Professional tutor and guest blogger Josh Sohn talks self-management, being your own boss, and how to effectively juggle working on multiple projects.
“I’d like to speak to your supervisor,” I say. The person across from me stammers something but ultimately complies. A few moments later: a higher-up emerges, apologies ensue, and the problem is resolved.
That’s what happens. On TV. In movies. In all-too-common, all-too-frustrating real life scenarios. Someone feels squeezed, complains, and the problem is resolved.
But here’s the thing, that someone isn’t me. And it’s not just that I’m bad at complaining — I don’t actually know who the superior is.
I don’t know who I work for.
One of the most unique aspects of the tutoring industry is precisely this question of who is in charge. There are a lot of contenders.
The boss, naturally, is the individual authorizing the payments. In most cases, that’s the parent. And if there are two parents involved, it’s the one who’s more involved in the tutoring process. But what if Dad coordinates the sessions and Mom pays? Do you go to him or her? Both? In this case, you start with her, but she tells you to go to him, and when you finally track him down, he says, “Ask Jason.” (Jason is their son.) Of course, you think. You should’ve started with Jason. He’s actually the boss.
Sure, he’s sixteen and mercurial and somehow both extremely busy and perpetually bored and not even necessarily sold on the idea of high school as a means to college as a means to, well, a meaningful life (you’re working on convincing him…). But he’s in charge. He’s the one you’re actually working with. The one taking exams in May. He gets to decide.
So you ask Jason.
Well, you try to ask him. According to his Instagram, he’s very much alive and well, but for some reason, he’s not responding to your texts or your emails or, eventually, your phone calls. When you finally get a hold of him, he says he’s good on tutoring for the moment. You pass this along to his parents and they respond with, “He’s most certainly not good. Have you seen his Instagram?!”
Then something occurs to you — the person you should really consult on this is… you. One of the chief perks of tutoring is you work for yourself. But there’s not much you can actually do in this situation, even if you are the boss.
You have another thought: maybe, the person you work for is Ms. Almonte, the teacher whose class Jason is struggling so mightily with. But Ms. Almonte works for all of her students, and her principal, and her students’ parents, not just one particular student’s tutor — she doesn’t have time, let alone actual answers, to help you corral Jason.
Something else dawns on you: if you’re engaged in meaningful academic support, then aren’t you really working for Future Jason? He’s the one you should talk to. All you have to do is go into the future, take 26-year-old listless Future Jason aside and ask him to trust you more… in 2017.
Entrepreneurs in all industries wrestle with these questions. There are power and responsibility associated with running your own business, and likewise, there’s anxiety when your myriad of bosses want conflicting things from you, which is often given the nature of the work and the particular array of people involved. And, there’s no way to know exactly which problems will arise, let alone the exact right way to address each of those problems.
But there is something you can do. Something you really must do. Before you begin tutoring, talk to everyone involved in the student’s academic life about goals, expectations, and protocol. And, to the extent that it’s possible, prioritize regular check-ins either by phone, email or, ideally, via codified session reports outlining exactly what is (or isn’t) happening within the tutor-student interactions.
All of that takes time. And even if you do it, there’s still no guarantee you’ll have the positive impact you’re after. But if you can get the key people in Jason’s academic life connected and working in tandem to give him the support he needs, you’ll have achieved something truly extraordinary. Future Jason will be very appreciative.
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