The Tuition Game

It is a very interesting industry. The private tuition game. It would have been termed a job or profession if it truly was so, but in all aspects it's a game. A people management game, a discipline game, an effectiveness game and the game of illusions.

Tutors generally come in all shapes and sizes and are usually aware that no other profession coughs up upwards of 20 an hour rates except for entry level professional entities. Rates commanded are based sometimes on seniority, qualifications and pure guesswork.

Typically in descending order:

1. Ex-Teachers, Retirees [of the seasoned, wrinkled variety]

Some are good and then some are real good. This group is aware that a financial supplement to their civil service salary is quite welcome indeed. However, their classroom ideas of discipline and attention span will inevitably translate to the tuition arena. More often than not, they provide extensive knowledge through years of experience and spotting questions; but their students beg their parents to stop the tuition due to the repeat of mainstream nightmares.

2. NIE Trained Teachers [like as if NIE training really matters]

The NIE certification is very very overestimated. Not everyone who graduates from a course there can teach. This is in accordance with friends and friends of friends we've all known who couldn't attract the attention of crows while being a scarecrow even. Still, the tagging of the "NIE" brand is solely for enticing the paymasters, the parents.

3. Undergraduates [Of any field and discipline]

The myriad of undergrads teaching everything from subjects they know to subjects they don't are the main fuel of the industry. Undergrads typically are hungry for money and are exceedingly mobile. It is not uncommon to see an Arts student churning up numbers in A Maths lessons or a Science student professing astute knowledge in History. Whatever you can pitch to land a job.

4. Others [A very wide and encompassing group, usually those that end up spoiling the market]

This group mainly is employed by people who are of the thinking that as long you have cleared that level, you are able to supervise for that level. A very layman's way of terming this would be "If you are Pri 6, you can teach a Pri 5 student". This is where the Poly dudes, ITE dudes and private school students factor in. Why I say they are the market spoilers? Because the most amount of undercutting occurs within this group. Whereas a seasoned teacher will fart at the thought of less than 40/hour and an undergrad at less than 25/hour, this group have been known to offer their services for as little as 10/hour. Very inappropriate if you ask me.

We've assessed the manpower situation that feeds the demand. Now for the creation of demand. Why do people take tuition? A few reasons spring to mind. None of those will be initiated by the actual student. See, parents these days have some vague notion that the longer their kid spends on academics the more his/her grades are gonna grow. Possibly they are also aware that most kids hate school and most teachers are handling 30 odd students at the same time. Not good enough a ratio for personal coaching. So, the reasons would be:

1. My kid is failing the subject
2. My kid needs to improve his grade in the subject [sometimes wishing for an F9 to an A1]
3. My kid seems too free.

Thus, they go thru the motions and go about their various means and resources to procure a tutor. These are:

1. Ask a friend who has employed a tutor before
2. Call up a random agency, possibly the one which has the best advert in the Classifieds
3. Hook up the kid in an already existing group tuition where his friend is enrolled in

There needs to exist a certified code of conduct and market rates for this industry to succeed, something which is highly unlikely in the near future because this is one of the most cut throat areas ever to work at. Not to mention the high turnover rate. Tutors quit and get sacked at whims and fancies. Also, parents are mostly of the false belief that it is a buyer's market. So, instead of being well-informed consumers and sussing out products and evaluations in order to provide for one of the most sacred of all services; education; these parents work on utter randomness. [Brownian motion of smoke particles comes to mind]

Hence, parents go thru a minimum of 3-4 tutors before hitting jackpot. By jackpot, don't be mistaken that it means its a tutor who manages to help the ailing academics of their unfortunate child. Jackpot means a tutor they can stand. See, this industry is fucked up in the way that the person receiving the service is the true victim in all sense. Victimized by his parents because he doesn't have much say in the selection of tutors and victimized by inept tutors who play the double game very well. These tutors take great pains to please their paymasters, the parents. They smile, go "hello auntie, hello uncle, have you eaten", take their seat, spout out 2 hours of nonsense [inclusive 1.5 hours of the kid just doing his exercises] and then leave. None the wiser.

The parents are overjoyed when they come across punctual, polite, well mannered and "not in a rush for dough" tutors. They treasure these employees and treat them like part of the family amidst the fact their kid's grades have jumped barely 1/2 a percentage point from 30 to 30.5 still earning him his F9.

Where has the focus gone to? Should the tutors be servicing the student or their parents? Granted, you always keep your salary givers in the best possible relations ever but is that what tutoring is about? I for one believe in results. Result oriented education. My self-coined term and I might make millions out of it. For what do you fork out 5 times what a Macdonald's employee earns to a twiddly thumbed tutor if not for results?

I have a tuition kid and he recently cleared his mid-years. Amazingly, he managed to fail everyone of his subjects except the 2 I am tutoring him in. Funny thing is, he is also getting tutored for all the others save one. So, just by general comparison, who is delivering the results? And then I've also had kids who have a distinct jump in grades after jus the first month under me, but yet the assignment was doomed from the start.

See, in line with the entire "buyer's market" misconception, parents [particularly Yindians] still want to grate their value for money out of you. You cease to be just the tutor in their eyes and evolve into being a full time employee under their directorship. By this I mean, punctuality to the dot [give or take 5 seconds], general appearance, "they can cancel but you don't" theory and the like. Cowboys who are "flexible" in timings and days are non-tolerable but "hello auntie" kids who do zilch for their offspring have their virtues extolled to the high skies.

Where is the orientation to results? I say we need to purge this thinking. Most of youse are probably still employees but might one day get to managerial and employer positions. Don't be a fucking doofus and insist on running military precision disicpline when the work really gets done on time and is done well. Defeats the purpose of good work doesn't it? Case in point, Google. Google's offices do not even look like offices. Holiday chalets or each individual's living room is a better description.

Back to the tuition perspective, it's perhaps wishful thinking that the dynamics change to what the student wants. What days he wants, what times he wants, is he comfortable with you and do his grades pick up. By all means, the next time you come across horror parents who believe you are on their payroll and so go all "Give me 20 push ups soldier" on you, do invite them to sit in on your lesson so they can gain the benefits for what they pay for.

Who are we teaching anyway?

Now, the dynamics is clear isn't it? Which is common in this upside down world we live in. Reminds me of 2 different departments I've worked at. In one, my boss sets me work, and doesn't care where I'm at, what I'm doing as long as some basic requirements are met:

1. I come in to work in the morning.
2. My work is shit-hot. [as opposed to dog-shit, both airforce lingo]
3. My work is on time [most of the time, I deliver a 2 week deadline in 2 working days]

The other department I've worked at was like this:

1. Boss sets me work, gives me 2 weeks. I'm done in 2 days, he's on MC/leave etc.
2. I am bored and have no work to do [not a fault of mine]
3. I become the permanent smoking point fixture.
4. Productivity hours are not counted but "sitting at the table" hours are counted.

This the horror department where no one really cares if work is done [their department standard is replying you only after the 3rd reminder e-mail], but they DO care if they don't see you at your desk from 8 am to 530 pm.

But on the other side, there are parents I'd like to flag up as ideal paymasters. Like this one:

Me: Auntie, I kinda need my money in advance cos I'm running damn tight and I need to pay rent.
She: Eh, why you ask until like that? It's your money you know, you have all the right to demand it. I know how it's like to pull off part time jobs. [Lady in question is a top notch financial agent with a local bank]

Same lady, different day:

Me [to the kid]: Eh, your parents not in today? Damn, thought can get my money.
Kid: Wait I tell them.
She: Sorry, sorry we weren't around. Can I transfer to you early tomorrow morning cos I can't do it now.
Me: Phew. Sure, thanks.

Background of course is that when you start living day to day. You really hope the money that should line your pockets does line it. And when it doesn't, then God help you for the following 1 week that you thought this money would take care of. So, it is advisable not to count your chickens before they hatch. Anything can happen. You can take ill, they can cancel, the world can come to an end. Bottomline is you are 50 bucks poorer at the end of the month.

This is only my personal perspective on the private home tuition market. I've yet to begin my observations on the tuition centre market. Many students [at bargain prices], 1 tutor [at bargain pay] and 1 organization [bargaining everything].


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