Singapore Tuition Tips 101

September 16, 2015


Hey guys! Recently I received a lot of questions about tuition and all, so I thought I'll make a general guide. I hope it will be useful to you, especially if you are new to teaching tuition. I have been teaching tuition for 4 years now, and am now a full time tutor. Hope these things make your teaching experience better! :)

/edit: These tips will probably work better for younger tutees, like primary school students.

Disclaimer: Obviously, there are many methods and this is not a catch-all kind of thing- it's more of a guide and list of tips! Feel free to share your own methods and advice in the comments section.

Getting Started
First, decide what you are willing and able to teach. Markets wise I would say primary school has the most demand, but secondary and JC level assignments tend to pay better.

Fees can be anything from $20-$50 (primary school), and rates can reach $80 for 'A' level subjects. It really depends.

Give or take a month to get yourself started. One common way of getting tutees is to sign up with tuition agencies. Agents will SMS or email you assignments, and you can accept or reject them.

What's the catch? Signing up is free, but if you accept an assignment, the common agreement is that the agency will take half of the month's fees. This is considered normal, so don't freak out.

I find this pretty reasonable, because my tutees stay with me for quite a long time. It can be difficult for you to source for tutees otherwise. It's quite a win-win situation as agents will try to secure a higher rate (as quickly as they can) for you so that they, too earn more commission.

Signing up with agencies (usually online) will take you some time.
You'll need to key in all your academic results, from PSLE, 'A' Levels, University etc etc. Some tuition agencies also require you to upload a scanned copy of your certificates, or a profile pic.

You'll also need to indicate what levels and subjects you want to teach, as well as your rate and available timings. Time to go dig out those old report books...

Here are some agents I work with or found online. They may be helpful to you too.
When responding to SMSes, it always help to be clear and polite. Always include the reference number for the assignment, so that it is easier for your agent to link up with you.

Don't expect immediate responses. Even if the agent has contacted the parents, there's a lot of other things going on- negotiation of rates and schedules, picking of suitable tutor by the parent etc etc. If your agent is efficient, then thank your lucky stars! I have met great, productive agents that can close a deal within 30 minutes.

First Lesson


Picture via Tumblr

Be Punctual Be Early
Chances are you've never been to this address before. Be early. Parents like to talk and get to know you. After all, they're inviting a stranger in their home, to teach their often very impressionable young children. Let them have some time to suss you out!

It's also a good time to iron out scheduling or admin matters, find out more about what the parents want you focus on, their current grades, the child's personality, or if the kid needs extra assessment books etc.

BONUS TIP!
Bus Apps & Maps

You can try these apps to plan your trip to the tutee's house. I use these apps to plan my journeys as I have a different combination of houses to go to every day, and it makes sense to find the best ways to get around.
-Gothere.sg
-SG Buses
-Google Maps (duh, right?)
Getting To Know Your Kid

Icebreakers
It might be awkward in your first meeting, but do take the initiative to know your kid. Some are more curious than others, while most may be reserved during the first lesson. As the older (and hopefully wiser) person, try breaking the ice by introducing yourself, or asking about their school, class, classmates, lessons, CCA, teachers in school, what subjects they love/hate etc etc. I find that these are generally easy topics for the child to talk about as they spend so much time in school.

As you have more lessons you will probably learn more about your kid as they warm up to you- what their interests are ie. Minecraft, playing soccer, Taylor Swift, etc), what their personality is like, etc. Or just scan the house/room for ideas! It's a place full of their favourite things and they'll find it easier to talk about familiar things too.

My kids really enjoy Minecraft.
Assessment Books
The child may already have plenty of assessment books. In the event where he/she has none, or you feel that you need a book that targets something specific (ie. vocab/compo), feel free to tell the parent.

I often inform the parent, buy books for the kids, and give them the receipt. Some of my tutor friends pay for the assessment books, but I don't find this necessary or cost friendly, especially since I have many tutees. Parents are mostly ok with spending on this type of resources- whatever that can help their child. So don't worry about it.

During Class
Your goal is to teach, demonstrate and explain concepts in a way that your tutee can understand and apply on his/her own. This can happen in many methods, including revising from the textbook, going through work and mistakes etc.

What to do when:

When the child is sleepy
To combat this, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. They don't always work, but well, it's a try! I never get angry with them because I remember how it is like to be sleepy in class. You really just can't help it :P


  • Wash face
  • Do jumping jacks
  • Shake head/body vigourously
  • Take a 30 sec - 2 min break
  • Drink water (let the child walk to the kitchen etc- it's good for them to move, especially for those who are restless)
  • Play a game (this can be anything from an eraser fight, hand games (scissors paper stone/ clapping variations etc)
  • Watch a video (Zhng this by making them answer questions about the video- this builds listening & comprehension skills as well)
  • Eat something (sour sweets are good for waking up sleepy people!)

When the child is hungry
Usually if this happens, I let the child go get food. There's no point in letting them starve, it's just going to distract them a lot.



When the child is bored
This happens all the time, don't worry. It's not that you suck as a teacher. As a child under 12 it can be very boring to be facing all these assessment books and school work all day.  They're thinking: All I want to do is watch TV and play, but now I have to sit here and do MORE work after school? SOBS, NOOOOOOO.



Your job is to make tuition bearable, and even fun. I aim to make class time a conducive time to learn without stress or frustration.

Points System
This idea came from one of my tutees. They just need something like a short goal to work towards to. You can create a point system and let them accumulate points/stickers/stars, and update the chart every lesson, or simply let them 'collect something'. It helps to motivate them to do work.

For example, every page is worth a Lego piece, or a colour pencil. Their objective is to collect all the pieces at the end of the day. Other versions include a letter for each question- and after collecting 10 letters, they get to unscramble a mystery word.

Or you can play Hangman! (Pic from Gemma Correll)

Sometimes the goal isn't even the prize (like, the colour pencil already belongs to them, yo). They just need to get the feeling that they are 'earning' something. You know the thrill of 'leveling up' in a game? Let them experience a simpler version during class.

When the child wants to talk about something other than work
Sometimes your kid just wants to talk about what happened at school that day, or ask you some questions about your/their life. Yes, it's a digression from classwork, but how are you supposed to know how your tutee ticks and therefore teach him better if all you ever talk about is maths or science? It's important to build a bond and get to know your kid.

Obviously, you're not going to let your kid talk for an hour about their day at school, but don't clamp down completely and enforce some crazy no talking rule. More often than not, once you let them get their story out, they will stop being so restless or distracted, and then you can gently direct them back to the task at hand. Be patient, firm, and kind.

Kids can also be super goofy and funny. Anything to avoid doing work.
Kids can be very curious as well, and want to know a lot of things about you. They want to know how old you are, your birthday, what your family is like, where you go to after their classes, what the other tutees you have are like etc etc etc. Answer them at your own comfort level. Personally I don't add my kids on Facebook, but those with phones do have my mobile number to ask questions.

When the kid needs to go to the bathroom
No brainer question. Let them go, of course.

When YOU need to go to the bathroom
Usually I assign them some very doable work before going (ie. not open-ended, leh-chey things like compositions where they often dawdle about and where you need to guide them more).

Homework
How much homework to give? There's no hard and fast rule to this. This highly depends on the child and their learning style.


However, if your tutee does not turn in homework, don't take it personally. Don't immediately assume that they are being lazy or disobedient.There is a very high possibility that they simply have too much work to do. Many students nowadays have supplementary classes by the school, other tuition classes, and CCAs after school.

Their schedules are pretty unbelievable. So don't be too sad when they don't do your homework. There's just not much time to do extra tuition homework. Be understanding and check with your tutee and their parents to work out something. It's always good to ask and find out the root of the matter.

What To Bring 
As a full time tutor, I spend quite a lot of time on the road. Here are some things I find very useful.

  • Watch
    It's important to wear a watch so you can keep track of time and segment the lesson effectively. For example, it's useful if you teach two subjects, or if you need to know if you should go with the comprehension (takes more time to do) or the MCQ.
  • Pencil Case
  • I try to keep my pencil case full of colourful stuff. The younger kids like to use my stationery- it's novelty to them and makes class a little more bearable. Props if you have fun multi-coloured pens or etc! Some tutors also use a portable whiteboard to explain stuff.


  • Candy
    Not sure if this is for myself or to bribe the kids when the situation calls for it
    .
  • Stickers
  • This usually only works on my younger kids, especially my girls, though I have also tried to buy more 'boy' stickers. Well, it's just a way to dangle a carrot sometimes, and also to reward them after class. Don't underestimate the power of a cute sticker- kids need their motivations, especially the younger ones!
  • PaperFoolscap paper, blank A4 papers, colour papers. You never know when you need to write something to explain a concept better. Always be prepared!
  • 'Fun' activitiesThis includes crosswords, riddles, wordsearch games, memory games etc. All these serve to break the monotony of assessment books and help engage my kids when they look super sian and become very uncooperative in class.
  • Extra worksheetsYou can easily print EMSC worksheets that you find online. I also prepare my own worksheets that focus on bilingual learning, vocab, and more. More on that later. 
Here are some free online resources too:

Teaching
If you think tutoring is just like... sitting there while waiting for your tutee to finish his assessment books, mark, and then maybe explain the question and try to make him/her do corrections... well, I just need to say that there is so much more you can do, if you want to!

I feel that as a tutor, you need to be observant. One thing you can do is take note of areas/problems that your kid is weak at, and help him/her build and improve on it. I also do something I call 'target practice', where I spam them with questions of a similar type (after first explaining the concept of course), until they manage to solve it and master the strategy on their own.

When they get things wrong, I copy the question, explain the question to them, and later on in the lesson, or in the next lesson, I take out the question and quiz them on it to find out if they really understand or not. (My kids call me evil when I single out their weak areas and make them do the questions until they get it, haha!)

"But it's very hard!"
Sometimes your tutee is gonna refuse to attempt a question because it seems very hard to do. This can be for an entire subject that they have grown to hate. For situations like this, I try very hard to make the subject more approachable.

I say things like "Don't worry, I'm here to help you", or "Ok, let's do the next one together". They don't get a free pass just because it's 'difficult'.

I do hope that such encouragement or hand-holding make my kids less apprehensive in trying to do questions in a subject they are afraid of.

For languages, it also helps when I make them read passages or easy books.

For those weak in Chinese, they may generally hate reading the passages because they're not very sure of the characters and how to read and pronounce them. So we read the passage together, and I try to create an environment where if he/she doesn't know a word, he/she doesn't feel penalised and grow to hate the subject.

Instead, we will write the hanyupinyin together, and later I'll quiz him/her on the weaker words instead. I think creating a safe space to learn, fail, and learn from mistakes, is very important.

Self-Improvement- because learning never ends.
Peronally, it's important to me to be good in the subject I am teaching, so I try my best to improve as a teacher as well. Language is something you can always hone, and you're never quite done learning it.

I have a personal notebook for learning new Chinese words etc and often read books so keep my mind sharp. When the teacher's mind is blunt, the kid is gonna be affected as well.

Even if you know all the strategies in tackling a question, there's always gonna be another creative way to teach the child. Some kids can't understand abstract things in many questions- they need to visualise something, or have a more familiar context. I feel that it's my job as a teacher to make their minds 'click'.

Extra Things I Do


wise quote from thingsweforget.blogspot.com
Not every tutor does all these things of course, but I'm just sharing some of my methods. I guess this is part of my teaching style? I find these things useful in helping my students and also for engaging them.

Charting Progress
  • Usually during the first lesson I sit down with kid and gather some info. We write down their current grades at school, and then I encourage them to write down what they want to achieve for the next exam. This will be handy for comparison later on in the year.
  • Though you can show this to the parents to say 'hey, I made your child improve!', for me it's more about getting the child involved. I want them to feel like they have a stake in their results. It's also important to show them their progress in between exam periods. For example: "Look, last time you couldn't do this, and now you got them all correct. Well done!" When a child feels he/she is improving, he/she may be more motivated to continue to work hard (idea from tons of self-help books)
Bilingual Strategy
  • If I teach a child both Chinese and English, I try to train them to understand things in both languages. You can find Chinese characters in their English assessment books, and English explanations in their Chinese workbooks. I find that this helps to reinforce their language skills.
  • I also create bilingual worksheets- ie. an English passage, which they must read, and later match Chinese vocab to English vocab present in the passage. This tests understanding and expands their Chinese vocabulary as well.
Video Worksheets
  • I find short 2-5 minute videos about science, history, or nature, or something that the child is interested in, and come up with comprehension like questions, or questions that test if they were paying attention to the detail in the video (ie. List 3 things that was mentioned in the video... etc)
Vocab Worksheets
  • I create lists of 15 new vocab words, and the students have to match the definitions to the words.
Vocab Notebook
  • In the Vocab Notebook, we write down good phrases and vocab to help for composition writing. For example, for the phrase "stood rooted to the ground", I will ask the student to create his own sentences. So for example, "Tommy stood rooted to the ground when he heard a ghostly whisper in his ear." This applies to Chinese too (造句). For Chinese it also forces them to practise writing Chinese characters.
  • Admin wise, I keep a notebook to keep track of all the lessons, timings etc. This is super important especially if you are a full time tutor. You can also do this on Excel. 

In this notebook I keep:
  • Name, Contact No. of Tutee & Parents
  • Address
  • Rate and Scheduled Times
  • A record of all lesson dates. I also highlight the 4th or 8th lesson etc to remind myself when to collect payment. When I am paid, I make a note on the book as well.
Collecting Payment
Every parent does this differently. Some like to give cash, some like to write cheques, some like to directly transfer you the month's payment. Usually I send a message via Whatsapp or SMS to remind the parent one day earlier to make payment the next day (when I go to their home for tuition).

Optional/Other:

Special Rewards, Special Occasions & Birthdays

Children's Day is a no-brainer. The kids expect something... their teachers in school have definitely prepared something for them, so don't forget! Kids have long memories for such things, haha!

I also take note of their birthdays so I can get them a little something ($5-15). This is just a personal preference. Depending on the child, I have given them sets of stationery, books, lego, toys, rainbow loom sets, food/candy, keychains etc. It really depends on the child :)

P.S. If you do none of these, it's totally okay. It doesn't mean you're a bad tutor. I'm just sharing what works for me. Chill, lah.

Attitude:
Every child learns differently. They also have different dispositions- some are more playful, some are quiet, some are more talkative. For me I found it best when I can adapt to them and their learning style.

Don't take it personally when they forget a concept you just taught them. Give them time, and give them plenty of patience. They don't understand it at school, and that's why they have a home tutor yes?



Always be kind.
By kind I don't mean overly lenient. Words like 'stupid', 'dumb', 'useless' etc should never be in your vocabulary when teaching a child. I know it may be difficult, but try to keep your mind open, calm and free of anger. (Easier said than done I know, but do try to keep to it. Shouting isn't going get you anywhere.)

Sometimes, you can be having a bad day, or a bad mood. NEVER take it out on the kids. Nobody needs to put up with your angst. Be professional, tutoring is a job.

TL;DR: 
Be Patient
Be Flexible
Be Prepared
And above all, be KIND. 

Some other questions & thoughts to wrap up this lengthy blogpost (which you hopefully found somewhat useful):

Some people ask why I do not pursue a full-fledged teaching career.
Mostly I like that I can interact with my students on a one-to-one basis, and get to know and help them better. Teachers in school generally need to do a lot of other stuff (admin, effective class control, etc) and it's not easy for them to micromanage all the time. I guess I prefer to do a super in-depth type of teaching with one child rather than teach broadly to a class?

What's the next step for a full time tutor?
Well, there are several ways to continue to grow your income. Time is limited and there will be a point where all your slots are full. To earn more money, some tutors then organise group lessons. Each child pays less than going to a one to one class, but the tutor earns more per hour. This can happen at a tuition centre or perhaps the tutor's own house. The other popular route is to open a tuition centre. I have no experience in this whatsoever so I'll refrain from trying to give any advice.

Ending Thoughts

I always feel honoured to teach a child.

Think about the perspective of the parent. You hire a stranger and let him/her into your home, and leave him/her (supervised or not) with your young child. The parent is trusting you to impart the right education, attitude, and values to their child. So don't take this lightly- kids learn very quickly, consciously or not. Be a good role model, don't have double standards. Always live up to your promises.

Some of the best moments I encountered in my job includes:
  • When my kid successfully approaches/applies a concept or strategy on his/her own
  • When my kid demonstrates a good learning attitude and takes intiative in learning
  • When my kids is unafraid to talk to me, share his/her day, or clarify things with me
  • When my kid corrects himself/herself (ie. check for grammar, tenses, units, or carelessness without me having to remind him/her again)
  • When my kids writes me something nice, like Thank you! (So cute!)
Cute things my kids do sobs :')

When they grow, I take pride in it. :') With that, I'll just leave you with a very touching teacher quote, complete with old school clipart. Because yes, it is very worth it and satisfying at the end of the day to be a teacher. We do mould the minds of the future, after all ;)

It's not easy to teach, and it can definitely be very frustrating at times. As a tutor, do take care of yourself and be kind to YOURSELF too- do not expect immediate changes overnight. Remind yourself that you're already doing the best you can! :)



Disclaimer: I didn't say my methods were foolproof nor the best.
Leave me comments to share YOUR methods and advice, I'm really interested to know! :)

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