Want to earn income although you research? Consider becoming a tutor

Perhaps it seems like an easy gig, bestowing your knowledge onto a younger generation for more cash and fewer aches than you’d get from working in a restaurant. But tutoring can be tough to get into – and there’s your conscience to consider: educational inequality is at its most stark in the tutoring industry. So how can students make it work for them?

Going it alone

Without teaching experience, it can be difficult to get started in the world of tutoring. English literature graduate Katie Newman, who is currently studying law in London, signed up to several different agencies when she began tutoring four years ago because it took so long to get the first few jobs.

The agencies she uses include Blue Tutors, Kensington and Chelsea Tutors, Gabbitas Educational Consultants and Tutor Hunt, and she teaches English language, literature, creative writing and English as a foreign language. Her tutees range from seven-year-olds to first-year degree level.

“It’s a really good earner and perfect if you’re doing a time intensive course as you earn more than you would per hour doing something like waitressing,” says Newman. She earns £20 to £30 an hour and tutors around four people a week.

But there are downsides. “I feel the tutoring industry has gone a little crazy – I see so many jobs for such young kids who really should be out playing in the park,” she says. “It’s an industry that has grown up out of a lack of school places.” Competition for schools and universities is high – many of the requests she gets are for 11+ and entrance exam practice – and Newman says she sometimes feels uncomfortable providing extra tuition only for those with wealthy or pushy parents.

For those looking to redress the balance, some organisations – such as Action Tutoring – take on volunteer student tutors, and universities often provide opportunities for students to get involved in outreach programmes.

The other barrier to agency work is a lack of training for inexperienced tutors. “Agencies often take a hefty commission, but they’re not so keen on giving any guidance or support,” says Newman. “At first I wasn’t sure what I was doing some of the time.”

Joining an organisation

Another route into tutoring, which is less lucrative but perhaps more structured, is to join one of the organisations that teaches groups of children after school or during the holidays, such as Explore Learning, which provides tuition in maths and English for 4- 14-year-olds.

Hannah Peters, 21, joined an Explore Learning centre in Crawley because she wanted something a bit different to a regular student bar job. “Explore Learning is seen as a fun place where children can enjoy learning,” she says.

The majority of tutors at the centres are students. They work an average of 10-12 hours a week, often more during the school holidays – and earn an hourly rate from around £6, rising depending on age and responsibilities. But competition for jobs can be fierce: a London centre recently received more than 1600 applications during one recruitment drive.

Employees receive mentoring and training, and have the opportunity to get involved in sales and marketing or workshops in schools. Many students use the role as a stepping stone to teaching or social work. Emily Wilson, the graduate recruitment manager at Explore Learning, says she looks for strong communications skills, a positive and professional manner, confidence, gumption and initiative.

The job also requires high energy levels, says Peters, a third-year economics student at the University of Sussex who will be going on to do the Explore Learning graduate scheme. The children come from a wide variety of backgrounds with varying educational needs. “Within an eight-hour shift you’ll work with several groups of children: you’ve got to be as energetic in the last hour as you were in the first,” she says.

Online tutoring

There is an easier way to tutor, however, without even having to leave your home. Bristol student Adam Lyth teaches maths and computer science through MyTutorWeb, a forum where students meet tutors from Russell Group universities in a virtual classroom and share documents, write, type and draw via a webcam and shared interactive.

Lyth’s youngest tutee is a 13-year-old boy studying for Eton’s King’s Scholarship award and his oldest is a first-year student at Durham. He started off earning £10 an hour but with several good references has been upgraded to premium tutor level at £12 an hour. He tutors for around seven hours a week and can agree those hours with his tutees and their families.

“I feel like I’m my own boss,” says Lyth, 20, comparing the job to other roles with strictly prescribed hours and tasks. He dismisses any notion that the online format is less conducive to study: “It immerses you as if you are with them. I think the whiteboard set up is more suitable for subjects like maths. It’s a great job if you’re patient and passionate about your subject, it looks good on a CV and helps with your own revision”.

Robert Grabiner, co-founder of MyTutorWeb, says: “Online tutoring makes location irrelevant and allows parents to find the best tutor regardless of where they live. A schoolchild in Newcastle can learn from a top Oxbridge undergraduate, with no travel costs.

“As technology advances pupils feel comfortable learning online, and parents tell us that their children can relate to the student tutors in a way that may not be possible with older teachers.”

The tutoring industry is expanding and the student body – with its expensive education, free time and typically empty bank accounts – is a rich source for potential new tutors. If you like children, and think you can hack teaching them, there are now plenty of options to choose from.

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