tutoring service, call me up and I’ll tell you which one NOT to go to!

When we met with Nathan’s teachers in the fall of his abysmal freshman year, and I mentioned we’d be looking into a tutoring service, I remember a couple of them exchanging glances, like “well that’s not going to work.” Was it because they knew tutoring wouldn’t help a guy like Nathan, or because tutoring doesn’t help in general?

Teacher glances aside, we went ahead with Plan A because we had to do SOMEthing. We scoped a few tutoring services out, asked questions, and finally picked the one that seemed like the best fit. “X Tutoring” had an A rating from the Better Business Bureau (I know this because I kept the printout from the BBB website.) In preparing to write this, I checked the BBB website again, and what do you know! They are no longer rated.

We chose “X Tutoring” because they were convenient, provided individual attention, and professed to consider the whole child in their approach, not just his/her academic issues. Sounded good, given Nathan’s uniqueness and hatred of working with other kids. At the intake meeting the owner was absolutely confident Nathan’s performance would improve by at least one grade level, that Nathan would rediscover the joy of learning and go full steam ahead with the rest of his academic career. He’d be so good at schoolwork that he couldn’t help but get the right answers. And Nathan’s self-esteem would rise as a result. Sounded great!

There was a discount on the per lesson cost if we paid up front, so that’s what we did. The contract included provisions for free lessons if the student hadn’t moved ahead one year in ability after 50 lessons. (I think we were going three times a week.) The initial evaluation showed Nathan’s abilities ranging from late 6th grade level in practical math to late 12th grade in vocabulary.

It started off well: they matched Nathan with a tutor who developed a great rapport with him. They would giggle together – a rare thing for a guy who hated almost everyone. But alas, that tutor left the employ of “X Tutoring”, and though the subsequent tutors assigned to Nathan were fine, none of them lit the spark as promised. Nathan’s comprehension and word attack skills did advance (according to their in-house evaluation), but math skills barely budged, and his grades in school were still awful.

We wanted to discuss this after the 50th lesson, and that’s when things got squirrely. At our meeting with the owner, he talked nonstop for 40 minutes and then announced he had to leave, not giving us the chance to hear him address our specific concerns. My attempts to follow up (voicemails, asking clerical staff, written notes) were stonewalled for 6 weeks, meaning $1000 flew out of our pocket in the interim. When the owner finally called me back, he was incensed with the implication that they had not been attending to our needs. I hardly ever shout at people, but I did that day!

Long story short: we did not get satisfaction, just promises that Nathan was “almost there, …almost there,” and an awkward exit meeting at the end of the contracted sessions where the owner said, “Gee, we’ve never had anyone like Nathan. When you find out a clearer diagnosis, I’d love to know what it is.”

Briefly, I can tell you that we tried a different place for tutoring Alan in algebra for a few months in his freshman year of high school. It had a different feel and approach, but same result: no result (except a lighter bank account.)

By the way, both places downplayed the role of AD/HD. “X Tutoring” preferred to view Nathan’s symptoms as a “style” rather than a disorder. The director at Alan’s learning center took his word for it when he said he didn’t have ADD (Alan’s actual tutor said, “Oh man! Does he ever have it!”)

So, do kids like ours ever benefit from tutoring? What if the tutors have a background in special education (although shouldn’t all tutors have special ed techniques in their bag of skills?)  How important is the student’s stubbornness in the outcome?  Any educators, parents, or tutors reading this, I’d love to hear about your experiences.


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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

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