Listed below are my answers to questions that prospective clients frequently ask me or should ask any tutor before hiring them.
Why do you work as a tutor?
Like attracts like. I love learning and appreciate education. The people who hire me share these values and I enjoy getting to know them.
If I did not do this work I would have too few people to talk to about mathematics, physics, and related disciplines. Most of my friends and family simply have other interests. At the sight of calculations, my wife insists upon shielding her eyes and cautiously backing away to a safe distance.
What subjects do you tutor?
Most of my work is with students studying pre-calculus, calculus and physics. These are the subjects I know best, have the most education in, and have the most experience with. A few of my students have been adults who have come to me for remedial math and physics help to prepare them for trade-certification exams.
I have also been hired for a fair bit of chemistry work but this is not a speciality of mine. Students working with me on math and physics very commonly take chemistry as well so, since they are already happy with me, they often ask for help with that subject as well. As long as they are in high school I can usually provide all the assistance they require. I can explain the concepts and show them how to solve the problems but that’s about it. Chemistry is a fantastic subject but I just do not have enough work experience with it to speak with authority about the use of chemistry in the real world. If I had a student who was seriously considering a career as a chemist, biochemist or chemical engineer I would seek out a tutor with more relevant degrees and refer the student to that person. Some parts of first-year university chemistry are little more than a review of Chemistry 12 so I can often help my math and physics students to refresh their memories of the basics until they get back up to speed.
On my About Me page you will see that I have extensive education and/or experience in astronomy, geophysics and computer programming. Occasionally a student will ask me some related questions but the demand for help with these subjects is very low.
What levels do you tutor?
The vast majority of my students have been between 16 and 20 years old. Here in British Columbia, that corresponds to the last two years of high school and the first two years of university. Rapport with younger children is simply more difficult for me to establish so I only accept them on referral from past and current clients. In contrast, it would be nice to tutor the more senior years of university math and physics but there is too little demand for help at that level for me to keep the material fresh in my mind. I am not willing to do work where I am not convinced that I can offer good value.
Because of how age-selective I am, I get to work with students who already have reasonable study habits and who understand money well enough to recognize the investment their parents are making in them by hiring a tutor. The big advantage of this is that I rarely have any difficulty holding a student’s attention.
I do not seek out work with students who have learning disabilities because doing so effectively normally requires very specialized training that I simply do not have.
Where do you work?
When working in person with students I normally do so at their homes but sometimes the group study rooms at UVic are more convenient. When at the homes of the younger students I require that someone older be in the house at the time.
Minimizing travel time has become a critical factor in my acceptance of new students so I prefer to work with those who live within an arc that extends from UVic, down through Oak Bay, and as far west as Fairfield. That constraint integrates well with the rest of my weekly routine but sometimes other locations are practical so there is no harm in asking. For example, during the 2012-2013 school year it turned out to be quite convenient for me to work with a student who lived in the Christmas Hill area.
In 2014 I began working online with most of my students so where they live does not matter much any more. All indications are that this trend will continue. So far, I have helped students in five different time zones. Please see my Private Online Sessions page for more information.
What schools do your students attend?
Because of my location preferences, most of my students have attend Oak Bay High, GNS, SMUS and UVic. Others, especially from before I grew weary of driving, have been from Stelly’s, Saint Margaret’s, Spectrum, Claremont, Pearson College, Brentwood College, Camosun College (Interurban), Canadian Forces Fleet School Esquimalt (CFFSE) and Career Development Institute (CDI).
Several of my students have been enrolled in home-learning courses through such institutions as South Island Distance Education School (SIDES), South Central Interior Distance Education School (SCIDES), The Link, Thompson Rivers University (TRU) and SelfDesign High. One of the older ones was studying power engineering through Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Alberta. I have noticed that those who are already accustomed to some form of distance education are the ones who most readily embrace the idea of being tutored online.
When are you available?
My schedule keeps changing but I do not work on Fridays or Saturdays. Online sessions are much easier to fit into my calendar than in-person ones but contacting me directly is the only way to find out when I am available. It would not be practical for me to maintain and up-to-date schedule on this website.
These days, I work almost exclusively with clients who expect to continue with me at least once per week for the remainder of the semester or school year. I no longer take on new students shortly before the end of a course or do individual sessions with students who are looking for a tutor as a last resort to help them pass a final exam that they had months to prepare for. However, I will always do my best to schedule extra sessions with my regular students when it is appropriate to review material from earlier in the course or when they have missed some time at school.
Are you a school teacher?
No. I never have been and have never wanted to be. From what I have heard, becoming one requires being trained in child psychology, group dynamics, some bizarre approaches to arithmetic, and many other subjects that I have little interest in.
Fortunately, the academic subjects I care most about like pre-calculus, calculus, finite mathematics and physics do not enter people’s lives until they are about 16 years old. By that time a reasonable degree of maturity has set in and decent study habits have usually been established so I can focus on the subject matter itself. Unlike a classroom teacher, I also have the luxury of working with students individually, often in their own homes with their parents within hearing distance. Under those conditions, in the absence of their peers, they are on their best behaviour and I get their full attention. Online sessions are even better because of how natural it is for them to regard a screen as an important source of information.
Being a teacher would also require working within a system that I hear nothing but complaints about. The employee benefits sound generous but, in general, the whole arrangement just sounds like a bad idea. I am also unwilling to ever be required to teach something for which I am thoroughly unqualified. What school teachers have to put up with never ceases to amaze me.
Like most people who were once science graduate students, I do have experience as a teaching assistant and a lab instructor. In more recent times, I did spend nearly five years as a computer programming instructor at a private technical training school. While I did do some lecturing there, the vast majority of my time was spent working with students individually as a mentor, much as I now do when tutoring.
Will you work with my child’s teacher?
Yes, but only if you, your child, and the teacher are in complete agreement on the matter. Teachers differ drastically in their willingness to cooperate with tutors.
Some of my clients have been teachers themselves, in some cases working at the same schools that their children attend.
In contrast, I once had a student who told me that her teacher “went ballistic” and humiliated her to the point of tears in front of the entire class when she casually mentioned having a tutor. Apparently he accused her of questioning his ability as a teacher and took the opportunity to remind the class, yet again, about an award he had received for the academic performance of his students.
She dropped the course and took it again the following semester with a different teacher at the same school. During that semester she would often arrive at our sessions with a list of specific topics and questions that the teacher had told her to ask me to help her with.
What a difference!
That was the most extreme case I have encountered but there have certainly been others so I strongly recommend that clients do not raise this question with a teacher unless they know what that particular teacher’s attitude is toward supplementary private tuition.
How much do you charge?
My rate for past and current clients will always be whatever it was when I started working with them. For new clients I charge $75/hour for in-person sessions and $50/hour for online sessions.
I normally get paid by cheque or cash at the end of each in-person session. All online sessions are paid for with Interac eTransfer or PayPal.
Once I get to know a client I am quite content to let them pay me only once every week or two if I am working with their child multiple times per week. Some clients insist on paying me in advance for an entire month. This is fine too.
When working as a service provider for the Autism Funding Branch of the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), I prefer to submit the standard invoice every two months.
I do not charge an assessment fee, registration fee, travel fee or cancellation fee. Short-notice (less than 24 hours) cancellations do happen but my relationships with my clients are long-term ones. They understand me and I understand them. They know how reliable and punctual I am and I trust them to be serious about sticking to our agreed-upon schedule. In those rare cases when truly unforeseen circumstances arise or a student simply forgets to show up, my clients often insist on paying for the missed session. I am always pleased by this because I interpret it as an expression of appreciation for my time and effort.
Of course, I would never charge for an online session that had to be abandoned due to technical difficulties. It has never happened to me but I must acknowledge that some day it might.
No GST payment is required for my services.
What about privacy?
No client information is ever stored on this website. I do store client contact information on my phone and that gets backed up to a personal cloud so that I can access it from home. For income tax purposes, I also record names, dates, hours, fees charged, and fees paid. I enter these on a home computer at the end of each day and the files are supposed to get backed up regularly to my cloud and to an external hard drive. As far as I can tell, even if some villains got access to all of my business data there would not be anything to find that they could do anything harmful with.
Who do you recommend?
I know almost nothing about biology so for anyone needing help with that subject I strongly recommend working online with Matthew Barnes. He lives in England but his experience and expertise draw students to him from around the world. For chemistry I equally highly recommend Nigel Straney for the same reasons. Anyone looking for mathematics tuition, especially in the British A Levels system, would do well to contact Michael Steele. Because he is eight time zones away from me, Mike can work with students while I am fast asleep or working during my busiest time of day. The same goes for Clare Turner but she tutors A Levels physics as well.
Whatever you do, never hire anyone who makes your child feel stupid. They already get enough of that. I cannot stress this enough. For the best possible learning outcome a student must feel 100% comfortable asking any question. Remember that a tutor is not a school teacher so, unless you are locked into some contract with an agency, you are free to fire him or her at any time for whatever reasons matter to you.
Do some kids get over-tutored?
Yes, but I have never had the nerve to say to a parent “You’re pushing your kid too hard.” Instead, I have gently suggested that, instead of spending time with me, the child should get more sleep or spend the time on a recreational activity. In some of the cases where the family has been new to Canada I have been able to make it clear that what the child needed most was an ESL tutor and that having fun with Canadian children would be very helpful for learning English.
Do you have a current criminal records check?
Yes. Almost no one has ever looked at it but I keep it around in case anyone asks.
Can I pay you to do my homework for me?