Last month I blogged, for the first time, about Tutorful’s withdrawal of their group classes ‘product’ from their site, with no warning and only two weeks before September.
My response was, rightly, a rather emotional one. But I chose to take the ‘necessary step’ of offering the classes I’d planned for this school year on my own website.
Before the 20th of August, my Canto Cruncher Tutoring website merely functioned as a landing pad for prospective students and parents. They could discover all of my services in one place. It was only a sign in the window. But it demonstrated that I care: I want students to get to know me and decide that they gel with me prior to their first session rather than feeling the need to purchase a trial session ‘just in case’ it doesn’t work out.
So, I needed to do more.
Since making my decision, I have taken so many more steps… I have rebuilt my site and integrated my TES shop, Twitter account, and YouTube channel. I’ve focused on my Facebook page like never before, delved into the world of Google listings, Facebook ads, and mailing lists. It’s a work in progress. I’ve also wrestled with the age-old dilemma that all small business owners inevitably face: how do I reach students who need and value my services without inundating family members, friends, and that friendly couple that lived down the road for a while, with spammy please-share-or-like-this messages? I have also begun tutoring some wonderful new Tutorful students (as I’d always planned. More on that later).
This journey, however, was unplanned: travel book unpacked, waterproofs missing and my walking boots undusted. But I do enjoy a spontaneous adventure. And, having to start to pick up all of these new skills in three weeks before September does poignantly remind me of how daunting GCSE and A levels truly can be for students.
In one short month I have faced many changes, obstacles and challenges. Plodding into the woods without a map is daunting! Ad trolls, bread and butter problems, constant uncertainties, well-intentioned doubters, the fact that I am not a marketing-genius, the temptation of allowing other companies to do my writing and ads for me, were a few beasties that I’ve met on the trail so far. So, there is the inevitable emotional toll: sleepless nights, forgetting to self-care, to eat or talk about anything other than the journey ahead. And let’s not forget that I’ve also received a great deal of positive encouragement and support from those who understand what I am trying to do here! Those people are truly compasses, flashlights, and mint cake to me. But honestly, this experience is so akin to the challenges that GCSE and A Level students face in the months leading up to their exams that I can’t afford to not offer my services. It’s why I do it.
Now, my love of tutoring English Literature students means that I expend a lot of breath on superstitious societies, early modern religious beliefs in divine intervention, fate, destiny, and indeed discussing the significance of downright irrational (fictional) characters. I am not, for all of this, a superstitious being…
But one particular day this month seemed utterly fated. After several weeks of carrying those mounting, intense, heavy fears with me (constant self-questioning over whether my positive outset and dedicated efforts had been, in the end, misguided, that I’d clearly taken a wrong turn somewhere) I was ready for a pit stop. One morning, I had reluctantly decided to scale back some of the classes I’d been so eager to advertise since August. But that very afternoon, a new parent contacted me to ask about my services through Tutorful. A very promising discussion ensued. After twenty minutes of clunky to-and-fro messages, they wanted to talk in real time. Like humans. Waiting for a digital, typed response and corresponding email is not (after all) at all like the online tutoring experience. So, within an hour, this proactive, positive parent had opted to contact me on my website, commence with weekly one-to-one tuition for her teen and had gone ahead in signing up to one of the Shakespeare classes. They knew the class would be relevant to them. They definitely wanted one-to-one weekly tuition. And all it took was a single phone call.
Here were two people that could see the positive potential of online tuition and view it as a step in the right direction. It was like finding an old wooden sign in the middle of a forest letting me know that I was headed in the right direction… That I was doing the right thing.
Nevertheless, I happily continue to work as a Tutorful tutor. I genuinely respect the use of their platform, the great support that the support team provides, and understand that the site offers peace of mind for nervous parents. But when parents want to discuss their tutoring options over the phone, in real time, rather than paying for a trial session or taking hours to communicate basic admin, I refuse to deny them that.
It's a big moral dilemma for me. Do I allow a company to tell me how to build rapport or do I respect the wishes of the client with whom I am building that rapport? Especially when I explicitly receive a request for an initial consult or quick chat over the phone.
Those closest to me have argued that it damages me to continue tutoring for a company who was so quick to drop classes run by tutors such as myself with so little warning. And the lengthy chat-thread discussions are frustrating. It often feels like a very sluggish game of table tennis when using a single messaging system that purposefully discourages people from speaking in real time. It’s slow. And nobody wants that. Phone (and video) calls are invaluable for many parents.
I do appreciate the underlying issue: investing immeasurable time, energy, passion, and expenditure, on a platform deserves to be rewarded. Very reasonably, protecting potential income from tutors serving students (especially before the first session has been booked and confirmed) is a priority. Unfortunately, I am a tutor (who is very happy to use Tutorful with their platform fee in place) not a cheater (as seems to be suspected of all tutors from the outset). I don't know how prevalent or damaging the ‘cut-out-the-middle-man’ attitude is for Tutorful but it is frustrating for me. To protect against tutors who disrespectfully monetise upon this important platform unfortunately also inhibits tutors like myself. Companies cannot ruthlessly protect their own interests without compromising the contentment of those who also have that company’s interests at heart: serving students, sharing passion, building knowledge, and, yes, earning a living, are exactly what Tutorful and honest tutors both envisage as success. But the lack of trust that Tutorful has developed of their own tutors is evident: they will inhibit the personalised, human approach until they are sure that they can earn from the rapport that tutors forge with their students.
Regardless, I will gratefully continue my relationship with Tutorful, despite the uncertainty of my decision to walk into the Classes world alone. My loyalty to Tutorful still exists. It has done for over three years. Fundamentally, we all want to aid students in their academic and social journeys.
Into the woods we go…
P.s. Yes... These are my old walking boots.