In non-pandemic times, I am up and down the UWS, UES and Brooklyn all day for one-on-one in-person lessons. Obviously, I don’t think most families would want a tutor to come to their house right now. Hopefully we will all get back to our normal soon!

I have also, however, always delivered about 20% (currently 100%) of my lessons online on either Skype, Facetime, Zoom or Goto-meeting.

I am aware of an understandable reluctance to substitute online for in-person instruction. I will say that, as far as math and standardized exams go, online tutoring has often not been given a fair shake. There are a couple points I would like to make.

  • Online only works for the right level of student. Generally 7th grade and up, although there are definitely exceptions in both directions. The student must have a certain level of maturity and engagement. Unless an adult is sitting by their side for the duration of the lesson, very young or very reluctant students may not find a page in the book, may play a video game instead of paying attention, or may just in general use the online situation to unreasonably delay and encumber everything.
  • Online actually works better for many young, even difficult, students than would be expected. I have had a number of very young students be more cooperative online than in-person. It seems they actually enjoy anything to do with being online more than the actual physical world! A question of habit! This is surprisingly (for us old folks) true.
  • One of the major irritations of online learning, especially in math, is extra software installation to see what the other party is writing. This is really not necessary. Tutoring companies require you to install some new software, or at least to use existing cumbersome whiteboards (on Zoom, for instance). Not only does this really not work very well unless you have the newest Mac along with a Stilo pen and are accustomed to using it, but the software all to often crashes, freezes and so forth. The last thing anyone needs in a lesson is another source of confusion. But there is a very easy solution! I just use an external camera ($30) and point it directly down at the paper I’m writing on. Not only does this avoid extra software it is also quite an amazingly relaxed and cozy experience (see video). For the first few lessons it is enough for just the teacher (me) to have a camera. If the lessons are to continue I would recommend ordering a $30 camera. Of course, if the student is well versed with a whiteboard and has a Stilo pen etc., then that works as well from his/her end, no problem. There seems to be a belief that there must be a camera on everyone’s face at all times during lessons. In math, I find almost the opposite to be true, see below. Of course, both student and teacher can switch back to the face cam at any time during the lesson seamlessly.
  • For a drama or dance class in-person instruction is really irreplaceable. When it comes to math, the situation is almost reversed. I have often found that not being physically present in the room allows many teenagers to concentrate more freely than if they were worrying about what they look like while they are doing math, and so forth. Teenagers and their hormones, possible pimples or general restlessness, are often quite an obstacle to the discipline of pure thought called mathematics. It can be like a cool breeze for them to relinquish all that, and simply see a piece of paper with math symbols and a real hand but no faces or people next to them! Even the reading comprehension and the verbal sections of the standardized exams really work well this way. After all, none of this is so much about inspiring a student to be a better person. This is not what your history or English teacher has to do in school when turning children into inquiring minds through emotional pleas and motivational speeches.