A new tutor

Last month I had the idea to re-package my English tutoring service and sell it as a premium product. I gave it the title: Val’s Bespoke English Lessons (which I think is quite snazzy – but of course I would, I came up with it!). Here it is on Facebook – in case you’re curious.

This is the latest of several attempts over 5 years to launch and re-launch my English tutoring service, with varying levels of success. Looking back, the varying success (correction: invariably low) is probably in large part due to my lack of focus and effort. I really didn’t put much thought into the positioning and marketing of my service.

A glaring evidence of the extent of my ignorance: I was actually disappointed when handing out flyers at my dad’s dental clinic back in 2015 didn’t work… I’d envisioned hoards of eager clients in for some tooth-fixing jumping in line to study English with me. “Oh I’d always wanted to study English with the dentist’s daughter… Finally! I hope she’ll take me!!”

Over the past 2-3 years though, I’ve consistently had a small number of students. And with them, almost unconsciously, I began to build my own approach to teaching English. I’d always had a mild distrust in the efficacy of textbooks and stock exercises. Every student is different – how can one size fit all?

And so I scoured the Internet for original content, created my own exercises, mostly on reading, writing and speaking. (Now that I think of it, I have rather neglected listening as a skill. Hmm…. got to do something about that)

And lo and behold – it worked! To my surprise as a tutor trying to build her own approach, the various methods I used led to results. I remember the first time I noticed this: I was having a casual conversation with my student. And suddenly they produced a word I’d taught them a few weeks back, perfectly integrated into their stream of thoughts.

Then I began noticing more and more of the progress my student was making. Their accent was more refined. Their speech flowed more smoothly. They stopped making mistakes that had previously characterised their speech. They made fewer grammatical mistakes when writing. And they’d become devilishly good in working out the meaning of unknown words in new reading passages. I mean, it’s uncanny.

This new-found confidence, gradually accumulated through months of observing my student progress in small yet certain steps, culminated in the decision to – one more time – re-launch my tutoring service. But this time, I wanted to do it differently. And I did.

I thought carefully about what my USP was. I created promotional materials and iterated on them until I was happy with what I saw. I asked for feedback from trusted friends. I posted and re-posted until the messaging was just right. I pondered on how, when and where to promote my page (which I’ll shamelessly share again here – just in case you weren’t curious then but feel a little tempted now)

And lo and behold – again – it worked! With a bit of luck and a lot of effort, I acquired 2 new students within 3 weeks of launching.

As I’ve begun having lessons with my new students, I’ve been newly reflecting on what makes a successful relationship between tutor and student. Most of my former students studied with me for a long time – my current longest-running student has been with me since 2017. I’d gotten so used to these students – down to their littlest quirks – that I’d stopped thinking about what makes these relationships successful. (And you’ll be surprised – as I was – that “littlest” appears to be a real word)

But now that I’m having new students again, I’m faced with the necessity of reflecting and planning. How do I craft my messages to them just right: friendly, yet still commanding the respect a tutor should have from her student. How do I strike the balance of being accommodating, but firm.

Because I sell my service as 100% customised, customise is what I have to do. While at the same time retaining the core of what makes my lessons effective: student-driven learning, structured exercises, elicitation (a.k.a. the art of teaching without telling).

Once again I’m given the opportunity to get to know my students – the person they are, their preferences, their aversions, their quirks – and build the trust that, once there, will provide the basis for a fruitful collaboration in the journey to self-betterment (and I’m not talking only English here).

To my old students, I’m me. But to my new students, I’m a new tutor.

Here’s to slow yet beautiful beginnings.

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