Why is Math Tutoring So Expensive?

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Shelling out close to 100 bucks an hour to have someone sit around, ask a few questions, and help your child with homework seems like way too much.

Especially when there’s no absolute guarantee for success.

It just seems math tutoring is so expensive for what you’re getting in return.

Well, keep calm and read on. There’s an explanation. Tutors everywhere aren’t all on a conniving rampage to scam well-meaning parents.

In this article, I’m going to explain why math tutoring costs more than other services and if your student is a good candidate for tutoring.

There are ways to 10x your chances of making tutoring worth it for you and your child.

Here’s what you will find out:

  1. What’s the Difference Between a Tutor and a Teacher?
  2. Is Tutoring Too Expensive?
  3. Does Every Student Need a Tutor?
  4. Are Tutors Only for Students with Bad Grades?
  5. Can a Tutor Guarantee Success?
  6. What Makes a Good Tutor?
  7. When Can I See Results From Tutoring?
  8. How Do I Choose a Tutor?
  9. What Happens in a Tutoring Session?
  10. How Long Should Tutoring Sessions Be?

What’s the Difference Between a Tutor and a Teacher?

teaches contentXX
issues final grade with a power to pass or failX
focuses on one student to understand student’s
strengths and weakness
builds study skills and note-taking skillsX

The Ancient Greeks got it right in some regard.

They had more individualized learning without the huge classrooms. They often identified themselves as studying under someone who they literally followed. Aristotle followed Plato. Plato followed Socrates. The greatness comes from consistent individualized learning.

That’s the idea behind a tutor.

A tutor is a teacher of one. The teaching methods can vary. Tutors should be versatile enough to try as many methods as needed to reach each student. Some times that comes from discovering what the student likes and relating it to the lesson or assignment.

What doesn’t work is the brute-force teaching method, where it’s like hammering in a nail until it’s just wedged in there. Teach in a way that the student would learn it.

As a parent, you should want a tutor who uses specific methods that fit your child and is customized to your child’s individualized learning needs.

Above all, make sure your student actually wants to be successful in class and has shown that desire in some way by putting forth some sort of effort.

Don’t get a tutor for a student who doesn’t know they are getting one or for the student who is slacking for some other reason. There are students that just don’t accept a tutor. They don’t want a tutor in the first place.

Is Tutoring Too Expensive?

Here’s the cost/value breakdown for a tutor:

  • high-level skills and work they are putting in outside the tutoring hours
  • the tutor’s experience and professional degree level.
  • experience, education, past success with other students, skill level, education/teaching knowledge

Calling tutoring expensive is a lot about perspective, as with most anything in life.

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People outside the United States could say your weekly grocery budget is excessive. You may actually think it’s not enough. In this case, the difference in perspective is probably because of the difference in resources. The United States is one, if not the, richest country in the world. Families in third-world countries are forced to do more with less. So their food budget is completely different.

That said, some families will not be able to afford tutoring for their children. They just don’t have the extra money. Every dollar is going to basic needs for survival. And let’s face it, children can survive without tutoring.

That doesn’t mean those students are just doomed to bad grades and college rejection because they didn’t have tutoring. There are too many stories of extraordinary students rising above difficult circumstances.

Plus, there are several free options for math help.

This article is to help those who can and are willing to invest in their child’s education, whether that investment comes easy or you work overtime hours to afford it.

Take Harvard University. Tuition there is nearly $50,000 per year, compared to $9,000 for tuition AND fees at the average public university.

Now, there’s a whole psychology behind marketing, pricing, and perceived value that I won’t get in to here.

But I will say that I’ve noticed how pricing is an attention-getter and a big factor in a service’s perceived value.

Let’s face it. People are more attentive and more engaged in products and services at a higher price point.

Math Thrive Tutoring starts at $45 per hour for online and in-person tutoring in Hendersonville, TN and the Greater Nashville area.

That price is about how much the average mid-career teacher makes in salary and benefits.

But I’ve also seen tutors charge up to $120 an hour, the highest I’ve seen. Those are usually Ivy League test preparatory tutors with a single focus area and a combination of those factors I outline above.

Bottom line, tutoring is definitely an investment and, sometimes a proactive approach to an at-risk student. Some summer school programs actually cost money. Tutoring can avoid that altogether.

Does Every Student Need a Tutor?

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A tutor is much like an athletic coach. No one really needs it to play on an average, everyday level. But if you have above-average aspirations and/or lower abilities, some help has some amazing results.

A tutor is that coach with the stopwatch and the whistle around the neck pushing and encouraging, with hopes that the student develops that voice in their head on their own for direction and confidence.

But if your student is struggling in math class, he or she should first approach the teacher. Some teachers offer after-school tutoring.

A couple of issues to be aware of:

  • Repeated Ineffectiveness: The student is getting exactly what was already taught in class (which usually is not helpful, unless the student just didn’t take notes or something). The student may have already gotten the most they could get from that teacher.
  • No Individualized Focus: Most likely, there will be multiple students (and multiple distractions) in the teacher’s tutoring hours. In my own experience, I rarely had after-school tutoring where I was just one-on-one with a student.

Every student should be meeting one-on-one with their teacher at least once in the course, if not once per semester for year-long courses.

This meeting helps a student understand their strengths and weaknesses in the content, talk about their learning style, and anything else the teacher has noticed.

Take a teacher with several classes with up to 30 students per class, plus all the behind-the-scenes teacher work, and the teacher has little extra time to meet with a student on this level.

That’s where a tutor can fill in.

Essentially, every student can benefit from some time with a tutor, even if it’s irregular or just one meeting.

The feedback will offer reassurance that the student is on track or offer some insight on where the student needs improvement.

Are Tutors Only for Students with Bad Grades?

teacher standing in front of classroom of several sitting students

A tutor is going to enhance a high-performing student by better developing that student’s strengths.

Students with bad grades may need a tutor. It depends on the reason for the grades.

Common reasons for low grades:

  • not doing the work
  • not studying or poor study skills
  • poor note-taking skills or not taking notes at all

Even if struggling students just do the work I assign, those students can usually get by with a C. Students who have lower than that usually indicate a bigger problem.

I find that a student is only as good as how much they are being challenged. A student may have greater potential, but without the challenge, the student will never know and never achieve it.

If you’re doing the bare minimum, you’re stuck at the bare minimum – no matter how much potential you have.

Can a Tutor Guarantee Success?

Here me: There is no absolute 100 percent guarantee math tutoring will get you specific results.

Any person or service who guarantees that should be questioned.

two horses drinking from a puddle in the desert

You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make them drink, right?

There’s just no way to guarantee success.

Plus, success is subjective. Every parent-student set has different goals. And every student enters tutoring with different skill levels, learning abilities, and even motivation levels.

Think about it.

How can a stranger or big company guarantee tutoring success without knowing a single thing about your child?

That is what seems scam to me.

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The truth about tutoring is that it is a risk.

You can possibly lose time and money.

But the possible ROI is priceless.

Like in our coaching example, the tutor offers feedback, techniques, and strategy. But the actual performance is ultimately up to the student.

Now, does that mean a tutor doesn’t really help?

Not at all. It’s part of the recipe for success, where there’s part student effort and part tutor training.

There’s a risk and reward ratio.

Students and parents need to evaluate how much they are willing to put in regular tutoring sessions, in addition to how much they want to get out of it.

This should be an understandable expectation for every family that seeks out tutoring. Unfortunately, it is an unrealistic misconception.

What Makes a Good Tutor?

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A good math tutor won’t just be good at math.

A good tutor should have some sort of pedagogical experience, the ability to see the big picture of where the student is going and how to prepare the student.

For example, my bachelor’s degree in math education includes how to teach math, not just math content knowledge.

Some tutors just jump in and correct the student or, what’s worse, give the answer without allowing the student to try.

A teacher is going to hold back and wait. Teachers are trained in strategies designed to find out what the student knows and doesn’t know.

Good tutoring shouldn’t just be constant teaching and talking. A good tutor talks maybe just one-third of the time.

A good tutor gives the student what they need, but then backs up to gauge the student’s ability.

Without a good tutor like this, the student will likely walk out the session not knowing anything because the tutor led them the whole time. The tutor carried them throughout their homework, test review, everything.

Students need the time to actually talk during a tutoring session, so the tutor can see where the student is. There’s no other way to know where the student’s problems are.

It’s almost like a doctor. No good doctor barges in an exam room with a full detailed diagnosis without first asking questions (i.e. Where does it hurt? How long have you been in pain?)

On the same note, students (like patients, I’m assuming) don’t always tell all their issues, either because they’re more reserved or may not even be aware of their issues.

Asking “How did you get this?” or “Why do you think this is the right answer?” is essential for a good tutor.

It’s the power of why. You can see their level of thinking.

A right answer doesn’t always mean to move on. Sometimes, a right answer is just a guess or luck. The student’s thinking and process was wrong, but it just so happened to work in that one instance.

A good tutor gives your child the highest chances for success.

Here are the best characteristics to look for in a tutor:

  • Tutoring experience
  • Content knowledge
  • Training in how to teach and how students learn

When Can I See Results From Tutoring?

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My recommendation is to give it a month to start seeing results from tutoring.

Some students may need some time to sink in. The student is also acclimating to a new way of studying, note-taking. Students need proper mental exercise.

In addition, the student and parents first need to define success and determine goals for tutoring.

Test and quiz grades are probably the best way to see results. Assessments are specifically made to see what a student knows on a certain set of standards.

That said, I also suggest talking with your child’s teacher to ask if tutoring is effective.

How Do I Choose a Tutor?

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Choosing a tutor should be wise choice, made after thorough investigation.

But most parents are busy. They want to find someone quick, much like a drive-thru window at a fast food restaurant.

With a “fast-food tutor,” you don’t get the home-cooked meal with all the nutrients. The fast-food burger you get doesn’t look (or possibly, taste) like the advertised photo.

Other options are making your own meal at home or just going to a higher-quality restaurant that will put in the required time and attention for a premium product.

All tutors aren’t created equal.

Many tutors are college students.

Helpful Tip: Look for math tutors who have been or currently are math teachers.

Questions to ask a prospective Test Prep tutor:

  • Have you taken this test?
  • What did you score? How many have you tutored and how did those students improve?

Questions to ask a prospective Class tutor:

  • Have you tutored in that class before and how have those students’ grades changed?
  • Do you have experience doing the math?
  • Do you have knowledge of education and learning styles?
  • What would you do if my child just doesn’t understand how you’re presenting the material?

A tutor doesn’t need to be overly fun, but he or she should be engaging.

Still, the tutor shouldn’t waste time trying to be fun and making jokes and being off-topic.

Often, I relate real-world examples so the student can see how math is used in everyday life. But it’s related to the content.

What Happens in a Tutoring Session?

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A tutoring session can focus on:

  • Homework Help
  • Test Review
  • Reinforcing difficult concepts taught in class

I often follow the three-step I Do – We Do – You Do approach during a tutoring session. That’s where I demonstrate, then walk the student through the problem, then allow the student to try on their own.

This is only if the student needs to firm up concepts and needs a mini-lesson.

There’s no need to waste an entire tutoring session going over the entire homework assignment during a tutoring session.

You don’t need to do homework with someone who already knows how to do their homework.

Priority should be where the student doesn’t understand or is struggling.

Every student has different needs so every tutoring session won’t look the same. Some students need help in their current class. In those cases, I focus on homework help and reviewing concepts. I may provide additional work to build up those weak areas, while also keep up with current material.

The tutor should know where to find practice content and have a plan for every student for every session – that’s another hallmark of a good tutor.

Proper planning makes sure the student doesn’t finish early or is left at the end of the session with a lot of leftover material that he or she doesn’t understand.

A tutoring session is also a great time to build critical thinking, time management skills, and work through standardized test prep materials.

Tutoring consultations? Not really needed.

Students are busy. Parents are busy. It can be a lot to squeeze in tutoring in a typical week, much less a consultation.

Tutoring consultation is just additional time that could be better spent.

If you can do it, great. If not, see about jumping on the phone for a quick chat with a prospective tutor or set aside an extra 10-15 minutes during the first tutoring session. That should be enough.

How Long Should a Tutoring Session Be?

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A tutoring session should be an hour and a half.

I find 90 minutes is the learning sweet spot for most students. It’s not too long and it’s not too short.

Just an hour-long tutor session leaves out a few things. It typically leaves out time to practice. The student can say he or she understands the material, but then the student later does the problem wrong.

Two 90-minute sessions per week is ideal to separately focus on:

  • the previous week’s material
  • the current week and the upcoming week in class or prepare for a quiz or test

You don’t want to unnecessarily prolong the tutoring session.

Burnout typically happens at the two-hour mark, depending on the time of the day, it can happen sooner.

Burnout is when students stop grasping what you’re telling them or making the same mistakes over and over.

Now, burnout isn’t a bad thing, every now and then (much like athletic training).

Think about it. Most standardized tests last about three hours. Students will face burnout in their classes or tests. Tutoring is a way to train that burnout.

It’s good to recognize when burnout is happening and briefly bring it up to the student by asking if they are tired.

Tutoring is great practice time to focus and learn to work under pressure or tiredness.

A good tutor will, of course, use discretion, based the age of the student.

Final Thoughts

Tutoring is an expense, yes. But is tutoring expensive?

It depends on perspective, motivation, and the tutor’s quality and experience.

Above all, students should understand that the results still rely on them and the tutor is providing individualized support to explain and train.

Hopefully, this article helped.

I’d be happy to help, if you have more questions or want math tutoring for your child.

Call 615-543-6473 or email for virtual tutoring or in-person tutoring in the Greater Nashville area.

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