Everything To Know To Become A Private Tutor14 min read

If you have been teaching English for any period of time you have most likely wondered how to become a private tutor in order to make extra money. Private tutoring can be a great income stream for teachers working abroad as well as online. But, there are a few things that you need to know. Let’s take a look at how to become a private tutor as well as some things you need to first think about to know if private tutoring is a viable option for you.

What qualifies as private tutoring?

For the purposes of this article, I am referring to private tutoring as any teaching or tutoring that is done outside of the normal classroom setting between a tutor or teacher and one or more students. This means that each session is entirely arranged by the teacher and the student without any school involved. So, even though you may have one to one sessions while working for a private language school and those would technically be considered private tutoring, I am specifically talking about jobs that you arrange for yourself. This can be tutoring that you do online or by meeting your students in person. We are going to talk about how you arrange this more below.

What does private tutoring entail?

Private tutoring is going to differ than what you may be used to working abroad for a school or for an online company in that you are going to have to arrange and take care of everything yourself. This includes finding students, setting up times, arranging content if the session calls for it, getting paid, and potentially other things. This is in stark contrast to working for a school where you may have to do some planning and attend some meetings and certainly different from working online where all you have to do is show up and speak. The nice thing about this, however, is that you are keeping 100% of the money you make (after taxes of course). So, even though you will have to do much more work there is the potential for a greater reward depending on how much you are charging students and what they are willing to pay. However, you are also going to have to make sure your students are seeing results or you probably won’t have work for very long. This can be hard to do with each student as there is no guarantee that every student you work with is going to care. Some students may only be there because their parents are making them and some students, even with extra tutoring, may just be bad at learning English (or whatever other subjects you may be able to tutor students in). So, you are going to have to figure out some type of metric that you can judge each student in order for them to see tangible results that their parents or they might keep paying you for tutoring. One last thing to remember is that depending on the country you live in or the school you work for you may not even be legally allowed to tutor students privately. We’ll talk more about that below.

Can I become a private tutor if I’m already teaching abroad?

The answer to this question is going to be different for everyone. If you are teaching ESL in your home country, (a US citizen teaching ESL at a high school in the US or UK citizen teaching ESL students at a college prep school) then you are going to be okay. However, if you are teaching EFL abroad then there are going to be different rules and regulations depending on the country you are in that govern your ability to work outside of the company you were hired to work at. Some countries have regulations against people performing work outside of what they were hired to do and even then they can only do it in the service of the school or company that hired them. An example of this is South Korea where it is illegal for teachers on an E2 visa, which is most teachers, to teach private lessons as this is considered to be a business. Teachers who are on an F Visa (long-term residence visas) can legally tutor students privately as long as they secure a business permit and tax number. This is just one example and there are many other countries that place limitations on what a teacher on a work permit can and cannot do so before you decide to go into private enterprise and recruit students of your own you will need to make sure you can do so legally. It should be noted that there are many people who may not be legally able to tutor students privately but do so anywise. This is extremely risky and could have serious repercussions should you be found out. You will most likely come across many teachers who have been working in a country of many years and maybe even decades who have been teaching students privately but illegally and have had no problems. This doesn’t ensure that you will have no problems either. You may have a disgruntled student or parent who fails a test and blames you then reports you to the immigration police. Don’t think that can happen? There were numerous cases in China of students reporting their teachers for not having the proper visas or not having a degree or certification after the Chinese immigration police set up a cash rewards system. Don’t think that one of your students wouldn’t do the same if they felt they failed a test or course and could blame it on their foreign teacher. Especially in countries where academics are high stakes and can decide the future of a student and in many cases the students family whether or not they get into a good school.

One other thing you should think about is the contract you signed with the school you are working for. Schools in many countries have very strict policies that their teachers can’t moonlight on the side. This is to prevent teachers from potentially taking students from them. So, even if you work in a country where you can legally teach students on the side with just the work permit you are on, you should make sure that your school doesn’t have a policy against it in the contract you signed lest you lose your job and be forced to leave the country.

How do I become a private tutor?

Finding Students

In Person  Finding students in person is going to be much easier in the short-term than online. Especially if you are currently working at a school that permits teachers to tutor on the side (usually public schools and universities that don’t depend on students directly for revenue). Obviously, you don’t want to outright ask students during the class if they need extra tutoring as that would be unprofessional. Instead, you will probably find that many of your students will approach you directly about private tutoring. One thing that you can do is provide students with an email address to contact you should they have further questions about a lesson or homework. This will allow them to approach you about tutoring or their parents if the child is small. This can usually be provided at the beginning of the year on the class syllabus. Make sure to keep your email professional. Email is always the best option as you can keep a transcript of everything that has been written. I would strongly advise against connecting with any of your students on any social media accounts unless you have set up an account purely for teaching and nothing else least one of your students find something revealing that could be used to get you fired if they were ever dissatisfied in your class. Again, it has happened before and can happen to you.

Online

Finding students online is going to be a little trickier as you won’t have face to face contact, however, it also has the advantage that you won’t be found out by the school you are working for and get into trouble if they don’t permit you from tutoring on the side. There is also the fact that you can reach a greater number of people online and potentially find students that are willing to pay a higher price. Finding students online is a good option if you are not working abroad and don’t have access to ESL or EFL students. However, people teaching abroad can also use the internet to try to find local students to tutor. There are a few different ways that you can find students online so I am going to go into the two easiest and (for most people) the methods that are going to provide the highest return on investment (both time and money).

The first method that you can use if you are trying to find students for private tutoring online is going to be through finding jobs boards and local message boards where students in need of students are likely to search. This can be anything ranging from the local Craigslist page to Facebook groups where ESL and EFL students frequent (assuming the permit you to advertise your services). You will have to experiment with how you structure each pitch and the pricing in order to find a good medium that gives you the best return. But we’ll talk more about pricing a bit later.

The second method you can use to find students online is through a personal website and a well-planned campaign to drive relevant traffic. This is going to have a higher learning curve than going after job posts and is guaranteed to take longer to begin seeing results. However, in the long run, this will probably be a more stable source of students and will begin to take less time to maintain than having to constantly go and find students as the students will now be coming to you. You are going to need to set up your own website and will also need to create a Facebook page as well as pages on the appropriate social media sites in the country or countries you are looking to find students (most likely Facebook with the exception of China which uses WeChat).

Creating Lessons

As you are going to be the only one working with students the onus is going to be on you to create appropriate lessons that are relevant to each student and will help them to work towards their academic goals (even if the student doesn’t know what those goals are). This may sometimes be difficult as a students goal may be as ambiguous as ‘I want to speak English better’ (usually adults) or as complicated as ‘I want to pass some random standardized test’ (usually students in Asian countries). It can be extremely difficult to live up to those expectations as how much a student improves in their English-speaking abilities or how well they do on a standardized test is largely going to be up to them and how much time they spend learning (but believe me they will find a way to blame it on you if they don’t get the results they want). So, what you instead have to do is assess where the student is and what you can do to give them some results. So, maybe they are having trouble understanding the proper subject-verb agreement. Or, maybe the student is a business professional and they are having difficulties with mastering the right accent to the level they need to properly communicate. Isolating what specific challenges the student is having and then tackling them one by one is going to be the most sure-fire way to help students who come to you with ambiguous goals. Also, remember that these lessons need to be short and to the point. At least short enough to fit in the time that the student and you have both agreed to for each session. Students who have specific needs that they have come to you about will be easier to create lessons for as they already know what they want they want to work on.

Meeting with Students

In Person

Meeting students in person is going to be easier as you will simply meet wherever the student feels the most comfortable. This could be at a coffee shop or at the students home or even at a coworking space or at the school if you have that kind of setup. If the student doesn’t have a location they prefer then you will need to find one of these kinds of places that is near to both you as well as the student so that it is easy for both of you to reach. Make sure that it is a quiet location.

Online

If you are going to be teaching students online then you are going to have to make a decision about how you want to meet with them. You have some various options when it comes to platforms for teaching students online ranging from Skype or Zoom to platforms created specifically for tutoring and teaching students online such as WizIQ. You are going to have to weigh your options as to what you will need such as a good annotation system or the ability to submit progress reports to your students and so on.

Pricing My Services

The prices you set is going to be largely dependent on the market you are going after and the country you are in. Businessmen in Dubai, for example, are going to be willing to pay much more for tutoring than public school students in Thailand. The best thing to do when you are first starting out is to look around for other teachers who are offering private tutoring and see what they are charging. You want to try to find people who, like you, are just starting out as opposed to people who have been working for a few years as they are going to be able to charge a bit more. If you are working online then it will be a bit easier to perform research for pricing as there are a plethora of other tutors to look at. To reiterate though, you are going to want to make sure that the prices you are starting with match the market you are going for. For lower paying markets you are going to need to tutor more students and may want to consider doing tutoring sessions with two or three students together to increase the amount you are making for each session. What you charge in the end is going to be up to you but use your discretion so that you don’t undervalue yourself and so that you don’t price yourself out of the market.

Getting Paid

Obviously, the best way to get paid if you are tutoring students in person is in cash. This guarantees that you are getting paid and it is generally just easier to handle. It will also reduce any fees you may have to pay out using an electronic payment method. In some countries, it will also be the preferred method of payment for your students and their parents. However, I recognize that this isn’t going to be practical for everyone. If you are tutoring online then you are going to need to set up some type of way to get paid. Probably the easiest thing for new tutors is going to be PayPal as they have services in almost every country. However, if you have your own website and have the technical know how you may also consider using a service such as WooCommerce if you are running a WordPress site or Stripe. There are really too many ways to mention that you can be paid online. You are going to have to look at the option that makes the most sense for you and minimizes the fees you will have to pay out.

What are some final tips?

Private tutoring on the side can be incredibly lucrative for ESL and EFL teachers. There are some teachers out there that even make more from their private tutoring than they do at the school they are working in. It will simply take persistence and an understanding of the market and the needs of your students in order to build up to that level. The most important thing to remember is that you want to make sure you can legally tutor students on the side in the country you are teaching in if you are working abroad and that the school you are working in doesn’t have a clause in their contract preventing you from doing so. You won’t be able to do much tutoring on the side if you get deported so you need to be smart about how you are going about things. If you provide a quality service to your students and make sure not to undervalue yourself then you should be able to steadily build a solid student base while at the same time making a fair amount of money for those services.

I want to help you find an awesome job in the ESL industry and then excel at it. I’m a TESOL certified teacher with over two years of experience working both online and offline. I have worked with students ranging from young learners to advanced level university speakers and have worked in recruiting and hiring, teacher training, and content creation. I’ve seen the good and bad of the ESL industry and I’m here to tell you about it.