Tips for Teaching One-on-One Lessons
Most ESL teachers end up teaching private, one-on-one lessons at some point in their career. These lessons might be set up through your school, or you might find yourself seeking out these opportunities on your own.
Teaching private lessons is a great way to make some supplemental income, and it’s a lot of fun – but if you’ve mostly taught in a classroom, you’ll find that there’s a big difference when it comes to keeping a one-on-one lesson interesting and engaging – not to mention managing your time and payment.
Here are a few tips to get you going with teaching private lessons.
Clarify expectations/materials before you start
Talk with the potential student, or the student’s parents, about what textbooks, reading materials, worksheets, games, etc. they already have and plan on using. If they expect you to find and prepare all of the materials for each lesson, consider the amount of time it will take and factor that into the price you charge.
Make sure that you are very clear about the cost for each lesson, the method of payment, when they will pay you, cancellation fees, and location. Don’t be afraid to put your foot down about advanced payment, or to stick to a 24 hour cancellation policy.
You’re not being rude, you’re being professional. You might lose a few potential students, but those are likely to be the ones who will cancel at the last minute and cause you a lot of headaches, anyway.
Value your time
This can be difficult if you’ve never done any kind of freelancing work before. At the start, it’s very hard to ask for a fair price for your time. You know you’re just starting out, and you want to give as much as possible to get experience and build up your reputation as a good tutor.
There’s nothing wrong with charging a relatively low price at the beginning, or letting lessons go 10 or 15 minutes long if you need to, just make sure you value your time enough to ask for what you’re worth.
For example, students or their families will often invite you to stay for dinner or join them at some activity. This can be a great way to get to know your student and to have some experience in your host country’s culture.
However, if you regularly get roped into staying when you don’t really want to, and find that you are speaking English the entire time, you might just be giving your student an extra couple hours of free conversation lessons.
Let the relationship be friendly but professional
If you are tutoring older students, you’ll likely find that you have a lot in common and enjoy chatting about your lives. That’s totally fine – after all, one of the joys of private tutoring is the chance to get to know your students, and there’s no reason to miss out on that. Just make sure that you keep professional boundaries.
Tailor your lessons to your students’ interests
As you get to know your students, you’ll find the things that really make them light up, the things that they are passionate about – and the things that they completely lose interest in.
When you are teaching in a classroom, you often don’t have a lot of flexibility when it comes to lesson topics. With private tutoring, you can usually choose materials and topics that appeal to your student.
Vary the activities you do
This is especially important for younger students, but even your older students will get bored if you are doing nothing but having them read passages and answer questions for an hour and a half.
Just like you need variety and fun in a classroom, you need to incorporate it into your private lessons, as well. For younger students, find some quick games that you can play when you notice them getting bored or restless with what you are doing.
For older students, even taking a five-minute break to just chat, or to play a game like hangman or a round of cards can get them relaxed, talking, and refreshed to continue the lesson.
Time management still matters!
Sometimes you’ll find that the lesson flies by and you have no time to get through all of the materials you brought; other times you’ll feel like the hour is dragging on and you’ll wonder how you can possibly fill it.
All of the time management advice for teaching a classroom applies to private lessons, as well: plan roughly how long you think everything will take them, keep a close eye on the time, and have plenty of backup or filler activities on hand if they finish everything early.
Relax and have fun!
If most of your teaching experience is in a classroom, you’re probably used to everything being busy and fast-paced. It can feel strange during a private lesson when there is nothing to do other than listen to a student read and occasionally correct their pronunciation, or wait while they finish up a worksheet.
You can feel like you’re slacking or like you should be doing something more. But private lessons tend to move at a much slower, more relaxed pace than a classroom.
As long as you are giving the student your full attention and doing your best to help them improve, you can relax, enjoy it, and have fun.
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I like the suggestion of asking for what you are worth. I think that if you teaching private lessons then you might want to make sure that you are getting a good deal out of what you are teaching. If I was going to teach privately then I might want to know that I was getting what I deserve for teaching.