Most Singaporeans have participated in the billion dollar tuition industry in some way or another—whether by attending tuition classes as a kid, sending their own children for tuition, or moonlighting as private tutors to earn a slice of that billion dollar pie.
But while superstar full-time tutors can rake in over a million bucks a year, there are many rookie and part-time tutors who struggle.
Here are four pitfalls to avoid as a beginning tutor.
Doing too much overtime
It is very, very common for beginning tutors to not be strict with their time and do way too much OT when they’re with a student. Sometimes, you just need an extra twenty minutes to go through a student’s assignment with him.
The problem is, as a private tutor, you are only being paid for the 1.5 to 2 hours you were hired to be there for. Doing 30 minutes of OT at the end of a 1.5 hour slot is very different from doing 30 minutes of OT at the end of an 8 hour work day. And if you have multiple students, all that OT can really add up and leave you completely exhausted.
No matter how much you care about your students, be strict with your hours unless you are absolutely sure you can spare the extra time without being paid for them. If you have to, break down your lessons into smaller parts so you can allocate different tasks to each—for instance, fifteen minutes of going through homework, half an hour of teaching new material and so on.
And if you consistently find you’re not able to finish the lesson within the allotted time, it’s time to speak with the parents about adding an extra lesson to the week or extending the lesson duration.
Accepting assignments which require a long commute
Rookie tutors tend to accept any assignments that pay a decent rate. But beware when the student lives very far away from your home/workplace.
If your commute is one hour each way for a 1.5 hour lesson for which you are being paid $45 at a rate of $30/hour, you actually spend 3.5 hours each time you go to that student’s home and back. That means you are effectively earning only $12.86 per hour. If you teach multiple students in a single day, a long commute for each one means you are limiting the number of students you can fit in.
For those tutors without their own transport, if a student lives very far away and really wants you to teach him (for instance because you have been highly recommended by his friend), you can try to negotiate a transport surcharge of around $10 to $20 per lesson.
Sad to say, many, many private tutors get burnt by non-paying clients. Students usually pay at the end of every four lessons (for one class a week) or eight lessons (for two classes a week). Often, at the very last lesson before the student graduates, sits for his final exam or leaves on vacation, the parent or student will “forget” to bring their fees. Good luck trying to collect it from them now that they no longer need you.
To combat this, some tutors insist on being paid in cash at the end of every lesson. Better still, have the parent pay for the entire month up front at the first lesson of each month. This will also offer you protection in case the student cancels lessons suddenly.
Classes getting cancelled on short notice
Tuition sessions cancelled at the last minute are the bane of every tutor’s life. Not only do they not get paid for that session, they also waste a slot they could have fit another student into.
To get around this, draw up a contract whenever you commence teaching a new student and have their parents sign it. You will want to get your students to pay you on a monthly basis. This will enable you to impose a penalty for lessons cancelled less than 24 hours in advance.
Whether you enforce this or not is up to you, but you want to at least be able to do so if a student repeatedly cancels at the last minute just because he prefers to spend his evening playing on his Xbox. Often, just knowing that they will be charged if they cancel at the last minute is enough to make the students respect your time more.
Have you ever worked as a private tutor? Share your biggest challenges in the comments!