” What are you reading right now?” and 10 other questions to ask a writing tutor

Once you’ve found a prospective writing tutor for your teen ( if you don’t know where to find one, see my previous post here), how do you know if the tutor you’re considering will be a good fit? Although there are no guarantees, there are some questions you can ask to see if they have the qualifications, experience, and approach to writing that might benefit your teen.

1. What type of formal teacher training do you have?

You’d be amazed at the number of tutors who hang out their shingle based on the philosophy “I see myself as a good writer, so I must be able to teach writing.” But there’s a big difference between someone who perceives themselves as a good writer ( maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t), and someone who is formally trained to teach writing to teens. Look for a person with a Bachelor of Education in English Language Arts at the minimum.

2. How much experience do you have teaching at my teen’s grade level?

The type of writing expected in high school classes is usually based on analyzing literature. If the tutor has only taught at the elementary, middle school or junior high level, they might not have a background in literary analysis writing. If their experience at the high school level is limited, they might not be familiar with the novels, plays, and films that are often taught at the high school level.

3. What teaching methods do you use?

I’m surprised by the number of tutoring services that still equate improving student writing with using worksheet drills. Filling in the blanks on worksheets has little carry-over to the actual writing students are asked to do in their classrooms. What does? Support on their actual assignments, as they do them; teaching skills as students need them, in the context of their assignments; and writing, writing, and writing some more. If students aren’t getting enough writing assignments from their teachers to improve their writing ( and as teachers get busier, many aren’t), ask the tutor how they will supplement the amount of practise your teen is getting.

4. How much individualization do you offer?

This is a particularly important question to ask if you’re considering sending your teen to a large tutoring service such as Sylvan, Kumon, or Oxford Learning. Some of these companies use “canned programs,” that offer little to no customization. Others teach in small groups. If you want a one on one experience for your teen, you’re likely better off looking for a private tutor.

5. What experience do you have with neurodivergence?

If your teen has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, a learning disability, or is on the autism spectrum, they may need a tutor who is familiar with methods for teaching writing that are an appropriate match for their learning needs. Trying to use traditional teaching methods with students who learn in non- traditional ways can be frustrating for everyone involved.

6. What is your availability?

Teens often lead busy lives. Between school, part-time jobs, sports involvement and other activities, you’ll need a tutor who can be consistently available at the times your teen is.

6. Are you a writer yourself?

A tutor who is also a writer brings with them an understanding of how much time and effort writing takes, how individualized a writer’s process is, and all the other twists and turns involved in becoming a competent and self-confident writer. They will likely have quite a large toolbox of strategies they can share that go beyond the methods your teen is learning in school.

8. What are you reading right now?

This might seem like an odd question to ask a writing tutor. You’re hiring them to help your teen with writing, not reading, right? But reading and writing are linked processes. There’s a good chance your teen will need some reading help as well, particularly if their writing involves literary analysis. A tutor who is passionate about teaching writing will often love to read as well as write.

9. Can you provide references?

A tutor should be able to provide you with contact information from parents whose teens have worked with the tutor. If they can’t, move on.

10. How much do you charge?

Tutoring is not a regulated industry so costs can range from free to $15-$100 per hour or more. Free or very low cost tutors are attractive to parents with limited budgets, but may not offer the qualifications, teaching experience, or customization that will make a difference in your teen’s writing. Paying more does not guarantee that your teen will have a better experience, but like so many services, tutoring is often a ” you get what you pay for” service.

11. Will you meet with me and my teen before we get started?

All the qualifications, experience and customization in the world mean nothing if there’s no chemistry between your teen and the tutor. Ask for either a face to face or online meeting with the tutor so everyone has the chance to ” feel each other out” before the first paid session. Listen to your gut and to your teen’s responses. Does the tutor talk to your teen, and not just to you? Do they ask about your teen’s interests outside of school? Do they seem genuinely interested in your teen and in helping them out? If either of you sense a lack of fit for any reason, don’t be afraid to begin your search for a tutor again. The time you put in at the beginning of the tutor relationship will have important payoffs in the long run.