Are you a stay-home parent thinking of ways to earn a small income? Or someone with teaching experience who wants a side hustle? Or are you simply passionate about education and wondering if you could make tutoring a career?
As we live in tuition-obsessed Singapore, it’s only natural to view tutoring as a viable option for earning some cash! However, if you’ve never tutored before, you might wonder how to break into the industry. To be honest, for parents with a strong network, it could be as easy as letting other parents know about your intentions. And if you have some form of ‘social proof’ — e.g. evidence of past successes, such as tutoring your own children to attain stellar results — you may even get enquiries right away.
We’ve also seen parents use social media (blogs in the past, and channels such as Instagram these days) to provide education-related advice. After months or years invested in building trust, they eventually launched tutoring or coaching services with seemingly good take-up rates.
Below, we share some tips for becoming a private tutor in Singapore, based on our observations as parents, as well as our personal experiences of having worked as tutors ourselves. We hope these tips will help you to get started, and we wish you all the best in securing tutoring assignments quickly!
How to check the tutoring demand in Singapore
To do this, you can take a cue from digital marketing specialists, and look out for the keywords that Singaporeans search for on Google, using free tools such as Ahrefs.
From what we’ve seen — if these keyword tools are accurate — thousands of Singaporeans are keen on “Python tutors.” If this is your expertise, it’s definitely something to consider!
There are also a significant number of searches for “maths and physics” tutors, and this would presumably be for students in secondary school and beyond. Economics tutors appear to be in demand as well. Not your pet topics or skill areas? Singaporeans do also search for Chinese and English tutors, as well as science tutors.
Ultimately, you will need to consider where your expertise can match the local demand. But if you have a niche skill that you believe is meaningful for others, then focus on spreading the word, perhaps by placing a social media ad that links to a landing page where you promote your service. There is nothing to be lost by trying!
How to find tutoring jobs in Singapore
The easiest way to get tutoring assignments is to sign up with a Singapore tuition agency. Unless your experience is highly sought after in Singapore — e.g. you’re a former teacher from the Gifted Education Programme, or have taught in top schools — it’s better to let an agency do the legwork of linking you up with suitable students, based on your preferences such as subject, level, and location. Typically, these agencies will collect the lesson fees for the initial two sessions, and the rest of the fees will be yours to keep.
Several parents that we know have had success with getting students — who were willing to pay market-rate fees — through agencies such as SmileTutor. In fact, it was through such an agency that one of our KSP members managed to secure assignments to tutor expatriate adults in English, which she said was an enjoyable experience! The advantage of tutoring adults is that they are self-driven, with clear goals in mind, and unless they intend to sit for a standardised English test for professional reasons, you won’t have to worry too much about getting them exam-ready.
The same KSP member (mentioned above) has also tutored expatriate children, and her observation is that many of our expatriate communities are tightly knit, which is why word of mouth is the strongest form of advertising. She recalls her expatriate colleague approaching her to tutor him and his wife in conversational English, and this eventually led to other assignments with expatriate children and adults of varying ages.
The moral of the story: put in the effort to make connections across communities, and this could open the door to many more opportunities for you.
How to prepare for a tutoring session
Have you been assigned a student by a tutoring agency? You likely won’t have a chance to chat with the student (or the parents) beforehand. But you will know the subject that you’re expected to teach, and the level that the student is at.
To avoid arriving empty handed for the first session, here are some things you can do:
Brush up on the subject, by getting hold of an appropriate textbook or school materials, and having a quick browse.
Create a diagnostic test that your student can work on, while you look through his or her past work. Ideally, each question in your diagnostic test will highlight to you if a student is struggling with a specific skill — you can then summarise this information for the parent after the session.
To better understand your student’s needs and expectations, prepare a list of “getting to know you” questions for your student, as well as the parents.
If you have signed up with a tuition agency that will collect the fees for the first two sessions, you can think of these as trial sessions, where you can also assess the chemistry between you and the family. Hopefully, these sessions will proceed smoothly, and your student will be willing to continue learning with you, at least for a term or a semester!
Although this may not be common practice, a responsible tutor should track what has been covered for each session — activities, the purpose of each activity, and observations — and make this information easily accessible to the parents. Recording this on a simple Excel sheet should suffice, and it will help you in making plans and setting goals for your student as well.
To better align your efforts with what your student is learning in school, you can ask if the parents can forward the relevant teacher’s weekly updates to you. These updates will let you know the pace at which your student is progressing, and often, the teacher will highlight the class’s strengths and weaknesses as well. If you are truly passionate about tutoring, you can also watch ‘star’ tutors who offer free classes online (e.g. in Facebook ‘live’ sessions), to learn from their teaching techniques.
What about those who are tutoring adults? Well, for a first session, you might give your adult student a short written test, or have a conversation to quickly assess the priority areas to work on. Apart from computer or coding skills, many adults are also keen to learn languages, or simply improve their written or spoken English. For the latter group, you should get ideas from ESL (English as a Second Language) tutors to choose your materials and structure your lessons — there are plenty of articles online that you can refer to.
If you’re helping adults who are keen to improve their conversational skills, it’s better to let them talk freely without interrupting the flow of their speech. If they make mistakes with pronunciation or expression, record these in a notebook, and highlight the errors to them at the end of the session, with examples of correct usage. You can then test them on these errors during the next session, to see if they have retained your advice.
How to ensure a good tutoring experience
In the past, it was common for private tutors to be paid every four sessions, or at the end of every month. But these days, with PayLah! and other apps to conveniently transfer cash, it’s become the norm to pay a tutor or coach after each session. Do set the ground rules for payment from the start, so that you won’t have to deal with the hassle of tracking or chasing fees. If you find that you’re not getting paid on time, you can also terminate the relationship early, before too many hours are invested.
When it comes to results, no tutor can guarantee them, so don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. However, do read this article, where experienced Singapore tutors share their observations on the students that gain the most — and least — from tutoring, and use their insights to inform your own strategies. If you focus on building a good relationship with your student’s parents, they may trust you to continue supporting their child, even if the test and exam results are not ideal.
As for how stable a tutoring income is, the truth is that it’s often not, especially if you’re just starting out. Adult students may be more fun to teach, but their plans can change quickly and at short notice. Likewise, both local and expatriate students tend to take a long break during vacations, so you will likely see a drastic dip in tutoring income during these months. And after the year-end results, parents will tend to reassess their spending, and this is where you may lose a student or two.
Much will also depend on the financial situation of the students that you are tutoring — as a non-essential expense, tutoring will be one of the first things on the chopping block during hard times. If you prefer a more stable teaching income, you may be better off joining an enrichment centre. It’s the standard trade-off between flexibility and financial stability, and you will have to decide what is more important to you.