Do You Need a Homework Helper?
Save money by hiring a sitter who can also provide tutoring and homework help.
Demanding work schedules and other responsibilities often keep parents away from home during those important after-school and evening hours when children need to do homework. Even students who work well independently need some structure and guidance. Struggling students may require even more.
Hiring both an after-school sitter and a tutor can be costly -- and not always necessary. Many care providers are also well-qualified to provide basic homework help and tutoring. Find someone who can fill both roles and not only will you save money, but this person will get to know your child even better. She'll be able to address academic needs with a greater understanding of your child, and his or her individual personality, interests and behaviors.
Parenting specialist, counselor and author, Bonnie Harris, urges parents to first look at their own agenda. What are the underlying reasons parents seek a homework helper? "Is it to improve their child's grades so they feel better/look better as a parent, or is it truly for the child to feel more successful?" It will be a "tough climb," says Harris, if the children are not the primary benefactors of a tutoring situation.
From writing your initial job posting to following up on the results of your hiring decision, there are steps you can take to ensure your children gets an appropriate level of homework help.
And check out these 7 Tips for Hiring After-School Child Care »
Create a Homework Helper Job
When you're looking for someone to handle two separate jobs, you need to be very detailed about what you need.
- Know what you can afford. Don't expect to hire someone and pay them basic rates -- this is a more specialized job than a standard sitter. Use Care.com's Babysitter Pay Calculator to figure out the going rates in your area and then add a few dollars an hour.
- Be specific. When you post a sitter job on Care.com, talk about your homework needs in both the job title and description. Indicate the level of homework help the care provider position requires. Do you just need some general supervision, or does your child require remedial instruction in one or more subjects. This will target your job posting to the appropriate applicants.
- Ask for education or tutoring experience. Say you are looking for someone who has experience tutoring or working on homework with kids. An undergraduate student or recent graduate would be a good candidate for this position. You may even find an education major with coursework ideally suited to your child's needs.
- Get kids on board. Harris also believes it's not only appropriate, but also necessary to include children (eight-years-old or older) in the process. Children must want the extra help, or at least acknowledge the benefits of having this help. She suggests explaining the situation to children by saying something like: "I want to hire a tutor to give you the help that I can't. We could find one that works well with you. What do you think? What would you want in a homework helper?"
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Screen Applications for Homework or Tutoring Experience
It's hard enough finding a great after-school sitter. Now you need to narrow the pool and also find someone with an academic or tutoring background. As the applicants start rolling in, here's what to look for:
- Search for diverse interests. Look for an applicant who is involved in extracurricular and community activities. A well-rounded tutor will have more resources to draw from when trying to relate concepts to a child who is struggling to understand schoolwork.
- Focus on professionalism. The cover letter an applicant submits (and their Care.com profiles) will give you a good indication of the applicant's level of professionalism and education. Lots of spelling errors might not bode well for the English help your child needs.
- Look for the right skills. Dr. Teresa Signorelli has more than 20 years of experience designing homework programs and counseling parents and educators. She suggests looking for homework helper candidates who have good communication skills, confidence and a positive and respectful attitude.
Narrow the list down to your top five candidates and interview them over the phone or in-person. Then bring your two favorites to your home so they can meet your kids and you can ask more in-depth questions.
- Ask the right questions. Kathy Slattengren, a parenting expert and founder of Priceless Parenting, suggests trying to discover an applicant's motivation with questions like: why have you chosen this type of work, what do you like most about working with children on homework and how do you motivate a child who doesn't want to do homework? These questions will help weed out people who aren't genuinely enthusiastic about the position.
- Test the applicant's problem-solving skills. Dr. Signorelli advises parents to consider an applicant's problem solving, critical thinking and interpersonal skills, in combination with their experience and professional presence. Propose scenarios and ask how the applicant might manage. A homework helper needs to "balance authority and deference," says Signorelli. Will the applicant be able to enforce rules, while maintaining a friendly relationship with your kids?
- Talk about kids. Harris suggests including questions such as "How do your methods of teaching engage children? Are there games to make learning more fun? How much hands-on engagement do you use?" The applicant's answers to these types of questions should give you a good idea about the ability of the applicant to actively engage your child in learning.
- Bring in your children. While you may hesitate to introduce your kids to a slew of strangers, it's a good idea for them to meet the top candidates. "Ideally the child should meet the applicant and be excited to be receiving special help from the applicant," says Slattengren.
- Find a good fit. You want to hire a homework helper that your children like and feel comfortable with. You also want an applicant who as the "ability to connect emotionally with the child," says Slattengren.
Check the Helper's Effectiveness
Your job isn't over after you hire. Follow up regularly to see how the person is doing and if your child is improving academically.
- Ask your children. You know your kids. Have you noticed a change in their attitudes towards schoolwork -- either positive or negative? Are they enthusiastic about their new homework helper? If, after a few weeks, your child is still struggling with academics, this may indicate that, although your child may like his or her helper, the help isn't effective. Promptly discuss any areas of concern with your new employee.
- Touch base with teachers. Schedule a parent-teacher conference or send in a quick note to teacher asking about your child's progress. Let the teacher know about your new hire and ask for feedback on your child's improvement. The teacher will be able to alert you to any problems, and suggest remedies.
Of course, if your child is struggling in school, you might need more assistance than a basic homework helper can provide. Hire a tutor who can help your child and provide more extensive academic support.
Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer in New York's Adirondack region. Her writing focuses on current issues in education, public policy and family issues. Her work can be found here.