How to be an English Tutor

English tutoring is a massive industry. More than $100 billion in global revenue. Would you like to be a part of that? Of course you would.

 

Many people choose to be an English tutor as a career for the independence and freedom. But also to have the chance to communicate with others and teach people a very useful skill.

English is the third most widely spoken language in the world after Chinese and Spanish. It is the lingua franca of the world, the most common language on the internet and the business world. Many students need to learn English or improve it for their education needs or for professional purposes.

As an English tutor you have the opportunity of creating a great business of your own and the chance to earn good money. Often from the comfort of your own home.

Below are some outlines on how to start English tutoring as a business and the steps you need to take.

1. What qualifications do I need?

 

Essentially you need none at all.

If you decide to work for an agency some may ask for a degree or teaching certificate. This is to give the agency — and you — more credibility to potential students.

For any private English tutor starting out on their own you do not need any qualifications.

Of course it certainly helps if you have an education background in English. You would then understand the rules of English grammar and how to read a text. That said this is something that you can learn as long as you are prepared to put in the time to get up to speed.

Your students will expect you to have a good working knowledge of English. Don’t let any embarrassing situations happen where your student has superior knowledge of English than yourself.

That is where a qualification of some sort can rescue you. If not, now is the time to start learning the rules of English grammar. Brush up on your spelling and all the other idiosyncrasies of the English language.

Thousands of English tutors invest in a certificate such as Tefl, Tesl or Celta. Tefl stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Tesl stands for Teaching English as Second Language. Celta stands for Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

All of these certificates are different in many ways. You can study these courses online or in a real face-to-face class. There are many places that run the courses but the Celta certificate is the most expensive. It is also considered the best.

2. How old do I have to be?

 

Any age at all. But not younger than high-school age.

Any younger than that and older students may feel awkward being in a class with someone much younger than them.

I doubt if many people in their thirties or forties would feel comfortable being taught by a fifteen-year-old.

But if you are a high-school student effectively you could teach students that are middle-school age or close to your own age.

Again all you need is an ability to teach English skills well and you are in.

3. Do I have to be experienced?

 

No, you have to start somewhere. And as with many other freelancing careers the best way to gain valuable experience is to offer your services for free. Put up a notice advertising free English lessons and you will get students — guaranteed.

But free don’t pay the bills.

Do enough free classes to get a feel for what you are doing. Then you need to start charging for your time. Ask your existing free students if they can refer any of their friends, classmates or colleagues.

Once you have a few hours of tutoring under your belt then you can start to charge for your time.

Another way to get experience is to call every person you know that may need your services as an English tutor. Friends, family, classmates, existing or former colleagues — call on everyone and let them know who you are and what you are doing.

This is a very effective marketing method and one that can be used to drum up a roster of clients.

4. What kind of students can I teach?

 

The real question you should be asking is what kind of students do you want to teach?

The range of students is wide. In terms of age your students could be anywhere between three years old and ninety. And there is a huge category of English classes that you could teach. People study English for many different purposes.

What age group are you ideally suited to teach? If you like young children and enjoy the challenge of teaching them then that age group could be perfect for you. Equally if you hate being in the company of kids then forget that age group completely.

And do not think that tutoring stops at the age of high school or college age students. Thousands of adults want to also improve their English for professional reasons or as a life skill.

If you are more suited to adults then choose that as an option.

Think about this carefully as much of your day will be spent with these people. You do not want to start your day feeling like it is a tour of duty and filled with resentment.

There are also different categories in which to teach English. Many students have to do English aptitude tests for their education or to enter college. This is a huge market and you may find you are suited to this.

Tests include SAT, Ielts and Toefl to name only three.

If you have a detailed knowledge of one of these tests, or you are prepared to learn, then you could market yourself as a tutor in one of these tests.

You could also tutor students for business English or medical English. Many professional adults are working in environments where they must have a high ability to communicate in English. If you have a corporate or hospital background this could be right for you.

Then there are high school and university students that may be studying English literature. If you have a deep understanding for the written word this is a good choice.

Teaching the subtext of The Merchant of Venice or getting to grips with the characters from To Kill A Mockingbird. This can be a rewarding way to spend your working hours if you love English literature.

There is no end of choices as an English tutor. Choose carefully because this will be a large part of your working day.

However it is also a good idea to choose a category from a marketing perspective.

Tell potential clients that you only teach high-school students that are preparing for the SAT test. You will become known as something of an expert in that niche.

The same if you market yourself as a business English tutor that teaches students how to do presentations.

Narrow your market and it can serve you well.

If you tell people that you can teach any old kind of English class for anyone and everyone people are less likely to remember you.

Define your niche and stick to it — people will think more highly of you.

5. What kind of classes can I teach?

 

And again, the real question should be what kind of classes do you want to teach?

Think about the kind of English class you would enjoy teaching.

If you are a great reader of novels and enjoy English literature, then do that. Maybe you are a member of the local book club. It would serve you well to find students that need some help for their English literature classes at school.

There are a great many categories of English classes that you can choose from.

Below are a few.

Ielts/Toefl/SAT

There are an increasing number of English aptitude tests these days. Students need to pass these tests to further their study so private tutors are much in demand to assist them with this.

If you have done the test yourself or been an examiner in one of these tests then you have an increased knowledge in what is required when taking the test. But there are many English test prep tutors that simply learned about the test and started teaching it.

If you are in a smaller town then you could offer your services as a test-based tutor. Teaching the skills required to do all the tests — Ielts, Toefl, SAT — plus give some insight to each of the individual tests.

But if you are in a large city it may be better to teach only one of these tests.

They are all quite different and the steps are different.

This is an ever growing market though so there are a growing number of potential clients.

English Literature

Thousands of high school students take English Literature as one of their subjects every year. It is a very popular college degree course.

If you love creative writing and the written word and find yourself with your head buried in a book in your free time then this could be ideal for you.

It needs a lot of patience to teach as some students have difficulty grasping the themes and the characters of novels and plays. But if you can get past that this would be a great choice as a tutor.

Business English

We live in a diverse society these days. There are many people working in companies where English is their second language. They are required to master English to work well in their company.

This is where you come in as a Business English tutor.

An understanding of company protocol and the business world is essential. Some experience of working in a company would be an advantage. But the main skill is to help students communicate effectively in the workplace.

Common areas to work on could be email writing, report writing, creating PowerPoint presentations, sales communication, telephone skills and presentation skills.

As said above — define one area or a small number of skill areas and you will find yourself much in demand.

Hospital English

There are thousands of nurses around the world that need to speak English well.

Whether they are in their own country or working in an English speaking country, they must be able to communicate well. They must be able to talk with other medical staff and their patients.

Many nurses take the Ielts test to work in a hospital abroad. You may find that you can define your students to that — English Training for Nurses taking the Ielts Test.

Or you may have a broader range where you are tutoring with nursing staff to help keep their English up to speed.

Again this is another huge market for English tutors.

 

Whatever area you choose to tutor in it is best to think about this carefully.

If you find the business world incredibly dull and boring then it would be a waste of your own time. It would also be a waste of time for your potential students too.

The same with any other areas. If you rarely pick a book up to read you are not the best choice to teach English literature.

You should teach something that you feel some passion for. This will show in your classes and it will make your lessons much more interesting if you have some interest in the subject yourself.

Think about your favourite teachers at school and college. Were they really interested in the subject they were teaching? This is one of the key things that made them a great teacher. Passion in the subject they were teaching.

You need to emulate this in your own tutoring field.

6. What do I have to do as a tutor?

 

Well, of course you have to teach your students what you have promised to teach them.

This means that you have to prepare your lessons well. Ensure that you have all the relevant material required for each class. Read up on any particular subject that you need to so that you can share that knowledge with your students.

You should give your students homework assignments and projects to check that they have learned the things you are trying to teach them.

In essence, you are there to teach the students and they need to leave each lesson having gained something from you. Each lesson plan should have a goal at the end. That goal is for the student to gain some knowledge or a certain skill in English. They need to show they have learned this. Then you have succeeded in doing your job well.

Put simply, that is all you need to do.

But do not underestimate the skills required to do this.

7. What skills do I need?

 

As a private tutor you need to think of yourself as a business.

Do not think of yourself as a freelance tutor or a hired gun. Think of yourself and the service you provide as a business and you will have much more success.

So the first skill you need to learn is running a small business.

Think of all the skills you need to do that — marketing, advertising, communication skills, accounting, time-keeping.

This is not a small set of skills. If you have no prior knowledge of this — and many private tutors do not when they first start out — take the time to read and learn about this.

You will certainly need these skills later on as your business grows.

But as a tutor you will need all the skills of any great teachers you knew back in school or college. What skills did they have that made their job look so easy?

As a tutor you will need to have skills in communicating with others, planning, the preparation of your lessons.

You will also need to be incredibly patient.

If you lack this as a personality trait then private tutoring is definitely not for you.

We can all remember that grumpy, bad-tempered teacher at school that all the students lived in fear of. How good a teacher was he? Was he passing on knowledge and skills to his class?

Then there was the teacher at college. That one professor who had a great mind but had zero communication skills. Always covering his mouth when talking or speaking in jumbled-up sentences.

The one main skill you have to be versed at is communication. The English language is used primarily as a communication tool and if you are unable to communicate then what use are you as an English tutor?

As mentioned above there are certificates you can take that can really help you bring these skills to the fore. It may be worth investing in one.

8. How do I market myself?

 

Business acumen is probably going to be your main skill. Because you are running a small business.

One of the things you will constantly spend time on is hustling for new clients.

This could be done via social media. If you already have a strong presence on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram then this may be a fairly simple thing to do.

Another option is to advertise on Craigslist. It is very easy to set up an ad on this website offering your services as a tutor in your area.

But by far the best method of finding new students is to search for them yourself. Cold-calling for new clients is a time-proven way of finding new business that many companies spend large amounts of their budget on.

You can also do this.

But how to do it exactly?

You need to be proactive.

You could go to your local school or college and talk to teachers there. Tell them that you are a private tutor and what field of English classes you are offering. They may know of students that are looking for a private tutor to help them.

Another option is to put up flyers on bulletin boards in schools and community centres. Also day care centres and youth clubs.

Anywhere that young students hang out, their parents also hang out.

They could see your flyer and give you a call.

Provide a current phone number and an email address and they can reach out to you.

Another way to get started as a tutor is to use agencies.

The agency will find you students. Of course it would be unethical to steal these students from the agency. That could end in some legal trouble. But if you do a great job teaching their students, these students could refer you to their friends or other people they know.

In truth no one likes to use an agency as they know they are paying a middleman somewhere along the line. They want to get to the direct source and you will find that you will get offers if you do a good job with the agency’s students.

Flyers are a great way to get noticed in your area. But you have to think carefully where to put them. You can’t just walk around town nailing your flyers to trees — it is a waste of time.

You have to think where the best place could be to put them.

If you are in a small town then maybe it is no problem to put them wherever people can see them. You could stick flyers in cafes, coffee shops, barber shops — quite literally anywhere people can see them.

What should I put on the flyer?

You don’t need to put too much information on your flyer. In fact, it is best to keep the details as minimal as you can.

The essential information you need to put down are the following:

  • Your name – of course they need to know who you are.
  • Being a native English speaker – this is a selling point as most students require that their English tutor is a native speaker. If you were learning Spanish you would want your teacher to be a native Spanish speaker, right?
  • The kind of students that you specialize in — as mentioned above; what age range, what kind of English classes are you offering.
  • Contact information — your phone number, your email address. After all, your potential students will need to get hold of you somehow.
  • Times available — if you are just starting out you may have another job that you are doing. Or maybe you have other students already. Give an indication of what times you are available, something simple like weekends, which evenings, etc.
  • Rates — there is some difference of opinion here but you could cut out time-wasters by indicating what you expect to be paid. Many people regard tutoring as a very cheap service and if you show clearly what your rates are you could get rid of people that only want to waste your time.

But by far the best way is to talk directly to potential clients.

This could mean visiting schools or colleges, going to community centres, checking in at cafes near colleges.

You could also go to local companies and talk to the HR person. You may be just the person they are looking for.

Bear in mind that the best tutoring jobs are rarely advertised. People find tutors by word of mouth or someone else they know. If you apply a proactive strategy to finding students as clients you will do much better than answering local job advertisements.

Whenever you visit business premises or schools and colleges go in looking the part. Dress accordingly. Certainly in an office it is best to wear a suit or at the very least a shirt and tie. If you are going into other places, maybe a shirt could suffice.

But be presentable and look professional. You will get a much better response than if you are just wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

You might need to take a more investigative approach to looking for students. For example, if you are offering classes for nursing staff only, it may be best to try to visit the local hospital. Or targeting small restaurants or cafes near a hospital.

Find out where the people go for their lunch break and you may be able to find potential clients.

For business students it is best to have name cards made as they will respond to that much better than a colourful flyer.

You could ask a coffee shop near a business centre if they could display your cards. They may do this for a small fee.

Do not be afraid to tell people that your schedule is full or that you are very busy. This shows that you are much in demand and could have a positive effect on your business.

In fact, for some students you may be able to make small group classes. Giving the student a reduction in a one-on-one private fee may encourage them to join two or three others in a group class.

The advantage of a group class is that you only have to prepare once for three or four students each time. Plus you could be making more per hour than if it were only one student.

As your business grows it is best to offer group classes to scale up. Of course you should make sure that all the students in one group are of the same level and studying the same thing.

9. What other marketing can I do?

 

You could set up a website. The cost of doing this is quite minimal these days and most businesses have their own platform to advertise their products or services.

This would make you look highly professional and it is the ideal place to promote exactly what you are offering as a private tutor.

You could build a mailing list and send your students a newsletter to keep them updated of your services and any other news.

It is a great idea to write some blog posts too. Make sure they are lengthy — gone are the days of just typing out 300 words. Make sure your blog posts answer common questions in relation to studying English. This serves as great seo. In a year or so you could find that the students are coming to you via your website rather than you hunting around for new clients all the time.

10. What can I expect to be paid?

 

On average, a private tutor is paid anywhere between $25 to $85 an hour.

This of course depends on how much experience you may have and if the class is highly specialised. This is why you should specialise in one particular field as you can command a higher rate.

Agents pay less than if you were dealing with the students directly, but the agent also has to find the students and take care of your payment on time. They also have other overheads such as staff, offices, etc.

If you are high school age then expect to be paid on the lower end of the scale. This is due to your age and lack of experience, but it should be no less than $25 an hour — not a bad rate for a high school student.

When getting paid try to use PayPal or some other online/digital payment system. If you don’t use PayPal there are many others.

Cash can often be a cumbersome way of paying people. And if you insist on cash you may find that your student has forgotten to bring it or doesn’t have the exact change. It can be frustrating.

It is a very good idea to get paid in advance. Of course this is good for you but it also makes the student take the classes — and you — more seriously. Getting paid for ten classes in advance is not uncommon.

11. Where should I hold the classes?

 

Many students ask the tutor to come to their home.

In a small town this may be fine, but in a large city this means a lot of travelling by driving — or by public transport — and this can be exhausting. Also consider the amount of time you are using by travelling to and fro. You have to take this all into account as time is a valuable asset to you.

Another option is to ask your students to come to your home. You will need to have a clean and tidy place to study, somewhere relatively quiet too. If your home is clean and welcoming this may encourage your students to tell their friends.

A comfortable place to study is essential. Doesn’t have to have a hand-made sofa and a huge fish tank with koi carp swimming around, but I think you get the idea.

Some students — and especially agencies — may ask you to have the class in a public space. This can be very problematic. Teaching the difference between past simple and past progressive in a crowded, noisy Starbucks is far from ideal. And if the student is shy to speak out loud it is definitely not ideal.

Try to avoid public places for tutoring if you can.

You might be lucky and have access to an office space or a classroom. If you are offered a space like this it might be a good idea to take it. But bear in mind that space is usually paid for and it costs money.

12. How should I dress for class?

 

If you are teaching business English classes then dress accordingly.

You are very likely to attend classes after working hours in the student’s office so dress as if you were going to work there.

This means suit or shirt and tie at the very least, something business-like and conservative.

Go to class looking professional and the student will feel that they are dealing with a professional.

If you are tutoring high school students for something like SAT you probably don’t need to wear a suit or a tie, but a shirt is a good idea.

Go into your classes looking groomed and with a clean, tidy appearance.

No shorts, no t-shirts, no flip-flops.

13. What things do I need to be a tutor?

 

If you are lucky enough to have your classes in a real classroom then you will have access to a blackboard or whiteboard plus chalk or marker pens. These are the essential tools for every teacher.

Even most offices have a whiteboard — usually in a large meeting room — with the usual selection of dried-up marker pens.

 

It’s a good idea to carry your own marker pens.

But at home most people don’t have a blackboard nailed to their living room wall.

If you do, all well and good, but if not, whiteboards are cheap and easy to buy online or in your local office supplies store.

Having a board to write on and marker pens to write with are the very basic essentials if you are tutoring at home.

If you are doing one-on-one classes — and that is very likely — you will need to have a large writing pad, preferably lined, along with some pens to write with too. Make sure you have at least one red pen as you will need this to correct any homework from your students.

Do not expect the student to bring a notebook with them. Chances are they will, but it is best to assume they will not.

It is a good idea to buy a whole batch of notebooks — these are dirt cheap and can be bought in office stores and many other large supermarket stores.

You should hand one of these to your student in the first class and tell them this is their notebook for your class only.

Write the details on the front — your name and the name of the class. For example; Robert Smith – SAT Class – December 2018.

Then there are no real excuses for forgetting the book, losing it or anything else.

As an English tutor you should have a good, up-to-date English dictionary. Please use a book dictionary and not the dreaded dictionary on your smartphone — or even worse, a digital dictionary. Do they still make those? Probably not…

You should encourage your students to buy and use a dictionary too. Any one will do as long as it is from a strong publisher. Oxford, Cambridge, Webster all publish great dictionaries.

Your students should get into the habit of using an English dictionary and finding the English definition. It is very common for ESL students to look the word up in a translating dictionary to find the word in their own language.

Firstly, this is lazy and will not help them grow their vocabulary. And secondly, they may be using a very poor translation dictionary. Even Google Translate makes mistakes — and this will definitely hinder them.

Of course you will need the relevant textbooks of your class. If you are teaching a Toefl class and using a Toefl textbook as a foundation for your classes then you will need that. Not a good idea to entirely rely on that though.

And if you are teaching English literature you and your students will need copies of the books you are studying. Make sure that you are all using the real tree books as opposed to a digital version, for example Kindle, Epub or PDF.

If you and your students are using different digital versions then it becomes difficult to read together or assign homework. You may give homework and ask your student to read pages 25 to 45 and find the student has read something entirely different.

Also with real paperback versions you can both make notes in the margins and highlight sections easily. In the classroom this is much more suitable.

14. What if my student is late for class?

 

Timekeeping is a very tricky thing to maintain. You don’t want to be a complete ogre and make the student in fear of their life because they are five minutes late. But neither do you want to be a pushover.

Lay out clearly what time the class begins and ensure that the student knows that your time is valuable to you.

To be honest, younger students are usually better at timekeeping than adults as they are used to a very tight schedule in their school. Adults can be late and blame traffic or being tied up at work. If this is a one-off then maybe you have to let it go but if it is a regular event then you have to put your foot down.

Remember — your time is your money. So you have to ensure a strict policy with it or it can all slip out of control.

So there it is.

A few things for you to bear in mind when starting out as a private English tutor. The key thing to take from this is that you are effectively running a small business and as such you have to keep standards at a high level.

You are selling yourself and you need to have a professional attitude and appearance at all times.

Private tutoring can be a very rewarding choice of career if you like teaching. It can lead to many other fields, such as writing, coaching, even public speaking.

 

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