Over the years, many teachers have asked me how
I made the transition from 1:1 teaching to online tutoring.
What follows is a playful rendition of my story. How does it compare to yours?

AUGUST 1993

Dear diary,

I shouldn’t be awake right now. It’s 11pm and I’ve got to get up early for my first day as a real teacher. Well, second start if you count the false start in studying to be a primary teacher–what a disaster that could have been! I’m so much more suited to the secondary school environment.

I can’t wait to open these kids’ minds to English literature, hearing their perspectives and showing them how to see themselves in the characters of Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Woolf…oh, am I getting excited!

It’s hard to believe, after six years of higher education and the last six months of job interviews, I’m finally only a few hours away from joining in the family line of educators. I wonder what Grandma thought on the night before she first started teaching–must ask dad if she ever spoke about it. And I’m sure Auntie has some good stories from her years teaching!

It’s hard not to imagine it as being just another version of playing “at school” the way I did as a child: setting out pencils and paper, calling on perfectly behaved students who always raise their hands, giving lessons that keep my imaginary classroom spellbound (and getting to say the lines over if I thought of a better way to do them). I remember enough from my own days in secondary school to know that students can really give the teacher a run for her money.

I know the job will have challenges, but what job doesn’t? I think that if I come at the situation with sincere excitement for my students’ future and really listen to them, I can win them over.

APRIL 1995

Dear diary,

I always loved teaching and still do. I could spend all day making up materials and giving lessons…even staying late to mark papers is fine, when I have the memory of seeing pupils “get it.” There’s nothing more rewarding than that.

But paperwork…I had no idea at all that there would be so much of it. Not just grading papers but “admin”-related stuff. Stuff that has nothing to do with my subject or the classroom setting. I got home at 9.30pm last night…didn’t even make supper, I was so exhausted. And it doesn’t do much good to look forward to the weekend because it will only be more of the same–the weekend, after all, is the only time I can get all the lessons planned for the week ahead!

It might not be so bad if I thought it was all for the good of my classroom. But if I’m honest, those moments of student epiphanies are few and far between. The students are nearly as exhausted as the teachers, and no wonder!

We are too drained to offer much in the way of positivity and encouragement. Trying to fight the system is taking it out of us.

I keep thinking of that day in teacher training when I had to follow a struggling pupil for a whole day. Every lesson he went to, each teacher was on his case- nagging, moaning, complaining about his academic and behavioural shortcomings. By the end of the day, I realized he’d spent eight hours steeped in negativity. No wonder he behaved the way he did!

I’ve never forgotten that. And I always swore I would be a different sort of teacher. But it’s very hard to work against the system and still have something positive to offer our classroom. I know it’s not just me. All around me, I see the system draining the greatness out of teachers.

Better go to bed. Lots to do in the morning.

June 2000

Dear diary,

It’s happened. I gave my notice.

If I’m honest, I felt it coming as soon as I got pregnant with Harry. It had been so hard, the past few years, never being present for my family the way I wanted to be. Always so tired when I got home during the week, and occupied with getting work done ahead during weekends and even holidays.

I’ve got fine prospects ahead–some freelance writing jobs lined up. The pay is much better than I was expecting…certainly a step in the right direction from the pittance I’ve been working for the last several years!

That’s another thing they don’t tell you: your teaching salary ends up being miniscule when you factor in all the extra hours that get tacked onto your week.

Anyway, I’m excited about this new job, the time with my family, above all the freedom from the rigid and exhausting schedule that education turned out to be. (When I think of never having to hear those bells again, I feel a giant weight roll off my back!)

But in the back of my mind, I confess, I’m also sad to be leaving teaching behind.

If it weren’t for the system, I’d never have quit. I love teaching. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to it…

October 2010

Dear diary,

I’m reading back my old entries about how much I missed teaching, and wondering whether I’d ever get back to it…

Well, I did. In a way. Last summer, I started a tutoring service. It began with kids who wanted to get a jump on the coming school term, and then it just extended into the rest of the year.

Now, eight months in, I’m trying to sort out my feelings about it.

On one hand, I definitely do love teaching again. It’s especially wonderful to be focusing only on subjects that I’m passionate about. Working intensively with just one student at a time is so much more rewarding than managing a large room full of pupils, half of whom don’t know why they have to be there.

On the other hand, the 1:1 tutoring is bringing up some of the feelings I used to have about teaching in school…which is odd, because the setting couldn’t be more different.

Once again, I’m finding myself exhausted by the long hours–only now they’re spent commuting from one student’s home to another.

And the administrative busywork has been replaced by chitchat with the parents before and after the lesson. (Not sure if they think this is their duty, or if they have questions they don’t know how to ask. All I know is that sometimes I’m still standing there an hour after the lesson is over…and no, I’m not getting paid for that overtime!)

But what really brought it home was my chat with the gardener today. I’ve been asking round for quotes for some landscaping work we need done, and the man I spoke with today seemed to be just the right person…but he was enormously expensive! His hourly wage was three times what I make for an hour of tutoring.

When I commented on this, he didn’t back down an inch. He knew what he was worth and stuck to it.

I found myself wishing that I could do that. I certainly put enough years into my education to warrant a higher wage than I’m making as a tutor. I have a Masters degree!

What it shows me is that I’m still not completely free to pursue teaching in the best possible way. There are still time, money and schedule constraints holding me back…and those constraints unfortunately affect my ability to do my best work for my students.

Am I crazy to think there has to be a different way to do this?

September 2012

Dear diary,

I don’t even know where to begin!

Sometime last spring, I started thinking of those writing courses I put together for Literary Chicks during my freelance days. So many parents were asking me to help their children study for exams, I thought it might be easier if I just put together an online course so that they could all get them help they needed at once.

I had no idea it would take off the way it has! And now I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.

Online tutoring has completely changed everything for me. Now I get to do what I love most, on my own schedule, from the comfort of my own warm lounge!

No more cold winter night excursions to homes all over town.
No more time wasting in obligatory chats with parents
No more envying the manicurist or the gardener for their superior salary.

With online tutoring, I can combine pupils into classrooms based on their age, level and subject. I can tutor them all together and, as a result, make a higher hourly wage. (Of course, there are some parents who still want one-on-one tutors for their children–and for those intensive sessions, I price my time higher. Voila!)

I set my own schedule, which means I’m available to the family when they need me. I can even take days off, when I need to.

I’m finally free to do my best work. I focus on the things that I’m good at and get other people to  do the things I hate. Everyone is happy.

Yesterday, I woke up and found that four new people had signed up for my course in English…and they were from all over the country. I even had an enquiry for grammar lessons from a student in The Philippines. I can’t remember when I last felt this good about my work.

There’s nothing so validating as knowing that what you’re offering is solving a problem for other people.

That’s the thing I’m starting to realize: more and more people are looking online for their children’s education needs. It’s just the era we live in: digital classrooms are becoming the new normal. I have to say that I feel quite proud (and very lucky) to have discovered this. It will be exciting to see where it leads.

I’d love to hear more of your story!
Where are you in your teaching career?  Is it as rewarding as you hoped? What are your goals for the coming years?
Join the conversation on our Facebook page!

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