The Ups and Downs of Maths Tutoring

Tutoring is an amazing and privileged role. It has some amazing high moments, but it’s not without its challenges. In over a decade of tutoring maths, these are some of the positives and negatives I’ve experienced. 

A clear impact on a student’s learning

One of the most encouraging things about being a tutor is seeing the development in our students. Students often come to a tutor to get extra support on top of that they receive in school. This could be to support an extra need, to fill in holes in understanding, or to help build their confidence. This is particularly true with maths tutoring. Most of my students come with a dislike of maths. This is often inherited from the adults around them, and leads to a lack of confidence in their abilities.

It is a fantastic high when our tutoring helps a student. Taking them from where they struggled on a topic to being able to complete questions. I love taking students from  “I hate maths, I can’t do maths” through to “oh yeah I CAN do it!”

Many teachers turn to tutoring to have exactly this impact on students. We can target and personalise the learning to meet the needs of the student.

Practical Tutoring

A challenge for tutoring maths  is making the abstract ideas into something physical.  Areas like algebra are hard for some students to picture. There are manipulatives such as Cuisenaire rods, algebra tiles and dienes rods. But, it takes time and investment to get the sets, and practice using them. Only when we can use them ourselves, can we use them with students.

Tutoring maths online means there is the additional challenge of not being in the same location as the student. It’s hard to use physical objects in this case. But there are now digital versions of these manipulatives available online such as mathsbot.com.

Flexible but limited working

Another positive about tutoring, in all subjects, is the flexibility it provides. As a tutor, I can set the days and times that I’m available to work. It fits in around my family life and other commitments.

But there is a downside to this too. Most tuition happens after mainstream school finishes. This is usually between 3:30/4pm to 8 or even 9pm for older students. This limits you to perhaps 4 students each evening if you work one-to-one.

Tutoring can also be very seasonal. I work with GCSE and A-Level students. There is a lot more demand for tutoring from March through to June, as students prepare for their exams.  But July, August and some of September can be very quiet, with low demand and the school summer holidays.

These aren’t unsurmountable things but certainly worth considering. As a tutor, you need to decide how much you want to work and when, how you can manage the busy and quieter periods.

Business Mindset not a Teaching Mindset

The most challenging thing I find as a tutor isn’t related to my subject.

It’s the challenge of running my own business. I’m experienced in the teaching parts of tutoring, but the skills and knowledge to run a business are different. A social media presence along with the processes for marketing and sales are important for bringing in new clients. We have to keep within the laws of our countries about business and tax, keeping our accounts up to date, and claiming expenses. These are all things that a tutor has to come to grips with as they start to run their own business! 

I’ve found the business hub and my colleagues within the Love Tutoring Community to be a great source of support and help. People are often willing to point you in the direction of things they have found helpful and we can learn alot from other’s experiences and their mistakes, whilst remembering their businesses aren’t ours, and we need to make things work for what we need. 

So tutoring isn’t a get-rich-quick job. You need a passion and heart to help students to grow. You need to be organised and disciplined as you work for yourself. It can be very rewarding but also challenging. 

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With a BSc Hons in Pure and Applied Mathematics from the University of Exeter, Helen transitioned from a PGCE into tutoring. She has now developed a high-quality tutoring service in Osmond Education. Specialising predominantly in GCSE and A-Level Maths, Helen loves taking students from “I hate maths, I can’t do maths” through to “meh, it’s ok” and then finally “oh yeah I CAN do it!”. She works in North Wiltshire for face-to-face tuition, but also tutors online in the UK and internationally.

Find her online at www.osmondeducation.co.uk, on LinkedIn, on Twitter and in the Love Tutoring Community.

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