If you have a great deal of knowledge about a subject, you might be tempted to become a private tutor in that area, whether it’s math or English or some other academic topic. Being a private tutor can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience, but this will only happen if you – as the tutor – are in the right frame of mind, and have considered one or two important points. I would certainly encourage everyone who is qualified to become a private tutor, but only after they have taken a hard look at themselves and asked some pretty searching questions.
1. How well do you know the subject – how well do you truly know it? Students who are willing to pay for a private tutor expect the very best. Just because you have a Bachelors degree in a certain area doesn’t necessarily mean that you are qualified to teach it. Students are learning the subject for the first time, and so they need someone with an overwhelming pool of information regarding that subject. If you can’t use the students textbook as a sleeping aid – reading it is so boring and unremarkable that it makes you drowsy – you are probably not going to be the best tutor in the world. Students are expecting the best tutors in the world, and so you might want to consider refreshing yourself in the subject before attempting to become an educator.
2. How confident are you in the subject? Having the knowledge is one thing; having the bravado that comes with years of successfully applying that knowledge is another thing. Students have the uncanny, and sometimes scary, ability to spot the slightest lapse in their teachers confidence level. If your students see even a moment of weakness or indecision, their confidence in you will be greatly diminished. I’m not suggesting that you put on a false personality or that you gloss over your own mistakes; I’m suggesting that you practice the application of your knowledge to great lengths, so that you are brimming with an aura that only comes to those who are truly successful. Students will be able to sense this, and will entrust you with their education. If students sense that you’re weak and that you don’t know what you’re talking about, they will abandon ship.
3. How skilled are you at reading social cues? Teaching a class of 100+ students in a conference room requires little to no student-teacher interaction. There may not even be time for any student-teacher interaction. However, as a private tutor, you are being paid specifically for this interaction. The student is paying you to help them, and only them, and so your teaching methods have to change. You have to be able to spot the tiny nonverbal cues that all humans use to silently communicate: a twitch, a tiny frown, the hint of a smile. All of these are important signs that you need to be able to spot. In todays era of huge class sizes, young students may not have a strong ability to vocalize precisely what it is they find difficult, and you may need to rely on these nonverbal communications to read the students mind, as it where. Make sure that you yourself have the skills to detect and decipher these flashes from the student. If you’re not a social person, at least be an empathetic person, so that part of your brain is constantly watching for signs of distress. You’ll then know when to slow down or even repeat a homework problem with the student, and they’ll appreciate it.
4. How much time do you really have to spend on tutoring? When you consider the time needed to drive back and forth to the meeting place (whether it be at the students house, or some neutral meeting ground like a coffee shop), along with the time needed to prepare for the tutoring session (gathering notes, extra problems from other texts, etc), as well as the tutoring session itself, even a small collection of students can quickly add 10+ hours to your work week. Is your spouse ok with this? How about your family? Are you ok with this? Private tutoring is very attractive, and so a lot of people I know have gotten into it without fully considering the demands it places on your time. Once you’ve ensured that you can be a good tutor (see above points), make sure that you actually have the time to devote to this educational calling. If you can’t devote 10 or more hours a week to it, this probably isn’t the best time in your life to become a tutor.
5. Finally, ask yourself what you intend to get out of the experience. Are you looking for satisfaction? For money? Both can be found in the realm of private tutoring, but it’s important that you know your own goals. If you don’t have a set destination in mind, chances are you will never get there. If you’re looking for money, don’t be afraid to make that your primary consideration – this is your life, after all – and adjust your tutoring rates / availability times accordingly. If you’re looking for satisfaction, take on only those students whose presence you enjoy, and lower your rates to become competitive. You must have some reason that you’re intending to become a tutor, so just recognize what that reason is, and chase after it.
Being part of a students education is extremely rewarding. However, not everyone is cut out to be a good private tutor, and that’s not meant as an insult to anyone; we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. If you think that you might be suitable as a tutor for aspiring students (in whatever subject), ask yourself the above list of questions and see where it takes you. Hopefully someday very soon you’ll find yourself explaining a topic you love to a student who is struggling, and you’ll always be part of that students future success, which is something very special.