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How To Choose A Qualified And Reliable Home Tutor

For the past few weeks this June and July (1999), the local newspapers in Singapore had been awash with reports of tuition agencies that behaved unscrupulously and irresponsibly.

Examples include getting their tutors to lie to their potential customers about their actual ages, educational qualifications, tutoring experience and even their current occupations.

A Personal Account

Personally, I can attest to these unethical practices.

Many years ago, when I was only in my first year of study at a junior college (that's one year after my "O" levels), I had to take up home tuition to help finance my education. I called up several tuition agencies to help me get an assignment. Soon, one of those tuition agencies called me and offered me an assignment.

I was very excited at first. But what the lady on the line told me later made me feel very uncomfortable. She told me that the parent was looking for a university graduate to tutor his Primary 3 boy, and that I must tell the parent that I was a university graduate.

But I told her that it was not right to lie to the parent, since I was not a university graduate. Moreover, I told her that if I lied to the parent, he would find out the truth sooner or later, and the outcome could be disastrous. Whereupon, she told me that if I kept mum about my actual qualifications and occupation, then no one would discover the truth. She suggested that I could tell the parent that I was already working.

Imagine what a big decision I had to make then! This lady on the line was offering me a great job opportunity that could provide me with additional income to help finance my education, but then I had to lie to get the job! It was really a matter of money versus morals.

And she was very insistent, and told me that I had to decide there and then. Otherwise, she would offer the tuition assignment to another tutor. In the end, I told her yes, but I already had something else on my mind.

The day finally came. I reached the student's house and it was a Tamil family. Originally, I had expected to see only the parent and the student. But there right in front of me was probably the entire family!

The parents were very nice and they suggested that I could tutor their kid at the dining table. However, before I took my seat, I cleared my throat and in an unsteady voice, I asked the father, "Er…sir…the tuition agency said you are looking for a university graduate to tutor your son, right?"

The man said yes, and asked me what degree I was holding. Whereupon I told him the entire truth as I had set out to do before I arrived. I told him that I was only a junior college student and it was my first tutoring job. I also told him that the lady from the tuition agency had told him a lie and asked me to do likewise.

All this while, I was fervently hoping at the back of my mind that the parent would appreciate my honesty and the reputation of my junior college (it was the number one junior college in Singapore at that time, and I believe it still is). I was hoping hard that he would employ me as his son's tutor.

However, what he said made my heart sink. He told me matter-of-factly that he was looking for a university graduate and thanked me for my time and honesty. With that, he showed me the door.

As I stepped out of the house, I wondered if I had been stupid. But in the end, I consoled myself that at least I had been honest. Had I perpetuated the lie that the lady from the tuition agency had told the parent, I would probably not have been a happy person and could possibly live in fear of being discovered all that while.

Anyway, the story did not end there. That very day when I reached home, the lady from that tuition agency called and scolded me for telling the parent the truth! She demanded to know why I did that and why I had caused her to be scolded by the parent.

Well, ever since that call, I never heard from her again regarding any new tuition assignments.

So much for my personal story. I believe many of you out there, whether students, parents, home tutors or even school teachers, would be interested to learn some tips on how to choose a qualified and reliable home tutor, as well as how to determine if you have indeed found one such home tutor. The following are some of my own suggestions.

1. What Makes A Qualified Home Tutor?

Many people are under a myth about what makes a qualified home tutor. They believe that the ingredients of a qualified home tutor are

  1. good educational qualifications (usually a university degree),

  2. relevant teaching experience (usually a school teacher), and

  3. a recommendation from a tuition agency.

Well, nothing can be further from the truth! The essential ingredients of a qualified home tutor should include

  1. the ability to teach a given student in the manner that the student can understand and pick up fast,

  2. the ability to communicate with the student effectively to find out the problem areas that the student may have with a subject or topic,

  3. the ability to stimulate the student's mind to think,

  4. the ability to motivate the student to work hard, and

  5. the ability to show by example to the student on how to behave responsibly and morally.

Given any number of home tutors who may be highly qualified, have teaching experiences in schools and are recommended by a tuition agency, not all of them would be able to meet the above criteria.

A PhD holder may be very good at his area of study, yet unable to teach his student in a way that the student can understand. A school teacher may have a number of years of teaching experience, but unable to stimulate an individual student's mind to think. A tuition agency may recommend any home tutor as long as it can earn a decent amount of commission!

2. What Makes A Reliable Home Tutor?

Assuming that you have found a qualified home tutor, how do you know whether he or she is reliable? Put very simply, a reliable home tutor should be

  1. honest,

  2. punctual,

  3. responsible,

  4. moral,

  5. patient, and

  6. dedicated.

If your home tutor is dishonest, you can expect him / her to cheat you of your tuition fees and tuition time, not to mention his / her paper qualifications. If your home tutor is always not punctual, it can affect the student's time-table for self study as well as his motivation to study. If your home tutor is irresponsible, you can expect him / her to often change the tuition timing and tutor the student half-heartedly.

If your home tutor is immoral, how can you trust him / her to tutor your children in private? If your home tutor is impatient, you can expect him / her to raise his / her voice at the student or pass over a topic that the student finds difficult. This could cause the student much hurt and harm.

Finally, if your home tutor is not dedicated, you can expect him / her to be not punctual, not responsible and not patient!

3. How To Determine Whether A Home Tutor Is Qualified And Reliable

By now, most of you would have probably been thinking, "With so many criteria of what makes a qualified and reliable home tutor, how can I determine whether my home tutor fits the bill?"

Well, the student (which may be you or your child) probably has the answer. Just ask yourself (if you are a student or if you are an observant parent) or your child (if you are not an observant parent) how you feel / your child feels about your home tutor.

If the answer is "He is very patient", "I understand the way she teaches me", or "She always encourages me to study hard", then you probably have found yourself a qualified and reliable home tutor.

If the answer is "She is always late for tuition", "I don't understand what he is talking about", or "He does the homework for me", then you know you should probably find yourself another new home tutor!

By the way, if you are hiring a new home tutor and want to be absolutely sure of his / her paper qualifications, then make sure that you ask him / her to bring along his / her relevant documents upon his / her first visit. These may be an "O" Levels or "A" Levels certificate, diploma, degree, school examination reports, or Diploma In Education for a trained school teacher.

However, if you already have a home tutor and have never seen his / her paper qualifications, you can ask him / her to show you his / her documents if you are nice and discreet about it.


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