What is a homework helper — and how do you hire one?
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, and struggling students may require even more. Of course, hiring both an after-school nanny or sitter and a tutor can be costly. So why not save money by hiring a sitter or nanny who can also provide homework help?
Many child care providers are also well-qualified to provide basic homework help, so it's possible you can hire one person to fill both roles. That way the caregiver gets to know your child's individual personality, interests and behaviors, so they can address academic needs with a greater understanding of your child.
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.
Get kids on board
Parenting specialist, counselor and author Bonnie Harris believes it's not only appropriate but necessary to include children (if they are 8 years old or older) in the hiring 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 helper 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?"
Create a homework helper job
When you're looking to hire someone to handle two separate jobs, be very detailed about what you need.
- Be specific. When you post a sitter job, indicate the level of child care and homework help the position requires and mention these needs in both the job title and description. For instance, if you need a sitter who can stay until 7 p.m. every weeknight or if your child requires remedial instruction in one or more subjects, make sure to mention these details. This will target your job posting to the appropriate applicants.
- Ask for education or tutoring experience. Indicate that you are looking for a caregiver 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.
- Know what you can afford. A homework helper is a more specialized job than a standard sitter, so don't expect to hire someone and pay them basic rates. Use our Babysitting Pay Calculator to figure out the going rates in your area and then add a few dollars an hour.
What to look for on applications
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 homework 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 community and extracurricular activities. A well-rounded homework helper 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 job applicant's profile or cover letter can 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. Teresa Signorelli Pisano, PhD, a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist with more than 20 years' experience, 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 about the position, as well as weed out those who aren't genuinely enthusiastic, by asking questions like:
- Why have you chosen this type of work?
- What do you like most about working with children on homework?
- How do you motivate a child who doesn't want to do homework?
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
In order to get a good idea about the applicant's ability to actively engage your child in learning, Harris suggests including questions, such as:
- How do your methods of teaching engage children?
- Are there games you play to make learning more fun?
- How much hands-on engagement do you use?
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 has 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 sitter or nanny is working out as a homework helper 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. You may need to hire a more specialized tutor who can help your child and provide more extensive academic support.
Read next: When is the best time to do homework?
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.
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