First job out of college: Tutor?

A couple weeks ago, the need for money began to outweigh the desire to do nothing but either be lazy or work on my resume.  After a lot of thought, however, I was quite positive I did not want some run-of-the-mill clerk or retail position at the local big box store or Starbucks.  What’s a poor graduate to do?

Craig’s List offered an answer: Tutoring.  The pay level was quite enticing (base of $30/hr), which meant I could work 4 or 5 hours a week and make the equivalent of a part time position with, say, Best Buy.  I submitted my information and received a call back a week later from a woman who runs a local service.  Would I be interested in tutoring mathematics? Sure! 

I show up to my first session with a junior at a local high school who has had trouble in her Algebra II/Trig class.  “Algebra II/Trig?” I thought, “No problem!”  When she pulls out the book and shows me her old tests, my stomach hit the floor.  “I don’t remember any of this,” I thought to myself.  I managed to make it through the first session without letting on that she probably knew what she was doing better than I did, and I have since spent approximately 10 hours over the past two weeks teaching myself Algebra II/Trig out of a textbook I got at the local public library.  Divide $45, the amount I make over a week’s time with her, by the number of hours I’ve spent studying for our sessions (about five a week).  Now I’m down to $9/hr.  Not as impressive.

Now I’ve been asked to start working with a middle aged, Hispanic man who wants to get his GED.  He’s a pretty successful, experienced mechanic but he wants to get out of the industry, and the first step on that road is to get his GED.  But while he speaks English fluently (he’s been in the country for at least 25 years), and while he can read technical manuals with little trouble, any other sort of expository writing or reading flusters him.  And of course, he must also learn basic history, science, and social studies.  How do you teach someone all that they were supposed to learn in high school?

I really want to do well; I want my students to do well.  But this is different than the tutoring I did in the basement of Monroe the night before the big macro or development exam.  I was willing to spend as long as my friends and acquaitances needed in clarifying material, but if they didn’t do well I never felt like there was any skin off my back.  Now I find myself anxiously waiting to hear from my Algebra student how she performed on her various quizzes  and tests on logarithms and exponential functions.  Not just for my sake (for clearly I must produce results to keep my job), but also for her sake (because I want her to do well, regardless). 

Lacking the training and the organization that I would think qualifies someone as a tutor, I’m beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea.  These people are counting on me to help them in some way.  What if I can’t? What if I don’t know how?  And even if I was willing to put in the 15 or 20 hours a week that would be required to find new methods of teaching these people that meets their style, doesn’t it cease to be worth it at some point?  I mean, that’s like $6/hr, at most. 

I have to decide soon.  If I stay in this, I’ve got to commit to the middle of June and, just like in college, I’ll have to go balls to the wall and do everything I can to perform well in the capacity for which I’ve been hired.  I don’t know how to half ass something like this, and I wouldn’t want to even if I did. 

If anyone has any advice or bits of wisdom, I’d love to hear it.

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2 Responses to “First job out of college: Tutor?”

  1. Steve Says:

    You’ve set yourself a very tough task: it’s like being a substitute teacher, but where you actually have to teach content expertly. I can’t imagine being called on to teach *any* subject based on the random instructor’s outline. I suspect the only way they can do it is by setting the students in motion and counting on them teaching themselves. But that clearly doesn’t work in your case.

    First, don’t do it for the money. If that’s your goal, you should probably do something else. If you want to do the job well, you’re going to have to commit a lot of time up front (a fixed cost) to getting yourself up to speed. If you think about the implied average hourly wage, it’s almost certainly not going to be worth it.

    If you do this, will you have just one student for the period or multiple students? One student means one set of fixed costs. More than one means more than one set. At some point, as you add students, you’ll start to duplicate subjects so you won’t have those fixed costs. But are you planning on doing this for that long?

  2. philosonomics Says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    Your analysis is about the same as mine. Initially, I was going to take on maybe four or five or six students, because while I was sure it would be time consuming, I thought it would be worth my time. I had not considered (for some reason) the initial investment of my time – probably because I overestimated my knowledge of Algebra II/Trig.

    In any event, it was not my intention to continue in this job past the middle of June, since that’s the end of the school semester (and I’ll probably be starting a job by then). It is doubtful that such is enough time that taking on students will not simply mean higher and higher fixed costs. Still, this must be a commitment because the students need continuity. If I’m gonna quit, I gotta do it now.

    But I admit – I get a satisfaction out of it. So maybe I just need to stick with it.

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