Nov 28, 2017
A professional tutor's take on collaborating with other tutors and how it can help grow business.
“Gentlemen, Mrs. Reynard will see you now.” Reggie and I look at each other nervously, then stand and follow the austere secretary across the room. I’m sweating profusely and Reggie seems only slightly more composed. Apparently, we’re the gentlemen.
“Two-headed monster,” he mutters softly as we file into the corner office. I smirk. That’s our pitch: hire us to be a two-headed tutoring monster.
It’s 2001 and Reggie and I have done something improbable. We’ve parlayed a few hundred tutoring flyers tacked to lampposts in and around NY into a meeting with an actual parent of an actual teenager needing actual academic support. All we have to do now is close the deal. Our plan is to pitch ourselves as the ultimate tutoring team, with Reggie as the math and science specialist and me as the humanities guy. (Thankfully, we steered clear of that particular metaphor/phrasing during the subsequent meeting.)
Eleanor agreed to have each of us come once a week to tutor her son, with an additional weekly meeting between Reggie and I to discuss our specific pedagogical findings. I’m convinced our proposal succeeded less on account of our skill delegation and more on account of our bigger-picture interdisciplinary plan. In other words, I believe what we actually sold her on was a rudimentary tutor collaboration model.
Quite a bit has changed for me since then. First and foremost, I’m now much more than a humanities tutor. In fact, these days, 95% of the tutoring I do is Math, Science, or Test Prep -- something my creative writing teachers might find amusing. While some of that evolution is attributable to a genuine love of STEM, it’s been driven much more by demand within the tutoring industry. Put simply, the tutoring requests I receive (both for me personally and for my associate tutors) are almost never for humanities support. In fact, humanities tutoring barely cracks my top 10 most common tutoring requests:
For a new tutor or someone looking to scale up, adding subjects to your skillset makes a lot of sense. At the same time, participating in a tutor network that can collectively offer a wide range of support is usually the better path to both increasing one’s tutoring output and improving one’s product.
Here are the two major reasons why:
Lead Generation. Tutor networks - both formal and informal - allow tutors to really shine by funneling work towards the individuals who have both the content expertise and the essential tutoring experience to deliver a plus product. For many years, I worried about being pigeonholed as an SAT tutor, fearing that cultivating a reputational expertise would lead to me being denied other tutoring opportunities. I now see how wrong I was about that. The more students I tutored for the SAT, the better I got at it. And that proficiency led others in my tutoring networks to steer other tutoring opportunities - SAT and otherwise - my way. In retrospect, the real risk in focusing too narrowly on a specific subject isn’t that you’ll be pigeonholed, but rather that you’ll get bored teaching the same material over and over again. In my case, the SAT being perpetually tweaked, the multifarious nature of the exam, and my ever-expanding data investigations have kept me hungry and captivated by the material.
Delegating. When it comes to tutor networks, there’s an even more critical virtue than having colleagues send tutoring work your way - the ability to efficiently send work out. If you tutor long enough you will be asked to offer support in a subject that you don’t have particular command of. While I’m all for taking on learning challenges, if tutors are too ambitious in their new skill acquisition, their students can suffer academically. For this reason, having a tutor network through which you can access other talented tutors who possess expertise that you lack, means everyone wins: kids get high quality support quickly, you don’t get sucked into a tutoring gig that requires more professional development time than you can realistically spare, and your network flourishes. For me, this outflow model works best with chemistry and Spanish. Whatever support I can offer in those two disciplines pales in comparison to that of some of my more scientifically and linguistically inclined colleagues.
It’s worth noting that participating in a tutor network could come with some risks. First, when you recommend a colleague, you are attaching yourself to that other tutor’s skills and level of professionalism. So it’s extremely important that you’re familiar with the experience and reputation of anyone that you vouch for. More than this however, referring tutoring clients who you might have tutored to colleagues can amount to building those colleagues’ businesses at the expense of your own. And yet, I have not found this to be the case for two reasons:
There is too much work to go around for any tutor to soak up all of the relevant opportunities.
Referring work to colleagues almost always results in them being appreciative and subsequently sending folks back your way.
Of course, it’s always smart to clarify the terms of referrals ahead of time. If you feel you’re entitled to a finder’s fee for referrals you ought to be as transparent and up-front about that as possible. You may discover that a finder’s fee isn’t worth the signal you’re sending and/or your colleagues are less inclined to help you with your overflow on account of it. Or, you may discover that your network is more than happy to compensate you for the all-important leads. I’ve been on both sides of those arrangements (paying finder’s fees and asking to be paid), so I can say definitively that the specific terms, tutors involved, and circumstances can make some agreements more successful than others.
From sharing best practices, tools, and materials, to generating all-important future referral opportunities, to not wasting precious time speed-learning content so you can teach it, tutor networks and tutor collaboration are a great way to both increase work opportunities and improve one’s tutoring skills. And whether you’re a new tutor looking to establish yourself in the field or a seasoned one looking to streamline the work you’re already doing, tutor networks represent an extraordinary opportunity to improve your operations short-term and long-term, and are well worth the small risks that professional collaborating entails.
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