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The Hidden Downsides of Tutoring

The Dangers of Tutoring Dependence

When tutoring works and grades improve, parents are thrilled. They often sign up their teen for more and more tutoring. It can feel like a magic bullet for poor grades. Sure, it’s expensive, but parents feel like they are getting value for their money.

Justin Sung, who has been in the tutoring business for over a decade, warns that tutoring can create educational problems that aren’t obvious at first. One of the first questions Justin asks parents is – are you happy with your child getting tutoring for the rest of their life? In college, maybe in med school? Parents immediately say no. Not just because of the cost, but because they don’t want to set their child on an unsustainable learning path where they always need tutoring to succeed. Justin calls this the “dependence on tutoring” risk. To avoid it, he suggests using tutoring as a last resort. Parents can try mentorship, switching teachers, project based learning or alternative learning techniques first. “You don’t aim for the result, forgoing the ability – that defeats whole purpose of why the result is there – it’s there to measure the actual ability of the student,” Justin insists.

Academic Ability or Academic Result?

Tutoring can be an easy fix on academic results – teens are strong-armed into studying through a 1:1 virtual or in-person interaction. But tutoring rarely addresses or improves academic ability. In fact, a lot of tutoring programs are designed in such a way to develop dependency and convince students that they need tutoring to succeed. The alternative approach is to build up the student’s resilience, confidence, and improve academic ability by connecting the academic work with their interests. Justin adds, “The student needs to be able to do it by themselves.” Tutoring can be helpful when academic work has a big jump in difficulty, as in the first year of college. Tutoring in highschool can take away from what Justin calls “the most valuable thing students will ever learn: the ability to learn how to study.”

Mentorship as an alternative

Mentorship is different from tutoring because the focus is on social-emotional learning and gaining candid insights from an older and wiser perspective. Mentorship doesn’t provide any direct answers to academic problems nor does it guarantee teens are studying for 30 or 60 minutes. But mentorship can have much more profound and lasting impacts on the student’s journey towards lifelong learning. Speaking with someone who has gone ahead of you – either in a college degree you’re interested in or in an industry you’d like to work in – can help you start planning and figuring out why academic success may be important to you. Mentors can share the trials and tribulations of their journey in an honest way, and this can help students prepare both academically and mentally for the journey. This honest exchange of experiences is what causes the distinct increase in confidence in students who have a mentor.

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