The world of education is changing dramatically. Several years ago, most people could not imagine online schooling ever being as widely adopted as it has been. This shift toward schooling at home and online has increased the need for an already busy population of people — private tutors. Now parents, teachers who are retiring or leaving the classroom and people looking for a more flexible lifestyle are wondering how to become a private tutor.
It is no wonder that tutoring is a growing field. According to an article published by The Associated Press, published on PBS NewsHour, the number of home-schooled students in 18 states increased by 63% in the 2020–21 school year, then fell by 17% in the 2021–22 school year.1 With the advent of learning pods and more flexible schooling options, people interested in careers in education can work with individual children or small groups and make a real difference.
Anyone with the passion to teach can become a private tutor, though having a degree in education can make a tutor more effective and more sought after.2 Besides pursuing an education degree, there are several things a potential private tutor should consider:
1. A Private Tutor Teaches All Kinds of Students
Every student has specific needs. Very often those needs are not met in the classroom, as lessons are designed to “teach to the middle.” Students who need extra help or extra challenges are often left having to find their own way. This is where a private tutor can be a true benefit to education.
Tutors work with students from all kinds of backgrounds. Students from public, private, magnet, religious and charter schools all seek out extra help. In addition, many home-school families rely on tutors to fill in the gaps, especially at higher grade levels and for more complex topics. College students, students studying for specialized testing, athletes and actors may also seek out tutors to help them pass classes and tests, stay eligible and meet local education requirements.
2. Private Tutors Can Specialize
A private tutor often specializes in just a few areas. That can help them develop effective teaching plans and lessons. Rather than having to stay current with all topics and subject areas, a focused private tutor can give more personalized attention. People wondering how to become a private tutor should first decide on their specialty areas and the levels of students they plan to work with. For example, many teaching licenses cover either multiple subjects for K-8 teachers or specialized subjects for middle and high school teachers. These differentiators might help tutors determine where to focus.
People with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) backgrounds may want to offer broad STEM tutoring options. A broad lack of STEM teachers in U.S. middle and high schools means students looking for help or more challenges in those fields must look outside of their schools.3
Another way tutors can specialize is through their pedagogical approach. Some tutors may focus on practice problems and drills, while others use inquiry and questioning. Tutors may alternate their approach depending on the needs of the student as well.
3. Tutors Work in Many Environments
Here are a few common work environments for private tutors:
Private Home Tutoring
Families or students may hire tutors privately. These tutors often work for themselves and advertise their services through word-of-mouth, websites and school counselor endorsements. Many private tutors use community news boards to let families know about their services. With the increase of online education options, tutors no longer have to be local to the student, which gives families more options to find the right person to help their children.
Schools may hire tutors to help with remediation programs or afterschool homework help. Tutors might also be hired to supervise and support students during a study hall period. In this case, a tutor is usually an educational assistant. They likely have to obtain an undergraduate degree and pass a background check.
Many college and university academic support centers hire tutors as well. This is a great first step for someone pursuing an education degree who may not want a traditional teaching career. Students who excel in certain subjects can get paid to tutor their peers. This practice can prepare future private tutors for their careers.
A tutoring company may employ tutors in all subject areas and grade levels. Working for a tutoring company allows a private tutor to focus just on the teaching and not the marketing to find new clients. Oftentimes, tutoring companies provide curriculum and lessons for tutors to use or adapt as needed. Tutoring companies may offer flexible schedules, but often their most in-demand times are after school, weekends and summer break.
Other organizations may employ tutors, as well. These more unique environments include:
- Movie studios
- Athletic organizations
- Education nonprofits
- Textbook publishers
- Online education providers
4. Remediation Is Just One Part of the Job
A common misconception about tutors is that they only work with students who need additional help or more time with a concept. While that is still often the kind of work tutors perform, they can do so much more. Some other ways that tutors can work with learners include:
- Helping prepare for an exam or test
- Writing support for a college entrance essay
- Accelerating learning to help students advance their knowledge
- Teaching homebound students while they are ill
- Conducting learning pods for home-school families
5. Private Tutors Stay Current
An effective tutor must continue to develop their knowledge and skills. English tutors should know the new books teachers are including in their classrooms, as well as innovative writing strategies that help students develop their communication skills. Math tutors need to be aware of the changes in math instruction that have moved away from rote memorization and ask students to conceptualize numbers and values in new ways. Science tutors should be current on the latest applications of science in their field to best engage students and help them make connections between the disciplines and what they know about the world through experience.
To stay up to date, tutors can:
- Attend professional development conferences
- Read widely in their field
- Join online discussion groups with other educators
- Read blogs by practitioners
- Conduct action research
- Interview local teachers to find out what is changing in schools
6. Communication Is Key
Tutoring, like teaching, requires excellent communication skills. A private tutor must listen actively to their students and clients. They must not only hear what the student is saying but fill in the blanks to understand what they are not saying or what they are misunderstanding.
A tutor must present materials clearly, using both written and verbal communication. They should explain concepts and directions so they can be applied and followed. They must give feedback that helps students know what they are doing well and where they need to keep working.
Tutors who work with young people must communicate with the families as well. This entails describing the student’s progress and sharing plans and goals. Private tutors may also work with other tutors, teachers or managers, and must communicate professionally and collaboratively.
7. Private Tutors Must Be Organized
Private tutors, especially those who run their own business, have to stay organized. They must have systems in place, such as initial assessments, lesson plans, goal tracking procedures, communication plans and calendars to keep track of. They must also be organized enough to manage time and space. Many private tutors work out of people’s homes, which means the tutor must keep a schedule that allows for both travel and tutoring time.
In addition, a private tutoring business requires tutors to keep track of expenses and income so that taxes are filed correctly. Running a business means additional work of marketing and onboarding new clients. All these processes must be organized to ensure a strong pipeline of students and families to keep the business going.
8. Highly Effective Private Tutors Have Unique Skills
Many home-school families feel confident teaching their young children to count and learn the alphabet, but they need help with more complex topics. Private tutors, especially those with education degrees and practical teaching experience, have a skillset that parents, volunteers and students do not have. These skills make them more effective in advancing the learning of their students. A trained tutor can:
- Teach niche subjects, like helping people prepare for the SAT or LSAT
- Work with students with special needs and make appropriate accommodations
- Differentiate topics as needed
- Identify when a student is struggling and find new ways to teach them
- Rely on their knowledge of the content area and teach a concept in multiple ways
- Create lesson plans that include pre-teaching, vocabulary building, practice, application and assessment
- Interpret assessment results and create plans accordingly
9. Tutors May Need to Market Themselves
Private tutors who work for themselves must run a business and find clients to work with. They must balance this with the actual tutoring work they do. Here are a few ways that tutors can get started with marketing:
Develop a 15 Second Pitch
Create an elevator pitch to sell the business quickly. It should be short and easy to share. Get started writing one by listing the target client, what they need and how the tutoring business helps them overcome those problems.
Private tutors can get great business through word-of-mouth referrals. Tutors should offer discounts to people who refer them and come to them by referral. Private tutors might also offer discounted rates for the first session.
Tutors should ask clients to write quick blurbs about their experiences working with them. The more data they can share (e.g., I went up 100 points on the SAT after just three sessions!) the better. Tutors can share these testimonials on their website, LinkedIn profile and marketing materials.
Meet School Counselors
Tutors can make an appointment to meet the counselors at local schools and leave a stack of business cards with them. School counselors often work with students who are struggling academically and are the people to whom parents direct questions about resources for additional help.
Move Your Business Online
Tutoring in person is a wonderful experience, but tutors who are open to virtual tutoring should start advertising online. They can post in neighborhood groups, on education sites, and ask their friends and family to share their ads for more reach.
10. Private Tutors Enjoy Many Benefits
Every private tutor has a different schedule to accommodate the learners they work with. That is one of the benefits of tutoring. Tutors have flexibility to build their careers on the schedule that works for them. If they join the virtual tutoring world, they can do this job from anywhere with internet access.
Tutoring can be a well-paying career, especially if a tutor owns their own business and has repeat clients who make referrals. Private clients will likely pay more than working at a school or tutoring center, and tutors can set their hourly rates to whatever makes sense for their skill levels, expertise, locations and competition.
Tutoring can be done as a side gig or a full-time job, depending on the circumstances. Tutors can facilitate a full-day homeschool learning pod, or they can tutor one student after school once a week. No matter what time commitment a tutor wants to make, there are opportunities to fit if they look in the right places.
If you are interested in becoming a tutor, consider earning your degree in secondary education. Tutors with specialty training in certain subject areas are often in high demand. At Grand Canyon University, a master’s degree in education could prepare you to embark on a tutoring career that will give you flexibility and still ensure that you are making a difference in the lives of students.
1 PBS News Hours, As U.S. schools reopen, many families continue to opt for homeschooling, in May 2022.
2 The Brookings Institute, Tutoring: A time-tested solution to an unprecedented pandemic, in May 2022.
3 Physics Today, The US is in dire needs of STEM teachers, in May 2022.
4 American University School of Education, Teaching One-on-One: How to Become a Private Tutor, in May 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.