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From Classroom to Home Office: How and Why I Became a Private Literacy Tutor

by Kathleen Hunter
 | Jan 17, 2013
As children we often have aspirations for what we want to be when we grow up. For me, I knew I was going to be an actress and live in New York City—I was born with greasepaint running through my veins. Then, as I got older (16 to be exact), I told my mom I was going to medical school and find the cure for cancer. Many years of formal education later, and none of them spent studying drama or medicine, I am finally doing what I was meant to do—teach.

I had many careers prior to becoming a classroom teacher. I worked in Hollywood for a major production company, rubbing shoulders with celebrities. Life was good but something was missing. I moved to San Diego where I met my husband, got married, and studied for my paralegal certificate at the University of San Diego.

The day after graduation we moved to Seattle. For twelve years I worked as a paralegal in major law firms. I enjoyed the work and the people I worked with but still, something was missing. At the end of the day, a big question hovered over my head: what had I truly accomplished in the big scheme of the world? Had I provided the escape of entertainment from the worries of the world? No. Had I provided a cure for anything more serious than the common cold? Not even close.

It was time for me to move on and actually do something. This required that I figure out what I truly needed in my next career.

First and foremost was passion. A close second was meaning. Lastly, but equally important as the first two, was flexibility. I have my husband to credit for the brilliant idea that I consider being a teacher. That profession had never crossed my mind, but once it did, it seemed so obvious. Immediately I thought of my paternal grandmother, who taught in a one-room classroom in the middle of the farm lands of North Dakota. My mind was set and as with everything I do, once I set my mind to it, I run with it!

I started by conducting informational interviews and researching programs at the universities in Seattle. Eventually, I made the plunge. I chose Seattle Pacific University for their rigorous curriculum, certification, small student to professor ratios, and the caliber of their professors.

Five semesters later, I finished the baccalaureate program and was ready to begin my master’s degree in language and literacy with an emphasis as a teacher of reading. I had been discouraged by most of my professors from going on to graduate school. I was told I would price myself out of a job, it would be a waste of my time and money if I planned to only teach elementary students, and the debt would far outweigh the paychecks. My response was, “Why shouldn’t young students have the benefit of a teacher with a higher degree and specialty?” After all, one of the items on my career changing list was “meaning.” I chose to attend Wheelock College in Boston for their intense literacy program, credibility in the teaching field, and their dedication to children, not to mention the opportunity to live on the East Coast for a year.

The process of interviewing for a teaching job began well before I completed my master’s degree. I interviewed in Seattle during spring break and via conference calls. By the time I graduated, I had a job teaching fourth grade.

I worked for five years in a socioeconomically challenged school district. The majority of the students were on free or reduced breakfasts and lunches, spoke English as their second language, and were well behind the state standards in all subjects. Yes, I had my work cut out for me. But I also had excellent training in similar demographics. I felt prepared and ready to put all my hard work to work for my students.

By now I felt I had accomplished the first two items on my new career list—passion and meaning. But one was not quite at 100%—flexibility. As a writer working towards getting my novels and picture books published, I needed more than summers to write. My evenings and weekends were still devoted to my classroom teachings. It was time to make another plunge off another high dive.

I decided to retire from teaching in the classroom, and started my own business of tutoring from my home office.

Once again, I ran with my new career direction. I had all my teaching resources gathered over the years. I also had an awesome classroom library of books that I accumulated over the years. And my practicum in graduate school gave me the resources I needed to perform my own student assessments in literacy. I had everything at my fingertips that I would need to teach—except for the students.

I designed my brochure and started a marketing and advertising blitz. Most elementary schools allowed me to leave brochures in the front office. The local independent bookstores and coffee shops have community boards that are perfect for free advertising, and I was able to advertise on our local township website as well.

I also turned to my teacher colleagues for student referrals, which is how I acquired my first student. He was a fifth grader struggling with the writing process. I worked with him for two years—first on writing, then on reading and math and other special projects. It was very rewarding to be a part of his academic progress. Recently, I received an email from his mother letting me know how much she appreciated my work with her son. He is now a freshman in high school and doing quite well.

Over time one student led to another and another and another. Most of my referrals have been from word of mouth and I have been able to maintain a workload that allows me to have all three items on my list checked-off: Passion. Meaning. Flexibility.

Three years have passed since I made the plunge to go out on my own and I have loved every minute. My students have ranged in age from Pre-K to middle school, both boys and girls. Sometimes they come to me with a specific goal in mind and other times I am their weekly academic booster, supplementing the classroom teachings, filling the gaps made ever wider by budget cuts and changes in the traditional home dynamic.

However, working from home as a private tutor is not for everyone. To be successful you need to be very organized, disciplined with your time, and be able to take the lean times along with the flush times. Not to mention that marketing your services is a constant endeavor.

But if you think you have what it takes or would at least like to give it a try, here are some tips:

  • Contact your homeowners or renters insurance to confirm you have the coverage necessary to have clients in and out of your home. You will probably want to increase your liability coverage.
  • Have a professional brochure designed that outlines your education, expertise, teaching philosophy, and lists memberships in pertinent organizations (such as International Reading Association or NCTE). In your absence, your brochure will be your one and only marketing tool that will make or break the first impression upon prospective clients.
  • Purchase professional business cards. Don’t let the age of your students direct the look of your cards. Avoid a card that is laden with cutesy graphics, that’s too glossy, or that’s printed on flimsy stock. Remember, your audience first and foremost is parents.
  • I highly recommend you have formal policies and “house rules” written up that you give to each family upon initial communication about tutoring. Having these in place will help avoid awkward situations later regarding public and private parameters of your home, payment policies, and scheduling, just to name a few.
  • photo: donovanbeeson via photopin cc
  • Create a spreadsheet on Excel or similar program to track payments and sessions by students.
  • Prepare file folders for each student that includes the assessments you prepare, lesson notes, and student work.
  • Purchase or create lending library cards. I am very old-school about books. I love the actual books and I love to share them with my students. I use library cards to list each book a student borrows, the date they borrow the book and the date it is returned. I also supplement my inventory with books from the public library. (Have a policy about charging for books borrowed if they are not returned within a designated number of days or lost).
  • Research the various online teaching resources for additional materials and resources to have at your fingertips. I use the practice pages, booklets, and online manipulatives depending on the student. I have chosen to use ReadWriteThink.org, Scholastic.com, edHelper.com, and Sadlier-Oxford.com. (Some sites require a nominal annual fee.)
  • Have a professional website, a professional Facebook page, and a Twitter account that you actually use on a regular basis. I stress the professionalism of all of these social media platforms. One picture says a thousand words and you don’t want those words to portray you in a negative light.
My journey to working as a private tutor was long and by no means direct. Although I have not worked as a professional actress, lived in New York City, or found the cure for cancer, what I have done with my career has and continues to be very rewarding. I have found my passion, with meaning and flexibility.

Going out on one’s own is not for everyone. It takes guts and a certain amount of financial security already in place. However, if you are even slightly considering the big dive I highly encourage you to start with some informational interviews and see where they lead you.

Happy Teaching!

Kathleen A. Hunter, MS is a literacy tutor and aspiring children's book author. You can visit her online at www.KathleenHunterWrites.com.

© 2013 Kathleen Hunter. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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