When I was in high school I explained a lot of things to my class mates. Later during the first time of my studies, I was hired as a private tutor. Although I was earning some money, I had very mixed feelings about that job. My impression is that only a few students really learned something and most students are only attending since it was their parent's will. Or they needed to have a good grade in the next exam (Which was - to some limit - always possible if there were enough meetings during the weeks before the exam) - But even in that cases, I had the feeling that they only repecipes from me and were drilled to an particular type of questions, ans as soon as a new topic with different type of questions came up they were completly lost. This was maybe also the reason why many students are taking private lessons over a period of severeal years (if not longer).

Is there some reference or some evidence if taking private lessons in mathematics really helps? If yes, in which way or to what limit?

  • $\begingroup$ As a non-native speaker, I am not sure if "private lessons" is the right word for what I meant. Please correct me if I am wrong. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2014 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ You mean one on one tutoring, right? That's how I answered the question. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2014 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeTaxpayer Yes, and the student (or his/her parents) paying for it. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2014 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. The distinction here is that I am free, a school employee. I'm sure there's a distinction for the forced parent aspect of the paid tutor. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2014 at 15:30

3 Answers 3


I am that tutor. I work in a math center where my job is not classroom lessons, but one on one help. This is high school level, ages 13-18, grades 9-12.

Most student come of their own free will, and as this is my first year, word is still spreading. The teachers around me are skilled, but in any class the distribution of students means the teacher has to teach to the middle. 40 minutes to get a certain amount of work done.

They walk into my room, and I can ask them to show me exactly what they missed, and explain it in a bit of a different way. I have a steady flow of emails and notes from their teachers telling me the student's latest grade, one went from D's in September to B's and finally an A on her last test.

Is my success 100%? Maybe not, but my goal is to get either a "now I understand this" or the prized "that's so cool" when my method of explaining something sinks in.

If I taught classes, I would seek permission for a one semester experiment - every lecture done via an online video, as the "homework" and all practice homework actually done in class so we'd have the back and forth discussion. I'd agree to scheduling an extra block, so the class would be two groups of 10 kids in the room.

Yes, the tutoring isn't just valuable, it's priceless.

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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, this is very similar to my experience. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2014 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that would be ideal. But that would also mean classes with 5 to 10 students tops... $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Mar 16, 2014 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ the classes in my school average 20. I just toss this out as I believe the lecture time can be done remotely, and the class time better spent in small groups. Even 5 sets of 4 students working together. But of course, the students have to agree 100% to viewing the lectures. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2014 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeTaxpayer, the problem is that the (recurrent) move to "remote teaching" (or whatever the buzz phrase is this round) is predicated by "teachers are expensive, instead of a teacher for 40 students, let's have her teach 400, or 1000". The need for one-on-one interaction is swept under the rug. $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Mar 18, 2014 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ @vonbrand - You are probably right. My thought was the opposite, a year or two of prep to get 132 (180 school days, but only 4/5 days have each class, then days for testing) lectures to video precisely using the text. The class time then spent more productively. It's unfortunate that such a simple experiment that can prove valuable is likely never to happen. My kids come in right after a lecture and say the teacher went too fast/slow/missed a few steps got lost. Imagine just hitting rewind. $\endgroup$ Mar 18, 2014 at 10:46

In my high-school days I tutored a boy in elementary school for a year or so. My feeling at the time was that I did't really teach him about the subject matter, but forced him to work by being there, and (indirectly) discipline.

During college, I often helped classmates (and students in lower classes) in solving particularly hard proposed problems. I also tutored several classes formally. I learned a lot, and I hope my explanations and solutions of proposed problems helped the students understand the subject matter.

Did it really matter? Hard to say. The ones asking me, or the ones going to my tutoring sessions, seemed to think so.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for "I hope my explanations and solutions... helped the students understand the subject matter". In my opinion, being led through the thought processes of an expert is a major strength of private tuition. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2014 at 15:14

I began tutoring as a fellow student when I was asked for help with homework, continued when I began getting referrals to help student athletes, was employed by tutoring centers and the mathematics department, and finally attempted to set up a private tutoring service. It was my experience that tutoring could help considerably, especially when I was able to provide a remedy for a specific block to their mathematical understanding or progress. In several cases, the students gained much greater confidence in their ability to learn and do mathematics and went from struggling to excellent. I was less able to help students who did not attempt their homework or assigned exercises, or who were severely deficient in their preparation for a course.


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