After my first job as an insurance agent, I joined an IFA where I tried to do the ethical thing and sell useful products like term policies. It got me an average monthly income of only $1,000 or so for a few years – not much to talk about especially after what I previously earned. I decided to take up tuition assignments to supplement my income, and that was the start of my career as a full-time tuition teacher in Singapore.
Starting out as a side hustle
It started when my friend had a few students he did not want to teach anymore. He passed them all to me, but his asking rate was around $15 to $20 per hour. That’s pretty low, but no matter, I now had a regular and stable side income which supplemented my main one. Twice a week, I would head to the same neighbourhood to teach all three students for about $75 each time, and that made for $600 a month income.
I soon discovered that I quite liked teaching, and I set out to expand the number of students I was teaching.
One of the ways I found useful was to list myself in as many tuition assignment portals as I could. Such websites matched students and tutors, and they would take 50% of the first month’s fees as their commission.
Subsequently, students and their parents started to refer their friends. I also had a few friends (as well as my mum) who work as tutors, and they would pass me assignments that they didn’t want to take.
I also joined a tuition centre on a part-time basis for a few assignments.
Becoming full-time, and the perks of being a tutor
Soon, my calendar started to fill up, and along with becoming better at the job and my students scoring better grades, I could increase my hourly rate.
It was not long before the income I received from tuition eclipsed that of trying to sell useful policies (sigh), and tutoring now my main source of income.
Being a tuition teacher is pretty nice because I can decide how my week looked like. If I wanted a particular day to myself, I could schedule lessons around it. If I wanted to hustle, I could fill up my entire week with lessons to maximise how much I earned, and for a couple of years I did just that.
My hourly rate also became more comfortable as I got more students and produced results. Many parents are willing to pay especially if they were recommended to me by their friends, and I was soon teaching groups of students rather than individually.
Teaching tuition also feels less like a job, especially when the student/subject is enjoyable to teach. Job satisfaction was also quite easily achievable: students and parents tend to be grateful for their good results. This was quite different from trying to sell good policies to my clients. Nobody quite appreciates the impact of a good policy, much less thank you for it.
You have to know how to deal with kids, and that’s tricky since different kids take to different teaching styles. Some perform better when you are patient with them, while others require a rapport to be built. Many do a lot better with a firm and strict hand, and that means scolding where necessary.
This also means it’s quite emotionally taxing sometimes, especially with students who refuse to learn despite my best efforts. There are also a thankfully tiny proportion of customers who are unreasonable. I was lucky enough to encounter only one parent in my years of teaching who didn’t pay the fees after I taught the student. This is a little common and I have avoided this by requiring upfront payments instead. Once bitten twice shy.
Given that lessons have to be conducted outside of school hours, weekday evenings and weekends are the prime time for lessons. This means that my calendar doesn’t quite fit that of my friends quite often. They’re working when I’m free in the weekday mornings and early afternoons, and I’m busy teaching when they’re out having weekday dinners. A tuition teacher’s schedule is fairly flexible, of course, but there are many times where I have had to sacrifice social gatherings for my students.
I think picking up a few tuition assignments is a great way to aid one’s quest in FIRE. You can earn more to set aside for investment and retirement, and given the flexible nature of the job it should fit in most people’s schedules. The hourly rate can be quite high if you are able to produce results and market yourself well.
Year-ends are obviously a lull period for tutors, and income drops during that period. There is also some effort required in finding students as well as having to deal with administrative issues like billing.
Joining a tuition centre can help with these issues. If you are available to teach in the west, consider applying as a tutor! Part and full-time positions are available, just click the Apply button and fill up the form.
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