Tuition Teacher Shares What It Takes To Make $10,000 a Month

By Joanne Poh

In today’s post, please welcome Benjamin (not his real name), a 32-year-old full-time tuition teacher with an annual income of over $120,000.

So, tell us a little about your job.

I am a full-time tuition teacher specialising in pure sciences, combined sciences and mathematics at secondary school level.

I have about 40 students and teach group classes in my living room. I also have a few individual students who require me to travel to their homes and whom I usually charge more for the time spent travelling.

I have been teaching tuition for 14 years but only went full-time 3 years ago.

What is the pay like?

I can’t disclose my exact rates, but on average I earn about $10,000 a month.

My finances aren’t as stable as people think, though.

I usually have fewer students at the beginning of the year when the previous batch of Sec 4 students graduates. During the first quarter of the year I might earn only $5,000 to $6,500 each month.

In the second half of the year, I hit a five-figure sum each month as students get worried about their final exams and my slots start to fill up. From July to October I might earn an average of $15,000.

What is your schedule like?

I work from Mondays to Sundays. My weekends and weeknights are burnt.

Nowadays, students get back from their CCAs only in the evenings, so get ready to spend your nights working until about 9.30 to 10pm.

A typical weekday has me teaching my first class in the mid to late afternoon, and I just keep going until nighttime. On weekends I teach from about 9am to 5pm on Saturdays and 9am to 3pm on Sundays.

The sacrifice of personal time is one of the biggest drawbacks of this job.

I know lots of tuition teachers who don’t earn as much as you. What’s your secret?

You must really be able to bond with the students and to do that, you can’t be rigid about the amount of time you spend with them. Unless I have back-to-back classes, I do not set boundaries and let my students stay back after class. Some even stay back for the duration of a full lesson, just so I can answer their questions or let them do more practice questions.

I treat my students very much like friends. I don’t make them call me “Teacher”; they can call me by name if they want. There are no barriers. I tell new students straight up that if you come here you better speak up, there’s nothing to be shy about.

I even have students who left other tuition centres to join my classes. I also remind my students to refer their friends to me from time to time.

Nowadays, students know how to think for themselves, so they know whether they’re really learning or not. They’re not like kids in the past who were forced to go for tuition by their parents. The secondary students who come for my tuition classes are usually quite savvy.

How has your job affected you in personal terms?

My girlfriend complains that whenever she’s free, I’m working, even on weekends. Other people can go on holiday during off-peak season but I have no choice but to wait till the school holidays.

What advice do you have for aspiring tuition teachers?

You must be prepared to face the fact that you won’t be mingling with adults much once you start. You will lose your social life and it won’t be easy to expand your social circle.

One problem is your schedule, as you are working whenever your peers get off work.

The second problem is that you have no colleagues in your age group, and you interact only with students and their parents on the job.

We understand you have an engineering degree from a local university. Why did you decide to become a full-time tuition teacher?

The main reason I did not pursue a career in engineering was the influx of foreign engineers depressing wages to the point where I did not think the pay would be able to match my expectations.

Unless I were to go and upgrade myself by taking more examinations to become a professional engineer, I would not have been earning as much as I am now, so I didn’t see the point.

I had one job in civil engineering after I graduated, and work would start at 8.30am and end as late as 9.30pm. I had a 6-day workweek including Saturdays and sometimes Sundays. The company culture was very regimented, not unlike the army. I finally decided it wasn’t worth staying in that job given what they were paying me.

I have considered quitting from time to time, but so far I haven’t done so as I prefer teaching to being employed by someone else. I am someone who cares about having more freedom and more time, and I want to avoid politics.

But if you ask me whether I have contemplated starting a different type of business, I will admit that I think about it all the time.

Do you like your job?

Yah, I like my job, it’s not too bad. I don’t have to face angry customers or answer to a boss.

Of course, I am still answerable to my students’ parents, but that’s not much of a problem as I feel that it’s usually possible to improve the kids’ marks. I have had many students jump from an F9 to a B3 within a few months, and even some who went from being the last in class to the first.

I would say that being a tuition teacher has fulfilled at least 75% to 80% of my aspirations, so I don’t regret it so far.

What do you hate about it?

I think it’s taking a toll on my health as I’ve been suffering from throat problems and fatigue. Few people realise how physically taxing teaching can be.

It also gets a bit boring as you keep saying the same things over and over. You have to find ways to spice up your lessons, not only to make it more interesting for the students but also for yourself so you can last longer in the job.

How do you deal with lazy students?

Sometimes I try talking to them and letting them know what will happen in future if they don’t work hard. I tell them that if they don’t study they’ll be in for a rude shock when they see what the real world is like and how tough life is going to be for them.

I also give incentives and help my students to set goals. For example, if a student is not doing well, I tell them that if they can pass their upcoming exams with a B3 or B4, I will take them out to eat or catch a movie.

In class, I may motivate my students by dangling cash incentives. For example, I might offer $20 or $30 to students who can solve a very challenging question. If a student scores an A1 for his mid-year exams I might even give him $100 to $150.

So, do you like kids?

I feel numb.

This article was first published over at MoneySmart blog on 5 September 2014. It is reproduced with permission.

About The Author (Joanne Poh)

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.


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