Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Interview with LP part II

This is continued from the Part I posted earlier. The interview comes because a fellow blogger wanted to publish a book detailing the real life examples of people who had combined their passions and hobbies and live a life that is both fun and rewarding financially. Not so sure why I'm in though.


Share with me some of the feelings you have while giving tuition? Like were you ever frustrated, felt very Sian? Where there periods of triumph etc?

Most of the feelings are felt in the earlier days because you tend to associate their triumphs and failures as personally as your own. I realized that there are so many students I had each year and I can't possibly handle all the emotional roller-coaster rides that comes with the job, so I'm more zen like these days. Zen doesn't mean that you don't care, it just means that you realized you are only human and can only do so much.

I think most of the feelings associated with tutoring can be classified under frustration. Either the student, after the umpteen times you've repeated yourself, still doesn't seem to grasp it, or that the student forgot whatever you've said in the last lesson. Sometimes after a week of pent up frustration, I forgot what I was there for and started showing signs of anger and venomous words of sarcasm will spring out from my mouth. As soon as I realized that the negative emotional state I was in, I'll try my best to rein it in. I never leave a lesson feeling bitter because there's no point. I guess there's a lot of emotional labor involved, as for all jobs that deal with humans.

But for every few cases where you feel extreme frustration, there are 1 or 2 cases that more than make it up for your effort. There's a sense of satisfaction in a job well done, and you know you've made a difference to a person's life in a milestone examination. The students and their parents will be very grateful and give personal thanks. I remembered a particular parent who texted me that it is easy to find a tutor but not easy to find a good tutor. This little moments that shows you've contribute positively to a person will more than make up for the frustrating ones.

Being a tutor is hardwork, especially during the peak examination season. Imagine saying the same thing for the hundredth time for that week and you've worked for 6 straight hours in a go with only 15 mins lunch break, and you still have another 4 more hours to go you finish work so that you can have a later dinner at 1030pm? This kind of hectic schedule can carry on for weeks before ending. It's not about the money anymore - you just can't say no to someone who needed your help and have exams creeping so close to them. I know I don't have the heart to refuse them.

Have you encountered difficult parents or students? Specially, why were they difficult and what lessons did you learn from these situations?

I think difficult students and parents are part of the job - it's just statistics that sooner or later, you'll meet one of them. I'll try to restrict it to just one such case per year. I'll usually cut my losses, meaning that I'll drop that student off since we have disagreements on how best to help the student.

Some parents have very strong ideas on what and how to teach their child. They will sit in with me during the lessons and tell me that in today's lesson, I'll have to teach the child this and that. I don't know why they needed my help since they do not trust me in teaching the way I do it. There are others who wanted me to write a report after each lesson to summarize what I've done for the kid and to explain if their child is not doing as well as they should even after tutoring. I think they wanted a sort of guarantee for the money they had 'invested' that I cannot and refuse to give. Since I'm not taking the examinations myself, I can only guarantee that I would do whatever I can to help the child but I cannot guarantee results. If they cannot agree on this, then they would have to find another tutor that can give them what they want.

There is one particular difficult student that I remembered. He is a pathological liar and is totally disinterested in helping himself in his studies. He already had several tutors before me but all of them had dropped him because of the troubles he made during lesson time. How do you motivate someone who do not want to help himself? I don't have a consistently good answer to that question. Ironically, I think I became much more zen after meeting this particular student because I realized that there's only so much you can do to bring the horse to the river. If the horse does not wish to drink it, there's nothing you can do about it.

What I learnt is that there must be communication with the parents as to the kind of expectations they want from the tuition and what I can do to help. From what I observed, a lot of difficult parents and students can be reduced by charging a higher fee. Strange as it may sound, I found that by charging a premium fee, you can reduce most of the unmotivated students and difficult parents. I have many reasons but I would leave it to the readers to think why this might be so.

What are some ways to market yourself as a creditable super tutor?

Nothing works better than word of mouth. I've started this career by using tuition agencies but I've had bad experiences with them and after the first year, I no longer use their services. A huge number of my students come from referrals from existing students or their parents. I guess there are many tutors in the market, so only through the referrals of someone who had been under a particular tutor would you know if he/she is good at teaching. I think the results (after the tuition) speak for itself, so I don't have to do much to market myself as a 'incredible' tutor.

I've placed ads in the internet in my first year and it had been generating enquiries for a few years until now, even though I didn't bother about it for many years. The one by Nextlevel tutor network is the most successful ad referrals for me and arguably one of the best decisions I've made when I started on this career.

What are some essential tools or skills or logistics or capital to get start? (If applicable)

Being a tutor has very small start up cost, unless you're starting a tuition centre with classroom facilities. In terms of financial capital, I'll say it's negligible if you're starting out small. I think personality helps a lot. I'll be very good if you keep an open mind, have patience and love interacting with young people.

Can you share with me one very interesting experience as a tutor? Something shocking, funny, etc.

I had a student once who was always very tired and sleepy when I first started tutoring him when he was in secondary 3. Let's just call him M, who was from St. Patrick. I guess after a whole day of school and then after that, the hot sun and the parades (he joined St. John's uniformed group), he is often very sleepy during my lesson. Usually when I see M's eye lids are drooping, I'll ask him to wash his face or eat something to keep awake. There was this time when he was sitting diagonally to me and he was writing some things for the work that I've assigned him. His head was bent down, so I cannot really see his face but I can see his hands writing away. He was scribbling away but after a while, he stopped. He must be deep in thoughts, so I thought. But after a sufficient long time, there's still no movement. I put my head nearer to the table so that I can peep on his face and found that he's actually asleep! This is not the most incredible thing yet. I didn't wake him up, but after some time, the hand starts scribbling away again as if nothing had happened. I think he must have fallen asleep while writing without him knowing at all!

He had a very happy ending though. He got a very good score for O'levels and went to polytechnic to do the course that he had always wanted.

Are there anymore advice you would like to give to someone who wants to start out just like yourself?

Don't do this for the money, the pain and frustration is not worth it. You can try it out first, taking a few assignments while being employed and see if you like what you're doing before deciding to switch to full time tutoring. You've got to handle all the paper trails a self-employed got to handle that a HR department can do easily for an employee. There's no year end bonus, no paid leave, no MC, no company dinner, no colleagues, no boss staring down at you, no office politics, no promotion, no demotion, no retrenchment, unstable pay, unlimited pay.... make sure you know what you're getting into. But if you like what this sounds, it's the best job that anybody can ever ask for. I don't even call it a job, it's a hobby.


Ken said...

A very interesting post! I enjoy reading it. Thanks!

PanzerGrenadier said...


Great to hear more about your experiences as a tutor. I found it interesting :-)

Be well and prosper.

Anonymous said...

Hi LP,
By just providing "'Newbie's FAQ FOC" in your blog, I know you love the teaching profession. You love to see people improve their knowledge that may help them to live a better life; help them to become a better person; etc..

Can you share why "BULLy the BEAR"?
It's quite frightening, you know!
Ha! Ha!

la papillion said...

Hi Ken and PG,

I'm glad you found it interesting, haha :)

Hi temperament,

Well, you got me there :) I like to see myself as contributing something to other people's life :) I call it the teacher's complex, haha!

Oh, regarding the name of the site... If I give you any reasons, that would be just lying :) I named it as such because it just came to me at the moment I'm going to key in the title. Nice ring to it too :)

Anonymous said...

Allow me to share a quote.

"The real meaning of educate - derived from the Latin word 'educo', which means to educe, to draw out, to develop from within."

Thus, I find teaching/educating one of the most noble of professions.
It's not so much of the impart of knowledge, but more of showing the ropes.

Respect for you man LP!


Skye Soon said...

Reading this almost 10 years down the road as a full-time tutor and I really relate to some of your experiences! XD I agree, the longer you teach as a tutor the more zen you become.

Enjoying your blog so far!


Skye Soon said...

Reading this almost 10 years down the road as a full-time tutor and I really relate to some of your experiences! XD I agree, the longer you teach as a tutor the more zen you become.

Enjoying your blog so far!


la papillion said...

Hi Skye,

Wow...this post is so long ago, I wonder how you found it lol

Welcome to my humble blog :)