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Tutoring – life after Tefl

Phil Doyle-Wells explains why he has absolutely no regrets after moving on from ELT to private tutoring

Many UK-based individuals in the ELT world are making career moves not so much up the ladder as off it – into tutoring. The traditional entry route into ELT – a bachelor’s degree followed by a £1,000+ Tefl course, then a spell teaching abroad possibly followed by teaching in a UK language school – is less lucrative than it once was.

And in the high streets of London’s less affluent suburbs you are likely to see tutoring services providers where private higher education colleges used to stand. Recent graduates and even school leavers with good A levels are eschewing entrylevel Tefl and going into tutoring instead, many commanding rates of £15 an hour and up, without doing an expensive postgrad course. The exodus has been joined by older Tefl hands, including me.

‘Zombies have just occupied the school and are intent on eating all the teachers. Meanwhile, aliens have landed on my page and are about to wreak havoc with their exploding pencils. Clearly, my life is in danger and I should be making that call to International Rescue!’

I’m busy at work reading essays that are the exciting product of some very fertile nine-year-old minds. This makes for an extremely pleasant afternoon’s work, especially when compared to my previous vocation of EAP teacher. This classroom drudgery typically involved attempting to teach the painfully dull and constricting rubrics of academic English to groups of aspiring Chinese undergraduates. Now I only have the Martians to deal with!

I have now become a fulltime travelling tutor, visiting the homes of parents who are keen for their sons and daughters to pass the 11-plus exam and gain access to one of the country’s remaining 164 grammar schools. After almost 25 years of treading the Tefl boards abroad and in the UK, I have decided to abandon the education industry’s worst-paid job and become a self-employed tutor.

There’s very little demand for privately tutoring EFL to individuals, as my rates of around £30 per hour would be a deter rent to most ESL and EFL students living in the UK. However, keen parents are willing to fork out to coach their children towards success in mainstream primary and secondary education, which is hardly surprising given the current state education sector’s focus on achieving mediocrity for all, regardless of ability.

So how did I get into this tutoring line of work? Well, just as I fell into teaching EFL, I also became a private tutor by accident rather than design. It started about three years ago when I returned to the UK after many years working in Gulf countries. Once I had embroiled myself in the task of tutoring my own children for the local grammar schools, I realised that here was a business opportunity waiting for me – ‘I can do this,’ I thought. And so I gleefully signed up with a couple of online tutor sites such as UKtutors.com and FirstTutors.com.

The beginnings were small – only two students a week for the first few months – but then I diversified into GCSE and A level and added another subject. Setting up my own website, which is surprisingly easy via WordPress, was the next step and after another year I had reached a crunch point. How could I be a full-time Tefler and tutor fifteen hours per week at the same time? Clearly it was impossible, so the underpaying job went out the window at the same time as the well-paying tutoring was welcomed through the front door.

I haven’t turned my back totally on the Tefl business. Being a former Ielts examiner, I have good skills to sell, and I thus teach a couple of Ielts lessons every week. This particular international string to my bow is usually played via Skype, and to date I have had students in places as varied as the US, Saudi Arabia and cosmopolitan Reigate, Surrey. In fact, online teaching via Skype is proving to be a popular option, especially for carrying out interview practice with pre-teenage kids who need to interview as part of the application process for independent schools.

I now tutor about 25 hours per week, and find myself regularly having to turn clients down. I also look forward to dealing with (students’ essays about) zombies and aliens on a daily basis, rather than having to endure the buttock-clenching boredom of ELT nominalisation and referencing.

Phil Doyle-Wells is the pseudonym of a tutor working in the south of England.