Tutor Q&A: My journey into tutoring

We hear from Francesca about her career move from the world of PR and Marketing to private tuition, supporting students in London and abroad.

What did you read at university? 

For my undergraduate degree I read French and Italian at Durham University, and for my postgraduate degree I read History of Art at The Courtauld, specialising in the Italian Renaissance. 

In which field did you begin your career?

When I left Durham University, I joined a graduate scheme at Edelman, which is an American PR and Marketing firm. My graduate scheme involved a rotation of all of the different departments at Edelman, and lasted for seven months. At the end of the seven months I received a permanent placement in the Healthcare and Public Affairs team. I remained at Edelman for three years, and left in 2018 to join WPP. 

How and why did you get into tutoring? 

I made the decision to leave WPP as I realised that a career in PR and Marketing was not for me. Since living in Florence, which I did during my undergraduate degree, I had always dreamed of going to The Courtauld to do an MA in the History of Art. After some heavy persuasion from my mother, I realised that it was now or never, and called up The Courtauld three months after the application deadline. I managed to get an application done in two weeks and got a place on the Italian Renaissance course.

Part of the reason that I wanted to quit PR and Marketing was because I really missed using my languages. A great friend from Durham, who I studied languages with, had previously worked for Bonas MacFarlane when she left Durham and had recommended the agency to me. I called up Bonas a couple of months before my MA started, and was very lucky to get a role straight away teaching an adult learner Italian conversation ahead of a holiday she was taking to Italy. I genuinely loved every minute of that first role, and my work with Bonas MacFarlane has grown steadily from there. 

Did you have a tutor growing up? 

Growing up I had a Maths tutor to help me prepare for GCSE Maths, because I was terrible at the subject. It was an enormous help! For my A-Levels, I had a French tutor. The premise for this was slightly different as I was already very competent with my languages. However, the tutor provided an invaluable service as they were an enormous support and someone to have conversation practice with, as well as challenging me on the more difficult aspects of A-Level languages. 

What qualities do great tutors need? 

I think the most important skill I have learnt as a tutor (and something I am still working on!) is being able to adapt very quickly to the needs of the individual, whatever they may be. Private tuition is a highly personalised service and every pupil is different, so unless you can adapt and tailor your teaching method to the one that corresponds the closest with the person you are teaching, then they will not be getting the maximum value that they can from the lessons.

Furthermore, I think it is crucial to make the classes enjoyable and fun! It is a great privilege to be able to teach people one-on-one, and you are given real scope with tuition to take the sessions in any direction you like without the restrictions of the classroom. Therefore I think it is really important to make the classes as dynamic and interesting as possible. 

What aspect of the role do you enjoy the most? 

There are so many things I enjoy about tutoring, and having pursued a career I was very unhappy with for four years, I truly appreciate now being in a role I really love. I feel very lucky that I get to use my languages on a daily basis – they are a great love of mine so it is such a joy to continuously use them and be able to share what I know with the people that I teach.

In addition, the people truly make the role so rewarding and enjoyable. I adore the variety of the people that I get to meet, and feel so lucky to have met so many different people. It makes the role so interesting and so engaging, and it means that no two lessons are ever the same. It is an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to begin a programme with someone, be it working towards their 10+ exams, or a GCSE exam, and see them through to the very end. You feel enormously invested in someone’s success, and really want to do all that you can to help them achieve their goal. 

What does your average day and week look like as a full-time private tutor? 

I really try my best to be as busy as possible. I tend to start work fairly early in the morning, as some pupils I teach are based overseas and so I start early to accommodate the time difference. Following this, I am normally homeschooling, either online or in person, for rest of the morning. In the early afternoon, I try and carve out time to write up reports and do lesson prep, and then from about 3:00pm I resume tuition with evening sessions for pupils once they have returned from school. At weekends, I try and take either Saturday or Sunday off, but this can change during school holidays and particularly exam season. It can be super busy, but I am very grateful for that! 

What is your balance of in person and online work? 

At the moment, I would say around 80% of my work is in person, and the rest online. Over the course of the summer, this can change to more online work as many people travel in August, but for the most part, it is online. Post-Covid, I think that people are far more receptive to doing a combination of online and in person work which is a real benefit and allows even greater flexibility. However, I would say that from a personal perspective, I much prefer teaching in person, and always opt for this where possible. 

Tell us about a recent residential tutoring role abroad

Earlier this year I travelled to Gstaad in Switzerland for six weeks. A family whose children I homeschool are based there for the Spring Term, so I was able to travel out to the Alps for six weeks to conduct lessons in person, which was incredible. I adore skiing, and being able to do this everyday was an incredibly fortunate and lucky experience. It was also wonderful to be able to spend so much time with the family, and in particular teach the children in person as opposed to online. It was an amazing experience, which I am most grateful for. 

What have been your best and worst tutoring experiences?

To start with the ‘worst’ experience, I wouldn’t say that there has been a time where I would describe the role as especially awful. However, what I would say – and this is something that I am very much still working on – is that when you are self-employed, there is a real tendency to take everything that is offered to you and never take any breaks. This can sometimes mean working seven days a week, and not taking any time off for fear of not working! I think it is important to learn and recognise when to take breaks, in order to be able to rest up and come back fully refreshed and ready to give your best in lessons. 

In terms of my best experience, there have been many roles which I have loved! I have met some wonderful people, some of whom I still see even though the role has finished, which is particularly special. I also am so grateful for my renewed engagement with languages and the simple fact that I can use them on a daily basis. It is such a privilege and I am so grateful to be in a role where this is possible.