The Secret Life of a Tutor

Sundays are days to be lazy, to hang out with friends, to read books or swim in pools or play outside. Today is an exceptionally hot Sunday in early June. Since I got up, I've been holed up in my home office, working on tutoring. Even though I've spent the past nine or so hours (with breaks for shrimp tacos, diet Coke, and ice cream) working, I haven't actually had any students today. I realized that not many people are aware of the "behind the scenes" of tutoring (well, at least of good tutoring), and it's gotten me to think a bit about the concept of having an "hourly rate." Realizing that mine is one of the higher rates on WyzAnt, I thought I'd share a bit of the "secret life of a (good) tutor," so you might have a better idea of what you're getting for your money.

Although I work very hard during our tutoring sessions to make them as productive and educational as possible, it's everything I do when you aren't around that helps me do that. Before and after we meet, I'm doing all of these things to help you reach your goals:

- I work through every question of every book I use while tutoring. Although I could work through questions on the spot during our lesson, having all of the work in front of me saves me time, and I become more and more familiar with the types of questions you'll encounter (whether it be in a content area like algebra or a test like the GREs or SATs). Doing this also helps me anticipate the kinds of mistakes my students might make on different questions, and I mentally rehearse how I might talk a student through those problems.
- I align lessons with materials from different sources, from a primary source we might use during a lesson, to secondary sources to work through for homework or to supplement the lesson for better understanding.
- I write thorough lesson reviews shortly after every lesson. While WyzAnt requires that every tutor write a 25-word review, mine are always several paragraphs long and include the specific content covered during the lesson, an overview of your progress towards your larger goals, an outline of the homework assigned (including links and page numbers as necessary), and a reminder about when we'll be meeting next.
- I investigate new materials thoroughly and purchase new texts frequently. This means that I'll always have exactly what you need to help you right at my fingertips (and is also a reason that I prefer to tutor from my home office, as I can't always predict what you'll need before the lesson).
- I receive daily emails from different sources, like the College Board, to keep me up-to-date on changes to tests, as well as strategies and extra practice questions.
- I make vocabulary flashcards by hand with all of the words you'll need for your test or to improve your reading.
- I communicate with new students via email and phone, answering questions about my experiences and asking questions that will help me know best how to help you.
- I respond to homework questions from current students; sometimes, you just can't wait for the next tutoring session to get yourself unstuck.
- As an educational researcher, I keep up-to-date on educational research by reading several journals, and I'm writing my dissertation on learning. I also read books that help me gain even more expertise in the subjects that I teach, such as grammar or writing.

I love tutoring. It's the best rush when a student achieves his or her goals, and I get so excited about helping out in that process. It's a privilege, really. And without that love, I wouldn't be willing to put in the hours I do outside of the sessions themselves (which are always fun).

Tutoring well takes a lot of work and time, but unfortunately, many tutors who charge less don't put in any time outside of their sessions with their students. In an upcoming post, I'll be writing about how to pick a great tutor - one way is to get a sense of the secret life of the tutor you're considering.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment or to ask me questions!


Thanks for a thought-provoking post! I agree that planning/preparing is a huge part of the tutoring process. We don't just "show up" and help --at least great tutors don't. Your post also applies to teachers in schools --the best teachers spend HOURS doing prep and homework (and sometimes even "love" doing it) behind the scenes of the school routine. A great teacher (and tutor) goes above and beyond what they "have to do" to make the learning experience exceptional.

Another aspect of the "what to charge" dilemma is that teachers ARE worth it and shouldn't feel obligated to be cheap. What has happened to educational professionals that we feel so devalued? If you are a professional with credentials and knowledge and experience, then be realistic about the value in that. "Teaching" is valuable and those seeking GOOD teachers/tutors will know that!


Heather H.

Lively, Engaging and Fun English/Math/More Tutor!

700+ hours
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