Upon graduating, I was routinely baffled and appalled by the begrudging acceptance with which most of my friends drifted into corporate graduate scheme employment. Peers at Oxford, who reveled in unconventionality and devoted themselves to full-time creativity, within a few months were sat at a steel desk, in a glass pillar, grinding through the 14 hour day. Goodbye Pinter, hello PowerPoints and Progress reports.
With unemployment rife and the job market fierce, the temptation of a September start, coupled with a comfortable salary and discounted gym membership, is greater than ever. Tom Palmer, an ex-banker, admitted, “I was totally lured by the money and oversold security, but depression, permanent stress and loneliness hit me far faster than I’d ever anticipated…it’s scary how quickly you can lose yourself. It’s absolutely true that you’re simply a cog in a machine. The whole experience was completely soul-crushing.”
For those prudent enough to heed the warning signs and brave enough to eschew the corporate shackles, there is, of course, another way: tutoring. As many Oxford graduates know, tutoring is, proving to be a most liberating and attractive alternative. The Oxbridge brand is useful not just for that carefully crafted consultancy application, but also for setting yourself up as a professional tutor. Many graduates are now building up a substantial client base to pay their way through big city living. Earnings varies from £30-200 an hour – or, if you’re a super tutor, even higher than that. The hours are yours to choose, the demand extremely high (roughly eighty percent of London’s schoolchildren receive some kind of extra-curricular support) and the work is both gratifying and varied. Other graduates opt for the even more lucrative residential roles abroad, where tutors spend weeks or indeed months in glamorous places – from Monaco, to Saint Tropez, Hong Kong, Portofino and the Bahamas. And then there are the ski passes, top-notch accommodation and a personal driver all thrown in for good measure.
Tutoring requires organization, creativity and empathy for the different types of learners with which one will engage. An abundance of charm, personality and motivation married with intellectual rigor certainly goes a long way and making lessons relatable and fun must not be overlooked. One such tutor, John White, takes his teaching game to a whole new level, “You have to be inventive and resourceful when teaching. I actually used to Beat Box the periodic table so my tutee would learn it!”
That said, potential tutors should apply the old adage ‘too good to be true’ to any advertised job that appears like manna from heaven on their Internet browser. The tutoring industry is big money and, as such, there is a proliferation of agencies, many of whom are looking for a slice of the action. Some of course receive bigger slices of the pie than others and it can be a dog eat dog world when it comes fighting for the golden client.
Indeed some agencies are so quick to make deals with clients that they put wholly unrealistic expectancy upon the tutors and promise unfeasible progress to the clients, yet wash their hands of any academic responsibility when it doesn’t work out. An undercover Cherwell investigation revealed that one agency based in Russia, London, and Oxford uses its interns in its Russian offices, paid £2.40 per hour and charges them out to tutor at 100 dollars an hour. Another “top” Battersea-based agency charges clients around £75 per hour, paying the tutors only 40% of this amount, taking an eye-watering commission. And a graduate I met in London, accepted a residential role sold to him as being based in central Moscow when in fact he was expected to live two hours away in nothing short of a Soviet built council housing block. “It certainly taught me a valuable life lesson,” he rued, “not all agencies put the welfare of their tutors at the top of their priority list.”
There are, however, a smattering of leading agencies at the top because they have developed genuinely close relationships with families, deliver excellent service, and offer support and advice for their tutors. Believe it or not this is a rare breed in within an industry where many of the MDs have had little experience as tutors themselves and are startlingly blinkered when it comes to seeing the wider value of education beyond their company’s VAT returns. One such agency that’s been dubbed “London’s best kept tutoring secret” and is gaining increasing recognition, is Sophie Green Associates, which started off organically with a group of very loyal clients and is now based in London and Switzerland, Sophie’s approach is refreshing: She herself tutored for over ten years and has a committed and dynamic outlook on tutoring and the welfare of her tutors: “I look for unique tutors with a great personality and real passion for education.”
Having had to navigate through the waters of uncaring agencies mingled with those with integrity and skill, unofficially, my advice would be this: pick your agency very carefully, it will make all the difference.