Interview: WeTutor’s Frank Marvin
Toward the end of our last school year, I had the opportunity to use and review WeTutor, an online tutoring service that allows parents and students access to quality tutors without ever leaving the comfort of your home. Overall, we were very pleased with out experience with WeTutor.
Now that it’s the time of year when kids are heading back to school — whether that means a public or private school classroom or the dining room table — and, therefore, the time of year when many parents are considering the need for tutoring in a child’s area of weakness, I wanted to follow up my review with an interview with WeTutor founder, Frank Marvin.
WUHS: Thank you, Frank, for taking the time to discuss WeTutor with me and the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers readers. When and how did you come up with the concept for WeTutor?
Frank: The concept of WeTutor was conceived about a year and a half ago. Many of our founders worked in the internet industry for America Online. We have seen how people have taken to purchasing products over the internet, and how this has made the marketplace for those products much more competitive for the consumer. We know that providing services online is next.
As the President and Chair of the Board of an independent school in McLean, Virginia I have seen how teachers’ salaries have continued to lose ground due to factors such as inflation and how jobs in other industries requiring similar or less education and experience pay much more, particularly in larger metropolitan areas. While many teachers try to tutor to offset this discrepancy in pay, they are limited in time and distance to which they can provide these services.
As we researched tutoring, we also found many instances where students did not have access to the best possible tutors simply because of the neighborhoods they happen to live in, or parents were being charged tremendous amounts of money because of where they lived. For these reasons we created WeTutor – to provide a way to help both teachers and parents.
WUHS: How long did it take to bring the concept to fruition?
Frank: Once we came up with the concept it has taken us over a year to build the system to enable this functionality, to work with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) to integrate their best practices of tutoring into our system, and to begin to market this idea to parents and teachers.
WUHS: Can you describe the process of selecting tutors for WeTutor, including the qualifications that must be met, how you find potential tutors and the screening process (with regards to safety and security issues)?
Frank: We did a significant amount of research when we developed WeTutor. In particular, we focused on what were the best practices of tutoring and how those were lacking in the current offerings by our competitors.
The number one most important variable to good tutoring is the quality of the tutor. And research has concluded that teachers make the best tutors. This is because they are professionals, trained to diagnose learning inabilities and are also master coaches, mentors and expert therapists. The marketplace has already accepted this fact as professional teachers tutor 5 times more students than tutoring centers.
WeTutor only allows currently active U.S. classroom teachers to use WeTutor. We verify this through the information that they give to us through registration so that we confirm their identities and that they are active teachers. As a back-up to the safety and security question, WeTutor only allows a parent to register. In addition, only the parent may select the tutor for their child. Tutors are unable to see who has registered to receive tutoring.
Finally, all interactions through WeTutor can be monitored by the parent, both at the PC where the services are being delivered and remotely (e.g., from their workplace PC).
WUHS: Although our overall experience with WeTutor was very positive, we did have several technical issues, both on our part and our tutor’s part. What type of technical training and support do the tutors receive?
Frank: WeTutor has created significant demonstration and training materials online for our tutors. In addition, we provide one on one training for those tutors who choose to do so, so that they may learn all aspects of using the system. WeTutor is still a new service so tutors need time to get used to it. We take all steps necessary to help them do so.
WUHS: Other than being online, are there aspects of WeTutor that set your company apart from other tutoring or learning centers?
Frank: The biggest difference between WeTutor and our competitors is that WeTutor’s tutors are all professional teachers. Other companies pay their tutors low amounts, keeping the majority of what a parent pays for themselves (between 40% and 70%). To offset this, these companies rely on tools and processes to try to standardize their teaching methods for all tutors.
WeTutor is providing a place for parents to access the best tutors in the business. The more it is used, the more great teachers and parents learn about it – the greater the options for both. WeTutor also delivers the vast majority of what the parents pay to the tutors themselves, thus making it a better option for these tutors.
The second key difference is that WeTutor enables our tutors to coordinate the efforts of the classroom teacher with the tutor. It is extremely important that parents receive direction from the classroom teacher as to what areas of focus are needed for their child for tutoring. Most if not all tutoring centers operate independently of the classroom teacher which can lead to undue pressure on the student and confuse the student because of a lack of coordination with what is being tutored versus what is being learned in the classroom.
WeTutor facilitates the classroom teacher to define the problem areas to be addressed and allows for the tutor to keep the teacher in the loop as learning progresses through to completion. In this manner, all of the child’s educators are working together to help them learn.
WUHS: I did notice that was true with my own experience with WeTutor. Our tutor was very willing to work with us on exactly what I had identified as my daughter’s problem areas, so I never felt like our time was being wasted. I found it to be a highly effective process.
If you could tell my readers one thing about WeTutor that they might not get from just looking around the website, what would it be?
Frank: There is an inherent conflict of interest when a parent approaches a tutor or tutoring center to receive help for their child. There is an old saying that if you want your child to have an allergy, take them to an allergist. Tutoring is no different. WeTutor takes away this conflict of interest by providing a collaboration approach so that a child only receives tutoring if their classroom teacher believes it is necessary, and their teacher is kept in the loop on an interim basis to help the parents insure that the tutoring is progressing along the right path.
As a corollary to this point, WeTutor is working in collaboration with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) – an association of over 1400 independent schools worldwide who has, as one of its charges, to provide best practices across the education system of its members. One of the key areas they are researching is tutoring. WeTutor requires our tutors to comply with the best practices of tutoring standards provided by the NAIS. Failure to do so can result in the tutor being removed from using the WeTutor service. It is through these standards that WeTutor provides a safe and effective way for parents to receive and tutors to provide the best tutoring possible.
WUHS: Thank you for your time in answering my questions, Frank. Based on my own experience with WeTutor, I think you’re offering a valuable resource for parents, teachers, and students, no matter their choice of educational method — public, private or home education.
I am suspect. When I look into companies or services being offered, I look for signs that may point to a positive or negative opinion toward homeschooling. One sign is referring to homeschooling or not referring to homeschooling. This founder did not refer to the homeschooling parent in any response. Yet, the opportunity was there. For instance, when referring to the partnering, he talks of the tutor and the classroom teacher working together. No mention of the homeschooling parent. This makes me suspect a low opinion of homeschooling.
He also strongly points out professionals as being the best. I know this is important for his hiring purposes, but, I am a professional teacher and know that you don't have to be a certified teacher to be an excellent teacher. Why not, instead of the need for the tutor being a professional, why can't he develop a set of standards to test for one being an excellent tutor? Again, I am suspect of a negative perspective toward homeschooling.
So, when I suspect a company may not share my positive perspective toward homeschooling, I get concerned as to why the company wants their hands on my children's minds. I don't know, but it is worth thinking about. This was in no means a push to avoid this company, just a word of caution.
I definitely see what you're saying, Holly, and I was a bit concerned when we reviewed WeTutor about there being a conflict with our tutor — a prejudice toward homeschoolers.
We, personally, did not find that to be the case and had a very positive experience, but I'm sure that feeling is out there with WeTutor or any other tutoring service.
My son took speech therapy through the local public school system and there was definitely an undercurrent there, from the teacher, until one day she asked why we homeschooled. Once we talked, her whole attitude changed. She even admitted that she'd considered homeschooling her daughter at one point. It was kind of funny.
Anyway, I don't blame you, at all, for being alert. (It's also nice to hear the affirmation about not having to be a certified teacher to be an excellent teacher.) When my daughter was tutoring, I sat right beside her the whole time, listening and watching, which is a nice benefit of WeTutor, I suppose. If I'd noticed any type of negative attitude, I'd have been able to step in.
As it was, our tutor was very willing to work with both of us, offering me some helpful websites and being willing to listen to my concerns and share tips that I could implement with my daughter. It was a nice feeling of having a colleague with whom to compare notes.
I'm sure every experience is different and it's wise to be cautious. And, for the record, it's not my intention to push WeTutor, but rather, simply to share our experience with them.
I'm not sure that I would have sought them out on my own, but when the review opportunity was offered — and the opportunity to get some outside insight into my daughter's area of weakness — I gratefully accepted.