As a native English speaker and a foreign teacher living in China you will constantly be bombarded by tutoring requests. Sometimes it is from the students themselves (young people approach us regularly and ask for our phone number. “Uh, why?” we ask. “Because I want to be your friend!” is their answer) but mostly it is from the parents. They want the best for their elementary/middle school/high school student and they consider tutoring with a westerner the best. (This is, of course, debatable.)
So before stepping foot in China you need to come up with a clear tutoring policy or you will be totally taken advantage of. Here are some tips.
Does your contract allow it?
First, you need to check your teaching contract to see if it expressly forbids you doing private tutoring. Even if it does, it’s not a deal breaker you’ll just have to be more careful. The laowei grapevine is quite active in China and there isn’t much you do that isn’t known by many people. The question is will they look the other way.
What age do you want to tutor?
In China people of every age wants a tutor. From a 5-year-olds girl to 50-year-old businessmen English is a language many of them are learning. So what age would you like to teach? The benefits of teaching an adult are a higher level of language skill (oftentimes) but a lower commitment level. They have busy lives and jobs, and might cancel tutoring when they need to stay at work late or go home to their family. School age children are forced to go by their parents but the actual lessons themselves might be more difficult based on their fluency and age. Teaching really young children is difficult as they are more active and have a hard time sitting and listening.
How much will you charge?
Don’t feel shy or embarrassed about charging money. In fact if you don’t, you will be seen as a sucker. Even if you have no tutoring experience you need to decide how much your time is worth. I charge 150 yuan an hour (about $22) which is average because we live in an area that isn’t especially wealthy and I don’t want to price gouge anyone. Some teachers charge much more (I’ve heard in Beijing and Shanghai 300 yuan/hour is not unheard of) so you need to decide though I wouldn’t suggest anything below 100 as it isn’t worth your time.
Once you set a price, stick to it. If you give one person a special rate everyone else will find out (the laowei grapevine, remember) and insist in the lower price. As your reputation grows and your phone rings more you can increase your prices, but never go lower just because someone asks. Remember, value your time and skill (even if it is a skill you acquired just by growing up in an English speaking country).
What is expected of you?
You’ll need to find out exactly what is expected of you. Sometimes they just want to have conversations to improve their speaking skills so you don’t need much prep. Other times the parents will expect a real lesson on things such as computer skills, reading, writing, intonation and pronunciation. Some professional tutors have pre-set lesson plans, but if you are just starting out find out exactly what the student is expecting to learn and teach it.
Where will you meet?
Some tutors insist on having it at their house so resources are readily available, others insist on having it at the studentâ€™s house to be more professional. You need to decide for yourself. Either way, have a clock handy so you don’t go over your time limit. Even if you become very friendly with your student always remember that you are the teacher and you need to stick to the schedule.
Becoming a tutor is a very good way to make a little pocket money on the side (and some teachers transition to full time tutors) but you need a plan so it doesn’t become overwhelming. In our first few weeks here we were approached several times and Ryan took on two students. At the beginning of this semester we have again been approached and I decided to take on one students.
One more hint: If you decide to say no to someone important, like a dean, or director, make sure to pepper your no with an excuse. (Being busy will class prep is always a good one). If you just say no, without a good excuse, it could be seen as an insult so just make sure to act sincerely sorry and tell them you would love to, “but…”