When I first started with Fluent Language Tuition, I had no idea where the whole experiment was going to go. I was so hesitant to consider this a real business that I tried to hide my name from the website, the flyers and all business cards. My brand was not a consideration in those days, and I took all the work that was on offer. The following story shows just how wrong that whole approach can go.
A few years ago, I responded to an ad from a local family whose kid wanted language tuition. It seemed like a perfect opportunity: a keen young learner, solvent parents, an international background and a desire to get into a great private school. And they were local! I was excited about this great opportunity, my mind’s eye wandering to groups of school kids finding fun in learning with me. I turned up at the family’s home on a rainy day, ready to talk about how we were going to do this thing. Instantly, our energy levels were entirely different. My enthusiasm and positivity met with their polite and measured manners. I sat with the family in their living room for an awkward hour, nibbling politely on a biscuit and hearing about the previous tutor. They seemed to want someone who can impart the knowledge of the world on junior: three languages, British history, art projects, school work oversight, and exam preparation.
This is where alarm bells should have sounded, but for a bright-eyed newbie like me there was no stopping.
With this being my first opportunity for teaching someone in a formal education environment, I felt compelled to say yes. Sure, this was a tall order but I’m not someone who recoils at the first sign of a challenge. I was going to make these next lessons awesome! In the next days, I put hours of work into planning a course of suitable lessons, setting up a schedule, emailing them a full calendar template and planning out the next three months. I was ready to rock. What I had completely ignored is that this traditional, achievement-focused and formal family really did not want any rockin’ at all. My first lesson with the kid was supervised by both parents. I had specially studied up to compensate for my lack of knowledge about Henry VIII, and came in bringing creative new methods. The lesson went fine, a full hour trying to marry my carefree, experience-focused style with the formal expectations of my client. In my heart, I could tell that I wasn’t getting it right, but I was not ready to give up. Three days later, the family emailed me to let me know they were not going to proceed in working with me as a tutor.
Looking back on the situation from where I am now, I can tell that this was never going to work. In fact, these clients did me a huge favour by cancelling the service as early as they did because it would have just caused me nothing but grief. My teaching style is not suitable for people who need expertise in many school subjects at once, and especially not when you are looking for instant results. Instead, I take the time to bond with my client and talk to them directly. Focusing on the child and not the parents did me no favours. So what was it that pushed me to work with someone I really had no business working with?
How to Avoid Making the Same Mistake
In my years as a language tutor, I have had to realise that I’m not perfect for every type of client. My style is not suitable for every learner, and instead I have found that both my energy and motivation and my learner’s happiness are much stronger if I stay within my “happy zone”.
As you start out in your journey towards finding the ideal client, you might experience the same feelings — a desire to follow the money is a telltale sign that you don’t have a clear plan yet. Working with the ideal student means you are happy being yourself, and they’re even happier being with you. These are the people that love your ideas, your energy and your style. And perhaps more importantly, the ones that will pay you, then thank you, and then recommend you.
For more information about how to build a great teaching plan, check out the teachers page at Fluent. And remember: It’s not WHAT you teach, it’s WHO you are and WHO is learning that counts the most.
You’ve been reading a guest post by Kerstin Hammes
Kerstin Hammes is a native German speaker and has lived in the UK since 2003. She’s passionate about languages and has studied English, French, Italian, Latin, Spanish and Russian. Kerstin is the lady behind Fluent Language Tuition and teaches students of German, French and English as a Foreign Language as a tutor and coach. You can say hello to her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+