It depends on your purpose. If you are hired to help improve skills, you may look at weak areas and work to build them. If you are hired to help with homework, then you do that.

I suggest you speak with the students teacher and discuss learning objectives and goals. That way you can work together to align what your teaching with the primary teachers lesson. However feel free to teach the student in different ways because if the primary was getting it through to them using their method, you would not be needed. I find it works best for the student when you strike a balance between primary teacher goals and your own pedagogy.

I did my first tutoring job towards the end of the school year. I tutored a 5th grader that struggled with math. The first thing I did was go to his teacher to find out what areas he struggled with the most. She told me he had a real problem with fractions, so we concentrated on those during many of our tutoring sessions. She also provided me with some study guides and an EOG Sample Test to use in our sessions. The student qualified for 21st Century Learning Program because of low EOG scores last year. This year, he passed the Reading and Math tests on his first try!

Be careful about relying too much on the classroom teacher. Some are reluctant to share a whole lot, figuring that you're getting paid to tutor, not them.

I always contact the teacher, but I have found the same as Alice...not everyone cares to share information. I ask the parents to bring work samples and report cards, etc, but I spend the first session testing the waters. Seeing what the kid needs to know. I do not use the time to do homework with the kid. The kids I get are so far behind, usually, that the homework is WAY too hard for them. They need the previously taught skills that they have missed. I try to be diagnostic, and figure that out, and go from there. For example, I have a little 1st grader, going into 2nd, right now who doesn't know his vowel sounds. When I started with him, he didn't really know any letter sounds and/or sight words and he couldn't write his name in lower-case letters. We got right to work on sounds, letters and sight words, and now we are focusing on vowels and blending/segmenting, and hitting word families HARD.

I start with "let me see your notebook." Very ofen, that's the answer to the problem-- nothing there!!! When the kid says the teacher "doesn't give notes" my response is along the lines of "so exactly what happens in that class every day?? What does she write on the board? What does she say??" Hammering in the idea of note taking is often a great first step. I work with the kid on the new material; in most cases I don't try to go back. (I realize that sometimes that's not practical though.) If I can get the kid to start seeing an improvement in terms of grades, the battle is won-- the kid will try more, the parents are happy, the teacher will be more encouraging. Once I have the kid on board I can go back and review the old stuff.

In math class many students do not know what notes are. Many of my students claim their math teachers don't give notes. Yet the teacher writes on the board the entire class...

Yeah, it's normally a big part of why they're being tutored. Though I think a decent math teacher should also give verbal notes that a kid can use to study from.

I agree, though my entire math department, from what I've observed from class and from their students notes, does not do so

My general philosophy as a tutor is that its my job to "translate" their teacher. The teacher is teaching to a whole classroom full of kids. Even with differentiated instruction, it's nearly impossible to cater to the individual needs of 30+ students. It's my job then, to figure out exactly how the individuals in front of me need to hear the information, and to help them make the connection between that and what they're hearing from their teachers. Like Alice, I start with "let me see your notebook". Even students who do take notes are often times just writing down what the teacher says without really understanding. From there, I can usually figure out how the teacher is presenting material, so I can help them make that bridge between class time and true understanding. I also feel it is my job to help the students learn to help themselves. I spend time teaching students who to read a math text and learn from it. I teach them how to figure out more complicated problems from the easier problems that came before. I consider myself a success, not if a student passes or improves their grades, but when that student no longer needs me to learn new material...no matter how big of a disconnect there is between them and the teacher.