How to Start Tutoring: FAQ Guide

For a lot of graduating high school students, it’s a relief to be able to forget everything and dump (or sell) those HSC notes so you never have to lay eyes on them! But let’s not run off so quickly…Many students, in fact, end up tutoring as a job for a number of reasons:

  • Relatively good pay per hour
  • You already have the knowledge (having studied the subjects)
  • Flexibility (generally one hour blocks)

To help you get started, here is my FAQ guide on starting your own tutoring business or job:

Should I tutor if I don’t have super high marks?

Having high marks in a subject certainly helps you to market yourself as a tutor to parents – it’s an easy way for parents to assess whether you’d be a good tutor for their kid (although high marks does not always equate to a good tutor) and it’s also a common question that you will get. So it’s logical and better to be able to respond with a “Yes, I got 9X” rather than “I got 80”.

Having high marks can also be a determining factor if you intend to start out tutoring as an employee of a tutoring centre. Many centres request a copy of your HSC Results and expect a 90+ in order for you to work for them.

Keeping those notes in mind, it is not essential to have super high marks to be a tutor. If this is you, think about:

  • Teaching younger school levels (say primary school and Year 7 to 10)
  • Teaching the subjects you did excel in. Even if you got an average ATAR, perhaps you excelled at the Science subjects, but were brought down by Math and English – therefore, try tutoring Science.

Should I start working in a tutoring centre or work as a private tutor?

This is often up to personal preference and confidence. It’s a matter of working for someone else, or working for yourself.

Working in a tutoring centre:

  • Everything is organised for you – the location, resources, payment, liaising with the parents, advertising for students etc. This takes a lot of pressure off you, especially if you have no idea “how” to tutor or how to run a business.
  • Centres often require parents to pay for a full term, so you are guaranteed continual work/pay.
  • Your work is limited to the time that you are paid (see below points for private tuition).
  • BUT  you will get paid less than if you were tutoring privately, because the centres will take a profit margin off. Depending on the centre, you may be getting paid minimum wage, while the centre charges parents $50 per hour.
  • There is also, obviously, less flexibility in that you tend to have to work minimum rostered hours per week and you can’t choose your students.

On the flip side, private tuition means:

  • Everything is controlled by you. This has benefits as you can choose when/where to tutor, your method/strategy for tuition, price charged per hour, and this gives you a lot more flexibility to adapts things to your personal life and other commitments like uni and family/friends.
  • You get 100% of the price charged per hour, because there is no “middle” man.
  • BUT because everything is controlled by you, it requires a lot more commitment and responsibility. Do you have a place to tutor? If you’re tutoring at their place, are you willing to travel? What resources to do you need (e.g. past papers, study guides) and how much will it cost? Are you going to prepare for each lesson (prep worksheets and review materials)? How long will that take?
  • Your work is often not limited to the tuition time. For example, you may tutor a student for one hour, but spend 10 mins travel plus 1 hour before and after doing preparation of materials or marking their work. Or the student may call or email you outside the tutoring time to ask you a question. Because you are the direct contact (as opposed to say a centre manager), it will be hard to “stop” work.

My advice? If you’re not sure about how to tutor, it may be easier to just start out in a tuition centre to get some experience before moving to private tuition.

What subjects should I tutor?

Subjects that you were good at! English tends to be one of the most popular and sought after subjects to be tutored in. This is because everyone has to do English, but not everyone is good at it. Alternatively, Maths, Science, languages are also popular.

Try bundling subjects together with students, so you teach them two hours (e.g. one hour Maths and one hour English), which can be more efficient in terms of travel, getting to know the student etc.

In terms of ease? Maths is definitely easier as the syllabus, skills etc are pretty much static and the same. English, on the other hand, has a wide and changing syllabus (like in 2015), which may require more work if you have to read/study texts that you didn’t study yourself.

How do I get students?

In your advertisement, you should promote your achievements and what you can offer. For example, a high ATAR, high subject results, what year you graduated, what tutoring experience you have, what school you went to, what subjects you tutor, what you charge, do you travel etc.

Ok, someone’s asked me for tuition, now what do I do?

During the initial phone call, you should get the following information:

  • Obviously, the student’s name, their year and subject they want help in.
  • If the subject is HSC English, ask what Modules and texts they are doing.
  • What the student wants help with specifically in the student (they may not know, which is fine).
  • Ask them to bring their latest school report/results, exams, assessments (you can get a snapshot of the student’s strengths/weaknesses and keep a copy to track their improvement under your tuition).
  • Ask them to bring their school books, if relevant.

If necessary, you can prepare before the lesson by:

  • Have a quick look into the English modules and texts they are doing, if you haven’t studied/tutored them before. There’s no point in a student coming to you about a module/text and you have no idea what they are talking about – they will probably feel like they know more than you!
  • Prepare some worksheets/tasks. This is more for the younger students, where they tend to go to tutoring, but don’t actually know what they need help with. Often the parents just want you to improve their grades (somehow…) or give them extra homework. Having worksheets/tasks ready will give you something to work with during the lesson and also after if you give it to the student as homework. That way, there is a definite sense that they did something during the lesson and got something out of it (homework…).

How do I tutor?

This is a super broad question and depends on you and the student. I prefer to leave things flexible, but have “plans” in mind in case the student rocks up with no questions to ask me about and no work they need help with.

Well we can’t just stare blankly at each other…

So a basic lesson plan would be:

  • Ask the student what they did at school that day, or over the past week since you last saw them. This gives you an idea of what they are up to and also jogs the student’s mind as to whether there was anything they wanted to ask you about.
  • Ask the student if they have any upcoming exams, assignments etc. It’s shocking how many students will turn up at tutoring and tell you they have an exam or essay due tomorrow, which they forgot to tell you about until now. So ask early and regularly, and write down the dates so you can check their progress.
  • Review material based on their school work. The student may ask you questions. If not, briefly quiz the student on what they did at school to check their learning.
  • Strive ahead in their school work. If you know what they are learning next and you have the time, you should try to teach a little bit ahead. This means that the student learns the material twice (with you and at school), which gives greater reinforcement. It also gives the student confidence at school, because they feel like they have already been briefed/tutored on the next topic (by you).
  • IF after all that, there is nothing to do from school (yes, this can happen when the student has just come back from holidays, or a camp, or it’s near Christmas) – you can give them some prepared work. You should have some resources ready for “extra” work, like general aptitude/math/English tests or workbooks/sheets on general skills such as poetry techniques etc.

How much should I charge?

One of the most troubling questions… Accordingly to the Bored of Studies thread, the majority of tutors charges $30 per hour for tuition. However, this charge is really up to you and can vary depending on:

  • What subject are you tutoring? Some more “niche” subjects, typically languages, can be charged at a higher rate because the tutors are more rare.
  • Are you travelling to the student? I know some tutors will charge an extra $5 if they are required to travel to the student’s place.
  • What experience do you have tutoring? Years and qualifications can be a factor in lifting your price. In particular, some current school teachers, or HSC markers can charge up and over $100 per hour.

Remember, be fair in your price to yourself and the student.

If you have any further questions about starting off work as a tutor, please leave a comment and it may be added to the list.

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