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Sera Rivers

Sera Rivers

Tutoring Clarissa:

Overcoming Learning Obstacles

tutor and student

I tried my best to make sessions fun, but she resisted.

“Do I have to?” Clarissa whined. Her body slumped in her chair, her arms went limp, her mouth curled down. “Writing’s so boring.”

“Do you like to draw or tell stories?”

Clarissa shook her head vigorously. “No, no, no.”

I exhausted a long list of fun word-related activities. The only thing that interested her was Hangman. A bit of hope! I promised a five-minute game of Hangman if she cooperated.

Still, our one-hour a week together was a struggle for the first couple months. Clarissa fidgeted in her seat so much; she often slid right out. She was easily distracted. Her eyes wandered all over the room. She pored over the intricate details of her pencil’s eraser. She talked off subject. She protested assignments with so much energy; doing them would have taken much less energy and time.

Each week, I left her house with both of us fatigued and unhappy. But I couldn’t give up. So many people gave up on Indigo when he was young, and it resulted in his distrust of new helpers. Clarissa wanted to learn. I could tell.

I just needed to figure out HOW to teach her.

Raising Indigo taught me that much of the resisting, whining, and fidgeting are signs of overload. Indigo’s brain couldn’t process all the information going on at once and he became so overwhelmed, he shut down. Once we got past his barriers, he was able to get the work done.

I had a feeling Clarissa didn’t feel confident in her abilities. I believe she didn’t fully trust me since we had just met and was afraid to ask for help. I thought about the approaches I used to help Indigo with his homework and the successful strategies that his teachers and paraprofessionals implemented. Then I analyzed my sessions with Clarissa and developed a plan.

Sand timer

Clarissa resisted less as we got to know each other. I learned to prompt her. “Let’s stop for a minute and brainstorm. What do you think would happen if it rained the entire night before a big picnic?” I learned to tell her there was no wrong answer and I offered possible answers as well. This helped a lot.

In the past nine months, Clarissa has overcome many learning obstacles. She is no longer afraid to sound out words or use a dictionary if she doesn’t know how to spell them and she shows interest in new projects. On occasion, she still says, “Do I have to?”

But now I respond, “Remember when you didn’t think you could do XYZ? Now you’re a pro at that, and soon you’ll master this, too. I'll help you.”


Clarissa has accomplished a lot this year. One short story got published in a literary magazine, and she won the children’s poetry contest at her local library. Most importantly, she has gained confidence in her ability to create.

Advice to parents: A tutor can help your child overcome learning obstacles. Consistency is key. Weekly sessions will create a routine that will help your child's brain retain information and remember learning strategies. Inform the tutor about your child’s learning style, strengths and weaknesses. Make sure the tutor has experience with special education.

School supplies

It’s important to create a rapport with your child’s tutor beforehand. Be upfront about negative behaviors, as well as strategies that you find helpful. Do not be afraid to ask for references.

If you do not feel comfortable inviting someone into your home, pick a neutral location with a quiet space to work, such as your local library, community center, church or coffee shop. Many places offer meeting rooms for free.

© Sera Rivers