Opinion: Paly tutors should receive more money for their time

Jack Shapiro and Levi Schoeben

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Palo Alto High School has many opportunities for students to get help. Lesser known is a system run by the Math Department that sets up student tutors with those seeking math help. For years the student rate has been at $12 an hour, according to math teacher Suzanne Antink. At just above minimum wage, this price is a small sum for what is, in some cases, high level mathematics tutoring. Although we address the need to have the tutoring be affordable, what is paid to our student tutors is a fraction of what is charged by outside tutors. And we feel that a change would be beneficial.

Aside from the obvious disadvantage to hiring a student tutor — experience — we believe that Paly students are actually a better fit to help other students at Paly and in local middle-schools with math assistance. For one, in almost every case, the student tutor has already taken the class, and has taken the class in the last few years. Speaking from experience, the material is very focused. Every course, from Algebra I to Analysis H, covers the material in a way we believe that only a student tutor can understand, having gone through the specific class before. We believe that student tutors, in most cases, are usually more familiar with the material than even a professional tutor, despite the overall experience gap. Tutoring requires refined knowledge of a particular subject. Not necessarily a college degree.

On top of that, we also feel that student tutors relate to their tutees much more easily than can adults. High schoolers relate to one-another — even if it’s a senior and a new freshman. Those who seek out tutees are more often than not students who are comfortable with helping others and know how to create a relaxed relationship more easily established among peers.

Student tutors are most effective when they are most familiar with the material. It shouldn’t require calculus level math to tutor someone in geometry, so in many cases the age gap is only a year or two — something much easier to bridge than a 20 year gap, or needing a fancy college degree.

We understand the need for an affordable program. But the truth is, most outside tutors charge fortunes compared to what Paly’s tutors make. Many Stanford students charge from $20-$30, with so-called professional tutors charging up to $150, according to Antink. In Paly’s case, is raising what parents in the community pay student tutors by a few dollars make tutoring unaffordable? The answer quite plainly is no. Paly students who take time out of their busy schedules to help other students deserve just and reasonable compensation. We believe paying them a fraction of what outside tutors earn is simply not fair. Instead we propose raising the student rate to at least $15. While this keeps the price affordable, it is also a much more reasonable compensation for students. It may even attract more attention to a lesser-known program at Paly, bringing more students in to offer their help. We know very few students who are currently able and willing to give up their time for only slightly above minimum wage, and for a quite mentally demanding job.

While the current $12 price does allow for parents with a lower price ceiling to afford tutoring, the minimum $15 dollar deal is still miles below that of the so-called professional tutors. Pro-bono tutoring could also be offered if students would be interested in helping out other kids who cannot pay for tutoring. These parents could include the fact they honestly don’t have the money, but still wish for their child to be able to find help.

Those who chose not to take any money from their tutees could instead receive other compensation. While there is a current system of student tutoring through the Academic Resource Center, students have to opt in for either this option, receiving extra credit per hour, or instead to tutor through the Math Department for the $12 amount. There is currently no way to offer both options to the tutor. Instead, the tutor should have the option of tutoring for extra credit if the family still cannot afford the help.

Antink, being both a math teacher and a tutor for non-Paly students, is pleased to see that there are students willing to offer their time.

“I’m just awfully  pleased that you guys [Paly students] will tutor for something,” Antink said.

We hope the Math Department can increases the $12 tutoring amount to a suggested $15 to hopefully increase the number of students willing to offer their time, thus directly being able to help more students. This in turn will allow the Math Department to have a longer list of go-to students who are willing to help parents who request tutors for their kids, or students themselves who are seeking help. Either way, if parents or students are seeking out student tutors for their lower price, or if they feel more comfortable having a student tutor them, this small increase in tutor wages will bring more attention and helping minds to those in need.

Editor’s Note: Jack Shapiro has been tutoring for a year under the $12 amount.