One of my favorite pastimes is picking up on telltale signs of an era or a generation. Like ironically nerdy glasses on hipsters. Or "mom jeans" on young baby boomers.
And I enjoy the generational tics you can’t see, too, like millennials’ need for praise that my friends (yes, we’re Gen X’ers – and we wear our bad-idea tattoos like a badge of honor) like to joke about.
Last month, the New York Times pointed out a new hallmark of Gen Z (aka "Gen Me") that I think is going to stick: tutors as a mainstay of a normal education. When I was in school, I had a tutor to help me learn French – but only because it wasn’t offered at my school and we were moving to Montreal. Otherwise, tutoring wasn’t a common affair. When a kid was failing – or at least falling behind – that’s when tutors were called to the rescue.
Does every child have a tutor now?
Now, though, tutors are much more ubiquitous: every kid seems to have one. And their parents are grateful that the tutors help keep the kids on track and their grades up. I didn’t recognize this as a trend, and then…
Thwap! I read Abby Ellin’s article “Some Tutors Are Shouldering a Wider Load.”
The article begins with a compelling anecdote about a college freshman at NYU struggling to juggle life in the city, register for classes, get books, and the like. There’s no doubt that period of life is hectic and difficult – and more so for this girl because she’s a student athlete. But her mom’s reaction surprised me: worried that her daughter was foundering, she hired a tutor.
"Ms. Borbridge [the tutor] spent about 30 hours helping Ms. Barnes [the freshman] manage her schedule, pick classes and generally feel more comfortable in her new life," Ellin writes.
But that’s not all; the tutoring persists. "They are in touch daily by phone or e-mail, and work together in person anywhere from 15 to 22 hours a week."
Tutor, or life coach?
In this case – and in many cases, it seems – the tutor isn’t just helping with homework or a specific subject. Instead, it’s ongoing support in all subjects and, "also a source of general life support," Ellin writes.
Ellin quotes Dr. Sandi Ayaz, executive director of the Florida-based National Tutoring Association, who describes the phenomenon a different way: today’s tutors are, "more academic coaches," she says. And these academic coaches start – and may never stop – working with the kids on schoolwork and other things – like life skills.
One mom said it transferred the role of homework nag to an outsider, so she could focus on a more nurturing role for her child. One tutor said he’s like an unofficial counselor.
In some ways this trend shouldn’t come as a surprise; this generation of kids has become accustomed to helpfully hovering helicopter parents since day one. Still, isn’t a little angst and confusion when you leave home for college a normal part of growing up? Should "Gen Me" be spared even that slight discomfort?
The director of a Manhattan-based tutoring company said that any stigma with tutoring has all but disappeared. That’s wonderful, but should we be worried about the flip side: the prevalence of tutoring as an ongoing practice? Does it make for yet another haves versus have-nots divide in education?
A 19-year-old student quoted in Ellin’s story said she, "never hid the fact that she had a tutor, partly because 'you were lucky if you had one.'"
Is your child lucky enough to have a tutor? Is this a trend you embrace?