It’s been a very long time since I last wrote a post on our blog.
To be honest, I’ve just been so very busy with work and the home education of our youngest two, and since lockdown, the home-schooling of our middle two children.
Home-schooling is DEFINITELY not the same as home education – it’s far more prescriptive…. and painful!
It makes you realise how school institutionalises children to some degree, and without the benefit of un-schooling that we did with our youngest two, we are finding it very difficult to motivate them to do any school-work, like many other parents that have been forced to become teachers at home.
Anyway, back to the post subject, this weekend is something of a milestone in my personal FIRE journey… I’ve decided to FIRE a client for the first time!
They say that 20% of customers give you 80% of the problems and hassle. In my tutoring business I generally find that less than 5% of people give me 95% of the trouble.
My work (tuition – all grammar school entrance exam prep) has always been very much a face-to-face thing and I’m lucky enough to have a garden office to work in so that I’m not teaching in our family home. But I sensed the need to shift to online even before lockdown happened, and so did lots of research over a couple of weeks and created a fantastic workable arrangement using Zoom and a brilliant online whiteboard called Bitpaper, where I can upload and annotate diagrams, PDF files and pictures as well as writing straight to the screen – both text and drawing. So all my tuition went online mid-March, just before official Lockdown.
The response from my students was positive and parents were very grateful for my ability to provide stable educational continuity when normal schooling, through no fault of the child’s school, was falling to pieces. The children loved it, and very quickly became experts in emoji writing (they can make ice creams and pizzas as part of their name!?!), adding crazy virtual Zoom backgrounds and switching off their cameras and renaming themselves ‘reconnecting’ (as if they weren’t online any more)….Unfortunately for some of them, their spelling skills need a little more work, so I wasn’t fooled by them ‘reconecting’! We have had a lot of fun, though. It’s been lovely teaching with a virtual tropical beach background or from outer space!
My normal tuition sessions were already full from before Christmas. We work towards an annual entrance exam in the autumn term of Year 6 and students attend sessions from September-September (year 5 to year 6). My groups are usually filled before half term in October, but with children no longer attending school during the day I opened up a couple of sessions to ‘newbies’ in the early afternoons to test the market… and sure enough, they proved very popular. I’ve had a couple of new students each week. So this week I welcomed yet another new student after a brief chat with her step-dad and a Zoom meeting with them both. Both seemed really lovely. The student joined in a full session a day later and I set a short 15 minute assessment for her to do in her own time online.
All went well. Fast forward to this evening, Friday, 6pm, when an email drops into my inbox from her dad (not step-dad) starting with all the usual pleasantries about staying safe etc. that’s become customary in these strange times. There then followed a multi-bullet-pointed email (with italics and copying in his ex-wife and step-dad) detailing how he’d sat with her through the supposedly-independent assessment test and listing in great detail all the various things he’d noted that could be improved with my teaching and the test, and the areas I should cover with her as soon as feasibly possible, virtually questioning my abilities, competence and teaching experience.
I’ve been a teacher for over 25 years. I’ve been a tutor for the past ten years and have pretty much figured out exactly what works and what doesn’t.
But after one group session (clearly advertised as general guidance/teaching for a group and not intensive one-to-one tuition) I was being told what I needed to do ‘ASAP’ to bring his daughter ‘up to speed in time for her exam in ten weeks’ time – extremely short notice even with the brightest of students.
I’m very conscientious about my work and my primary aim is for children to enjoy learning and develop confidence. I know parents want the best for their children, but I immediately realised the level of micro-managing of this poor girl from her father was on another level….and not something I subscribe to as either a teacher or parent.
I’m all for encouraging children to fulfil their potential but there’s a fine balance between encouragement and piling on unnecessary pressure. I’m not looking to work with people interested in hothousing their children. I gave up one-to-one teaching many years ago because it felt too intense all-round, and I’m all too aware of mental health issues in our children and young people. I’d hate to have played any part in those sorts of problems, which is why Mr Fu and I are very much hand-off parents (apart from the usual sensible rules and expectations of respect). I just want to make learning fun… and learning in groups is conducive to this… and of course group tuition is more affordable than one-to-one. So that’s what I do and I’m proud of all my word-of-mouth recommendations that make up most of my business.
And then I get a Friday evening email like the one I got tonight…
I had my suspicions about this client as this was the second email I’d had from him, the first when the pupil was looking to start, and the signs were there already in the tone and content of the first email. What should have been an informal message was littered with bullet point lists, italics and underlined text.
Anyway, after mulling over the email’s contents for a couple of hours, formulating numerous different responses in my mind and being quite self-critical, I came to the realisation that this guy was going to be nothing but trouble and become the 1% who caused me 99% of hassle and problems. The man was already starting to spoil my weekend.
I needed to clear my head and we went on a family walk, and suddenly it hit me….
….I don’t need the money and I don’t need to work with this man!
FU Money is real!!
I earn enough to politely bow out of the tuition arrangement and let them find someone else more suited to their requirements. As I said, the student was perfectly lovely and I feel sorry for her, but if the father spent as much time and effort on his child as he did on email content, bullet-point lists, and presentation he really doesn’t need me. He could very easily tutor her himself – to his own exacting standards!
I’ve not replied to the email to let him know my decision yet (because he’s probably checking his inbox regularly for my reply and I want to keep him hanging), but I will write it this weekend and schedule it for first thing on Monday morning.
It is the first time in my whole career that I’ve felt I’ve been able to choose who I work with, and while the teacher in me wants to help everyone no matter what, I realise that going forward this one man will give me more problems and hassle than all of my other students’ parents put together. And I’m worth more than that.
Did I make the right decision?