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The One-on-One Teaching Life

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My job is a little unusual. I’m not a Freeway Flyer, tenured community college instructor, or IEP teacher–I’m essentially a tutor, although I usually don’t use that word to describe my job.

I think “tutor” makes people think of a college student earning a few dollars by teaching the neighbor kids how to do algebra, but I see myself more as a language and culture consultant. I’m still somewhat new to this, but so far I really, really like it, and I want to keep doing it.

My students, or clients, are adults (except for one 14-year-old) from East Asia. We do everything–from working through “Blue Azar” to editing accounting reports, from reading comics to discussing why American businesspeople don’t generally go out drinking together. I often play “cultural informant,” as my anthropology professors would have put it: trying to predict how a client’s boss might react to a gift, or helping interpret a grocery store ad. For me, these exchanges are exciting and rewarding.

Most of my current clients are through a large corporation that handles international relocation–the clients’ companies pay the corporation for a package that includes English lessons for them and their families, and the corporation pays me. The corporation lets me manage everything myself beyond an initial needs assessment, so I have almost total freedom to teach the clients as I see fit. Other students are direct clients.

Because I’m considered a consultant/contractor by the corporation, and because my direct clients have hit a certain critical mass, I’m in the process of becoming a business. I’m an educator and an entrepreneur. (I should be filing my business license tomorrow!) I’ll do occasional posts about this process, because I think there’s relatively little information out there.

While I’ll write about some of the drawbacks of this arrangement later, let me give you some of the advantages:

  • I have total academic freedom (materials, topics, methods, everything)
  • No power struggles or politics
  • I can set my own schedule
  • I can work more or less according to my time and budget
  • I can cancel or reschedule lessons any time
  • I really get to know my students (and I never worry about multilevel classes)
  • Socializing with clients is okay (I don’t give grades or feedback to their bosses)
  • Students get really focused, personal attention
  • I don’t have to commute–some clients come to me, but all are within a 5-mile radius
  • I never get bored–every client is different, and I get to learn about new fields
  • Clients are seriously motivated and appreciative
  • No pressure to teach to a test
  • No classroom discipline issues
  • I can “fire” my students if I want to, though I’ve never had to
  • And finally (don’t hate me!) no stacks of papers to grade!

If you’ve done this kind of work, what are some other advantages? I know I’m missing several.

The disadvantages are not insubstantial, though. I’ll definitely be discussing the many drawbacks and how I’m trying to address them.

If you have questions about doing this kind of work, leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to try to answer in a future post.

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3 comments to The One-on-One Teaching Life

  • Flock 1.1.2 Mac OS

    Interesting. I’m leaving classroom teaching for similar free-lance private teaching here in Korea. Look forward to many of the benefits you mention – particularly the focus on learning instead of making grades 🙂

    Will be back. Thanks for pulling me in.

  • Kris
    Mozilla Firefox 3.0.6 Mac OS X 10

    I’m excited to have found your website! Since graduating from college, I’ve been doing ESL/ELL work, but found that I enjoyed one-on-one tutoring much more than classroom teaching. I’m working with a few students at the moment. So far I have only gotten the initial boot-camp one-month certification to teach English from a local university (thinking originally I’d teach abroad).

    I’m wondering if you think someone without their Masters would be doing more harm than good as a language consultant (agreed–much better than “tutor”). I enjoy the work I have done so far, but I keep wondering if there are techniques/theories/strategies I’d learn in a Masters program that could be doing my students a lot of good. (Current students are intermediate to advanced, wanting to “improve their fluency”–particularly to be able to understand “real” American English to operate in the business and medical world more comfortably.)

    Sorry so long! Any input you might have is much appreciated. Thanks for your site–I’ll definitely be back.

    • Mozilla Firefox 3.0.6 Mac OS X 10

      Sorry, I’m having trouble with replies, Kris. Short answer: No, if you have a certification and you’re serious about your job, of course you wouldn’t be doing more harm than good. But yes, you could learn even more in an MA program, even though it’ll be geared toward teaching groups. (You can always focus your paper and research topics on one-on-one work, too.) Just my two cents…

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