Focus on what’s really important

What I Wish Parents Knew is a series on issues parents should know, from a private tutor’s perspective.

It’s a new year and it shows. At each tutoring session this week, my students have been showing up with all new gear: binders, notebooks, pencil cases, backpacks, tablets, phones and more. It’s clear the parents are keen for their children to get off to a good start in the new year. I do my best as well – I want these kids to excel just as much as they and their parents do.

To help my students achieve their best, I try to sit down with their parents at the beginning and the end of each term to figure out their academic goals and the best way to reach them. Are they focused on an upcoming major exam? Are they simply looking for help with homework? Or are they trying to really master the fundamentals of a subject? Figuring this out with the parents often helps me see where we can best direct our efforts. It also gives me plenty of clues as to where the parents’ efforts may be lacking.

Take my student Maxwell, for example. He’s a pretty bright kid, and it’s hard to see him not live up to his potential. He has lots of cool new stationery and a high-end backpack, but he doesn’t have a dedicated space at home to study. As a result, he has trouble focussing on tricky subjects and struggles with completing his homework efficiently. Working at the noisy kitchen table is distracting for him, and all he would need is his own desk in a quiet room or maybe a pair of noise-cancelling headphones – but his parents won’t splash the cash on this “unseen” side of studying.

On the other hand, there’s Whitney, an athletically gifted young woman, but one who is falling behind academically. Her parents pay for numerous football camps, physiotherapy sessions and private training, but they can’t afford to pay her tutoring fees. She also frequently cancels her tutoring sessions due to sporting events, and we struggle to find the time for a make-up lesson because her schedule is packed to the brim. Her parents still expect her to pass this year’s important exams but that’s unlikely – unless she can figure out how to cut down on her sporting commitments.

In both of these scenarios – and in many others – the parents say that they want their child to do well, and that they will do anything to help them. And yet it is easy to see that their actions (or inaction) are also impeding their child’s progress. Whitney’s parents can’t see that she needs to devote more time to her studies, while Maxwell’s parents can’t see that what he really needs is a quiet space, not the latest, shiniest accessories.

It’s a new year, which makes it a great time to consider what your goals are for 2018 and how you can achieve them. But it’s also a good time to take an objective look at what signals you are sending your child, and focus on helping them in the ways that they need. Each child is unique, and needs a unique type of support to help them fulfil their potential. If you can’t figure out the best way to support your child, or if what you are doing doesn’t seem to be working, it‘s worth asking for some feedback from a teacher or a tutor who spends a lot of time with your child. It might just make a difference.


Troy Therrien is a tutor who believes that learning can be, and should be, for everyone. Find out more about him and his tutoring business at

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