One way to ensure your soon-to-be bar or bat mitzvah is on track and ready for the big day is to hire a tutor.
The b'nai mitzvah tutor serves not only as a religious teacher, but also as a motivator. The right tutor can make your child want to study and want to be more involved in the process. He or she can even turn a boring hour-long session into a fun-filled religious learning activity.
But how do you differentiate between a capable tutor and incompetent flop? At $65 per hour for 40 to 50 weeks, you had better be sure you don't hire someone whose sole intent is soaking up your dough by throwing a few "baruchs" your child's way during the one-hour session. Even worse than wasting your money, your child could not only lose valuable study time, but also learn poor study skills and develop a negative attitude toward religious study. The tutor has the potential to make or break your child's b'nai mitzvah experience and thus, fundamentally shapes their religious involvement. For that, choosing the tutor could be one of the most important aspects of the b'nai mitzvah process.
Unfortunately, finding a competent tutor can be a true quest. Be sure to consider a few key points when picking the right tutor.
Has your perspective tutor bothered to open a siddur in the last year, let alone attend services at a synagogue? Is the tutor you're interviewing relying on his or her own synagogue education and a few Debbie Freidman songs? Does the tutor's trope match that used in your congregation? What do past clients have to say about the tutor, as well as about his or her temperament?
B'nai mitzvah preparation "is like a prescription ... if you fill it, then you'll get to where you need to get to," said tutor Jeff Bernhardt, a 20-year private b'nai mitzvah tutor who also works at Temple Israel of Hollywood.
Bernhardt says one of the key characteristics of an effective tutor is knowledge of the topic. The b'nai mitzvah tutor must know the Torah trope, haftarah trope and every prayer required by the congregation, in addition to the tunes each synagogue employs.
The tutor to avoid is someone who relies primarily on their own adolescent education to help him or her through the lessons, as well as one stuck on his or her own tunes and trope, rather than the ones used at the student's synagogue.
The ideal tutor coordinates with your shul's cantor -- regardless of whether he or she is affiliated with the synagogue -- and takes the necessary steps to ensure that the lessons taught fit in with the congregation's customs.
Another important characteristic of a decent tutor is to "know where the student is developmentally" and from there establish practical expectations, Bernhardt said. The ideal tutor should be able to determine the student's Hebrew skills during the first lesson and create solid goals based on those skills. And if your child has developmental delays that require special consideration, be sure that the tutor is not only aware of these needs but is capable of addressing them.
Prior to each session, parents and tutors should also meet to review progress toward the student's goals, identifying positive results and areas that require more work.
An effective tutor should make the student want to succeed, in addition to understanding the difficulties of going through the b'nai mitzvah process. "Being encouraging" and "sensitive" to the student's needs are major characteristics to look for in a tutor, Bernhardt said.
Tutors who have their own idea of what the b'nai mitzvah will be like and don't check in with the students to determine progress can be problematic. The tutor might assign a large workload and make derogatory comments if your student doesn't measure up to his or her expectations.
Bernhardt suggests using word of mouth to help narrow the list of available tutors. In addition to tutors available through your synagogue, find out whom your friends and family members have used. Their experience can help guide you to building a level of trust that will make you feel comfortable with a particular candidate.
Give yourself enough time to seek out the winning candidate. Finding your golden tutor may take a few attempts, and it's wise to start searching even before you set a date or book a venue.
Also, be sure to include your child, the student, in the final stages of the decision-making process. The only way to really gauge compatibility will be to see how your child and the tutor interact.
A tutor will be a major influence in your child's religious future, development and overall b'nai mitzvah success. In addition to their role as a teacher, a tutor can also be a mentor and a friend, so it's important to ensure the match is one that will still be strong once the party is over and the thank-you cards have been mailed out.