Sunday, June 12, 2011

The cost of an education (why I teach).

One of the best privileges of holding multiple jobs is having the chance to experience education from multiple angles. One job in particular, for a company that matches tutors and students nationwide, has been on my mind in particular lately. I'm not at liberty to name the company on here, but I do all types of work for them. I take issue with a few policies, most of which I shouldn't be writing about publicly, but I'll share with you one today that's been on my mind a lot recently.

The cost of a tutor.

The tutors for the company I'm referring to are allowed to set their own hourly rate for tutoring students. The company I work for then swipes 40% of what the tutor charges, leaving the tutor with the remaining 60% of the original rate. All things set aside, this is how it happens, and I'm not going to comment on that, at least not at the moment.

The company's tutors are invited to keep their own blogs on the site, which I am (partially) in charge of reading, approving, and then (if I see fit) commenting on and engaging individual tutors to make them feel more welcome and comfortable sharing information, and so on. Recently, I had posted on one woman tutor's blog. The blog was about "the bravest kids in school," and was a lovely reflection on both general and special education. The tutor basically said that, any student who feels uncomfortable in school, either with the material (too hard, too much too fast, etc), with classmates (victims of bullying), or with the teacher(s) is one of the bravest students in school for sticking it out and returning every day. I liked every image her blog implied, so I commented and told her that, as a fellow teacher, I completely respected and agreed with her opinion, and that I was very glad that students may have the opportunity to find tutors, or teachers, like ourselves to help them through such a seemingly difficult time in their education. She actually responded back, thanking me for my support, and then engaged me in further conversation saying how much she loved having the opportunity to help children so much.

Intrigued, I clicked the link to her profile to see what her story was....AND WAS APPALLED AT WHAT I FOUND!

Her hourly tutoring rate is...

Wait, before I tell you, let's take a little test here. Let's imagine you are a parent, and have a child who needs a tutor. This isn't a one time thing, but you know you'll be paying this tutor for a minimum of 5 months, and would like your child to be tutored at least 2 times per week (since studies, like mine!, show that for tutoring to have any effect at all, it needs to be done at least twice weekly, if not three times, consistently over time).

Ok, so you have have all that information? Now imagine you are a parent that is with your significant other/spouse (which is fairly rare these days) but that your spouse is on unemployment, collecting about $800/month. You work part time, minimum wage, at a local store because that is all the work you can find, despite your college degree. You average about 25 hours per week, at $8.25 an hour, which means you're making about $825/month, but that's before taxes. After taxes, your family nets about $1450/month (and that's being generous). The apartment you're renting costs $900/month for the two bedrooms you have. You have an electric bill (~$50/month) as well as a gas bill (~$30/month) as well as cell phones for you and your significant other (~$100/month). Now, you're up to $1080, and you haven't bought groceries yet, nor have you clothed your kid(s), paid for doctor's visits, school/book fees, and the like.

Now, back to the original point. Your child needs a tutor because they are not understanding the curriculum in school. You'd help, but you're usually at work or trying to pick up hours as a cleaning lady on the side to bring in a little extra cash. Your significant other can't help your child, because he/she either doesn't know how, or your child won't respond. So you think, how much could I afford to put into my child's education? I have him/her in school, already, shouldn't that be enough?

So, I ask you, how much would you expect to pay for your child's education? Think about this, think long and hard. What hourly rate would you expect?

When I opened this tutor's profile, when I actually clicked through to see what she was charging those that she "loves" to help, I was shocked. Her hourly rate, folks, is $60/hour.

So, let's see, your kid needs a tutor. You decide the tutor and your child should meet twice per week, that's $120/week, that's $480/month.

Did you even have that much to begin with, before you bought groceries, clothed your kid, took him/her to the doctor, paid for school/sports fees, and so on? Yeah... I didn't think so.

It's times like these, when I see people charging SO MUCH for help, that I have to stop myself and think, what are they really getting at? What is their ultimate goal? In this melting pot we're in, all kids are entitled to an equal opportunity at an education. But without the proper support, not all kids HAVE an equal opportunity to obtain an education. As a teacher, I am committed to the success of my students...not ripping them off. I have never charged more than $10 an hour for tutoring. My current student's family hasn't paid me since February...and I haven't asked for the money, either. Why? Because I know my student needs the help. I know, deep down in my heart, that I would tutor this student anyway, with or without the money, because he deserves a good education, and a fair shake at success in school, which is what I'm trying to help him find. Now go back to that math we were doing earlier. At $10/hour, two times per week, parents would be spending an average of $80/month extra on their child's education. Sure, even this isn't ideal, but it's much more manageable than the $480 option with which we had originally calculated.

I must say that I do wonder about teachers sometimes. One of my first semesters in college, I had a professor say to me, "Well, one thing about education majors is clear: you guys aren't choosing this option for the money." And it's true, not once since studying education have I thought "Man I can't wait til I'm a teacher, making the big bucks!" It's just not something that happens, especially not in elementary schools.

I guess what I'm saying is, if the families you're catering to as a tutor can afford to pay you $60/hour, that's great, and I'm sure you're worth it. Having never had any experience serving these types of families, I really wouldn't know what that feels like. But I will tell you one thing: the first time my student came to me with no Ds or Fs on his report card? Well, that, my friends, was worth a million bucks. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.

So keep that in mind, the next time you hear about someone tutoring. The best tutoring in life comes cheap, or free, or...better said, the best tutoring in life is affordable, whatever "affordable" may mean for you. Because honestly, tutoring means nothing if it's causing financial ruin or strain. And tutors: remember to take your family into consideration. If they can afford to pay you $10/hour, or even less, know that it is the best money they've ever spent, and they would pay you the world if they could. At least, I know mine would.

I say this because everyone deserves a chance, an equal opportunity at education. Since no two kids are equal, no two opportunities look the same either, and some kids need a lot of extra support to have the same chance as another student, who many need no extra support. It's definitely something to consider, at any rate.

Thanks for reading, as always. :)

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