I have long debated with myself and other teachers, whether it is worth doing private lesson. At various times I have taken on private lessons and enjoyed them immensely. At others, I have quit them all and sent the students packing.

Private lessons don’t work

The classic private lesson works like this: you see the student for one hour a week at her home or some mutually agreed upon location. You spend time preparing and getting to the lesson, it usually runs over, and the student forgets everything before the next one. In the end, your hourly wage is lower than getting a job, and your job satisfaction isn’t that great.

The problems include:

  • Students cancelling or not showing up and expecting not to pay.
  • Using your free time to prep different individual lessons.
  • Commuting to lessons bringing your income down.

Private lessons might not work for you

At one point I was running all over town messing up my schedule and bringing in less than $150 a week from my privates. A friend of mine opened a restaurant and offered me a part-time job. I worked there for one week and quit all my private lessons because I’d made $300 by showing up three times and working for a few hours.

You, too, might be better off getting a part-time job in another industry. I enjoyed the restaurant because it was a break from what I was already doing. Add up what you really make for the time you put into your private lessons and see if you might be better off doing something else.

Private lessons can work

That being said, there are ways that you can make private lessons work better for you and your students. All of these methods have been used by me or by teachers I know. Keep them in mind when you take on new students.

1. Have the students come to you.

You are giving up your time. Don’t add to it by going a long way to deliver the lessons. You should charge more for that.

If you don’t want the students coming to your house, meet at a place in your neighborhood or have them come to a place near your office.

2. Have the lessons right after work

You may feel like you want to go home and relax first, but then a one-hour lesson can take up your whole evening. One of my colleagues used to rush out the door and meet her students after work. She did the extra hour and then went home to enjoy the rest of the evening.

3. Suggest more lessons

One hour a week is usually not enough, especially if the student is preparing for an exam. Suggest two 90-minute lessons instead. If they go for it, you’re making three times as much money.

4. Put students back-to-back

Don’t let the students control your schedule. Feel free to say something like “I have a lesson on Wednesdays that ends at 5:00. Are you available then?”

One of my friends used to do four lessons from 5:00 to 9:00 pm every Tuesday. The students all went to the same school, and he did the lessons at one of the students’ homes to keep the commuting to a minimum.

5. Have they got friends?

Some people will go for longer lessons if they can do them with a friend. Ask the student if they want to team up with someone. You can also ask them to come one after another for shorter lessons, as in #4 above.

6. Make them pay!

We are sometimes so cautious about getting the money. I assume you are not doing private lessons for your health. If the students are coming regularly, have them pay for the whole month at the start. Then if they cancel, it’s their problem to sort it out, not yours.

7. Give homework

This may seem irrelevant, but it cuts down your prep time. I give one student a task to memorize answers to seven or eight common questions on IELTS, and to do one part of the writing task. Before we go on to new material, I ask the questions and check his answers. If he doesn’t have them correct, he studies them while I review his writing.

It’s not your responsibility to do all the work. Transfer some of that to the student. You’ll need less prep, because the results of the homework show you what to do next or review.

Only you can decide

In the end, it’s up to you. I still believe that targeted private lessons can really help students to improve. Treat them like the mini-business they are and they can help you too!