Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Winter Light

That open-curtained bliss of someone else's life
glimpsed squarely for a second passing by.
A lamp burning orange under its tawdry shade
turns red to gold as day fades.

The room around rests in darkness,
the light of home never enough
to glimmer far.

Passing, unaware of anyone
in that bronzed, lamped,
desked room,
its empty seat
and ready light
left burning.

Imagining only myself as if I am them,
waiting for footsteps to fade
before I draw the blinds
and turn towards
lamp-softened edges
and soothing shadows.

© Amanda J Harrington 2016

My books on Amazon
My own website for books and tuition
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog
And my fairy blog!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

What you should know when choosing a private tutor

I've been a private tutor for many years and had fun with the idea of how you should handle a private tutor but this time I want to give you some more serious advice when it comes to choosing a tutor.

How much should you pay?

If this is your first question, you're doing it wrong. Go to the next one in the list and come back.

Yes, I know cost is important and for some families hiring a tutor means doing without other things but if you base your whole decision on cost, you may not get what you think you are paying for.

A tutor who charges less than other local tutors may not be worse - they may just be starting out or in the middle of their degree. They may be FAB. But if they aren't inexperienced, or new, or partly-qualified, why are they charging so little? And will paying less mean you get less?

And if they charge more, then they must be great, right? Be careful of chasing a more expensive tutor in the hopes of getting the best. Can they talk to your child? Can they communicate what they know? Will you get an amaze-a-mungous tutor just because they charge a third more than anyone else?

Our Barry can do it for free

If you have a friend or relative who will tutor your child for free, then let them, I'm sure it will be fine. Don't contact a prospective tutor then say you have a Barry who might do it for free and expect the tutor to beat themselves down on price or justify why you should choose them instead. Let Barry do it and all the best to you.

Not all tutors are created equal

All tutors are different just like all students are different. What does your tutor do that others don't? How will different tutors deal with little Johnny's love of squealing or quiet Helen's fear of strangers? How can this tutor get through to young Ben when every teacher from Year 7 has failed? What can this one particular tutor do for your child that others cannot?

If in doubt, ask. Perhaps best not to say, 'Sell yourself! Why should I hire you?' This is not The Apprentice. Try telling them what your child's issues are and asking how they would help. A good tutor will say what they might do to help or suggest what has worked in the past. They shouldn't make promises though. It's good to be confident, but every child needs a slightly different approach and if it seems the tutor isn't going to see your youngster as an individual, then worry.

There is more than one kind of private tuition

There are different ways to be a private tutor. I have put the main three here, mainly for comparison. The cost and quality of any of these in your local area should be researched before you commit.

The independent private tutor

I tutor people in their own homes. This works very well for them and also suits me. Children especially work better in a familiar, safe environment with mum or dad to hand if needed. Anything I need, I bring with me (I usually arrive swinging a giant bag full of books!). Families provide pen, pencil and some paper and that's about it.


If you employ a tutor who works for themselves they set their costs based on their level of qualification and on the level of study required for the student. There is more work involved in tutoring GCSEs, for instance, than basic literacy and numeracy and a different set of skills required from the tutor.

Also, their costs will probably include a little extra for travel. This shouldn't make them much more or less expensive than other kinds of tutors, though as I have become busier I have been able to charge less for travel costs because this cost was 'shared' more between students.

Be aware that all money paid to an independent tutor covers your child's lessons (plus travel) whereas money paid to other types of tutor will be split between the tutor, their agency, building hire and so on.

Tutoring within a company

Some tutors work for a company and from a base, such as a community building or offices. There are various franchises sold to local businesses to do this and there are also privately owned local companies who source their own tutors.

If you prefer this type of arrangement then your child will go to the centralised location and will usually be taught in a communal setting, so although it is still one-to-one, there will be other tutors and students in the same room.

This can work if you prefer not to have lessons at home or you like the security of dealing with a company.


The costs of a company tutor are usually more than an independent as a 'cut' is taken by the company. So, for instance, a tutor may be paid £20 out of the £30 you are paying for the lesson. This extra cost takes account of the building hire and all the admin/marketing tasks needed to keep the company going.

If you miss lessons in this kind of arrangement you will usually need to give a long notice period or you will still be charged for the lesson, whereas an independent tutor can often rearrange or be more flexible.

Tutors from an agency

This is slightly different from the company described above. Whereas with a company the tutors are all in the same place, an agency tends to send them out into people's homes but then deal with the admin/marketing side just like a company. This means the tutor will come to your home in much the same way as an independent tutor but all the organising and contact beforehand will be with the agency and not the tutor. Hopefully you will be able to speak to the tutor as well, before signing up, but the agency tutor is still drafted in by someone else as if they are working for a company.


The price you pay to the agency will still be split between the tutor and the agency, with the extra costs going towards marketing the agency business, dealing with official checks, paying for advertising etc..

How to find your tutor

My students find me in three main ways: Facebook, word of mouth and the Tutor Hunt website. Over the years I have tried different ways to make myself known and these are the ones which work for me. Facebook is almost perfect as people can check me out and exchange messages before even picking up the phone. It also doubles up as a word of mouth arena.

The Tutor Hunt website is a paid for service where tutors list themselves for free but students need to pay to access contact details. Before any payment is made you can email back and forth as much as necessary, without giving any contact details. Tutor Hunt also allows tutors to list their prices, subjects, information about themselves and so on but does have some glitches with the site whereby references and proof of qualification that I have sent are not shown - so if you see a tutor you like, ask them about qualifications etc as the site might also have glitched for them.

Another bonus of bigger websites like Tutor Hunt (I have tried others but like TH better) is that you can see a range of tutors who cover your area, along with their prices and other details. This is a good way to make a comparison but shouldn't be your only comparison tool. Do get in touch with tutors to see what else they have to offer which can't be quantified into a box on a website.


Best Thing Ever. Trust me, if you want a good private tutor, ask around. Do find out if someone is recommending a tutor because they are related in any way though, but usually anyone who recommends a tutor is spreading the love. Bad tutors do not get passed onto other people, even if those other people are complete strangers on Facebook. Good tutors are shouted from the roof-tops - you will have random strangers send you names on Facebook or be surprised to find friends have been employing a tutor for ages and didn't make a fuss about it until they knew you needed someone.

One of the best things about a word of mouth recommendation is that you can ask those awkward questions you would feel embarrassed to ask the tutor themselves. You can find out how much they charge before you call, how quickly their students improve (that's a piece of string question, by the way), how nice they really are, are they like a teacher and how they might react to your pack of border collies/live-in relatives/bomb-site of a living room.

And word of mouth leads me to...


I can always give references, either from current or past students. I can give people references from relevant families, so if you want me to tutor for SATS I can put you in touch with a student I helped through SATS etc.

The strange thing is, hardly anyone asks. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been asked for references in the whole time I've been tutoring. One hand, and that's without using my thumb or little finger.

If you find a tutor by word of mouth this gives you confidence in the person you are hiring but if you choose someone at random from Tutor Hunt or a jolly Facebook page, they might not be what you want or need.

Do not be afraid to ask for references.

I know it's not a very British thing to do and it might feel awkward and you might worry about offending the tutor, but far better for all concerned to find out now if you are going to match well. A great tutor will have a choice of referees at the tip of their tongue and more once they think about it. Ask. You wouldn't let someone fit your kitchen without finding out more, would you?

This isn't about finding out if you are inviting a safe person into your house (though it is connected); it's about discovering more about the tutor, how they work and what to expect.

Go on, ask.

And if there's any reluctance or the much-feared offence taken, run a mile.


or sit in on the lesson. Or camp in the doorway with a cup of tea and a magazine.

If you want to find out how the lesson is going, don't wait til the end, listen in. Normally, it's your home where the lessons take place and you are within your rights to stick an ear to the door and listen.

If it's a lesson in a public place, like a tutoring agency, sit in on the first lesson. If there's an issue with this, then why is there?

Yes, I admit, it is distracting to the student to have mum sat there trying to look nonchalant - and children always detect you listening at the door too - but it's an acceptable event for a first lesson. No matter the age of the student, if you feel happier being there or listening in for the first lesson, do it. I would.

But don't interrupt, if you can help it!

Does it feel right?

Tutoring isn't all about facts and figures. As a private tutor, I have sometimes felt very uncomfortable in certain situations without knowing why. We are human beings and instinct and feelings always play some part.

If you get in touch with a tutor, or even hire them and have them over for lessons, then feel something isn't quite right, consider this carefully.

Sometimes you feel discomfort because the experience of having a stranger in your home is a bit weird: it can take time! But sometimes you just don't feel happy and can't put your finger on the reason.

Maybe you are just on a very different wavelength from your tutor and you don't hit it off. In this case think about whether your child likes the tutor and if they seem to get along. Does it matter if you wouldn't choose the tutor as a friend? Does it matter if they leave you puzzled? Is your child happy to see them, happy to learn, doing well? Then it's probably going to be fine.

However, Life is a big, messy bundle of stuff and if you feel the situation isn't right and can't push it away as just not being used to having a tutor, or not really clicking with them, then think carefully. When all is said and done, it is your decision whether to continue with lessons and a good tutor will always respect this.

Saying goodbye

Please don't be afraid to say goodbye. I have had truly awkward experiences where it became obvious that a parent wanted to discontinue lessons but didn't know how to make it happen or felt too uncomfortable in telling me. It's much better if you say than leave for your tutor to bring up!

The reasons for ending lessons are as many and varied as the students themselves. Sometimes it can be a relief for all concerned when lessons end and sometimes I have cried in the car afterwards while the child cried in the house because I had gone.

A good tutor, a popular tutor, gets to say goodbye a lot and mostly because our job is done. If we do our job right then we say goodbye because the student doesn't need us anymore. Goodbyes are part of the process and how you do it is up to you. Try to give notice if you can, try not to worry, be honest if you would like us to come back when things are better or smile and have a chat about how good it has all been.

It's good to be friends with your tutor but it is still a business arrangement. I've known students and their families, past and present, who I would count as proper friends but in the end the lessons still end and sometimes you don't see each other again - it doesn't mean you weren't friends and it doesn't mean you don't say goodbye.

Lessons end, students move on, families change and tutors drive off into the sunset. Don't be afraid to say goodbye.

Good luck!

© Amanda J Harrington 2016

My books on Amazon
My own website for books and tuition
Find me on Facebook and Twitter!
Read my Aspergers blog
And my fairy blog!

A story somewhere