Confessions of a private tutor
The private tuition business may be a $1 billion industry, but the pie has only crumbs for the small players.
While tuition centres gobble up most of the students looking for an edge over their classmates, the solo tutor's pickings are slim.
Yet Adrian (not his real name) won't take just any student.
He says: "I will never teach rude and ill-disciplined students.
"For me, rudeness is a no-no as teachers and tutors deserve respect. And if I do not get the support of parents, I feel there's no point continuing."
Adrian, who is in his 50s, has been in the business for close to 40 years.
He started teaching when he was 13 after doing well at PSLE and making it into Anglo-Chinese School.
"My neighbours and friends sought my help then to guide their children.
"It hasn't stopped since," he says.
Adrian, who has a business degree, declined to say how much he earns a month, but he charges $35 an hour for English, Maths, Chemistry and Physics.
Tuition isn't enough to pay the bills, so he helps out at the family business. But he does have a steady stream of students.
"Students keep coming through after recommendations from my previous students who have done well.
"It been like that since secondary one," he says.
Why not become a full-time teacher in a school?
"I will never become a school teacher. First, I'm committed to my family business. Second, a teacher and tutor play two different roles."
Being a tutor allows him to adjust schedules to suit his convenience. A full-time teacher's schedule would not allow that.
He estimates that he has taught over 200 students over the years.
He adds: "Most of them keep in touch with me, especially when they graduate. They will invite me for their graduation.
"Most of them are foreign students and I also get wedding and holiday invites, too."
Any difference between local and foreign students?
"Most local students are spoilt and pampered, especially when both parents are working. Foreign students are independent and responsible," he says.
Adrian says he doesn't mind the fluid nature of being a tutor.
In all these years, did he have bad apples he just could not turn around?
"I taught this student from primary five all the way to secondary five. I also taught his elder brother who is brilliant and is now an army officer.
"Because his mother decided he was a slow learner, which I disagreed with, he became lazy and spent all his time on the computer," says Adrian.
Although he now teaches his younger sister, the boy avoids Adrian and would not tell him how he has done for his O levels.
He says the onus is on the parents to play a part and not hand over parenting duties to the tutor.
Adrian remembers a student whose mother was busy with her career. Tuition was a way of babysitting the boy and his sister.
But when the boy fell sick, the mother took him to work and made him help with her sales job instead of letting him rest at home.
"I explained to the mother that what she was doing was wrong.
"She rebutted by saying she was teaching her son to be street-smart in making money, something the school cannot teach."
Money was more important than the child's welfare, so Adrian stopped teaching the siblings because of the mother.
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
1. Be very patient, especially with weaker students. They lack confidence and are not stupid.
2. Do not be contented with your students doing better. Push yourself and them to do the best they can.
3. Be ready to improvise because each student absorbs knowledge differently. That's the advantage of a one-to-one session.