I have been tutoring ESL and English composition in the Calgary area for the last six years, in addition to my contracts with CBLA and university programs. For a while now, this has been the only way to work fulltime in ESL. Having tutored high school students, university students, and corporate foreign professionals, I have four suggestions I’d like to make when tutoring:

  1. Don’t be intimidated to do something out of your direct area of expertise. Whether you have an ESL certificate and are asked to prepare high school students for English provincial exams, or whether you’ve previously work as a school board instructor in a public/private school and are now faced with a professional immigrant wishing to get certified in English in his/her field of expertise: Both are doable within your professional area. This means you don’t need to spend hours out of your already busy schedule to prepare—you simply can’t afford it. You are the professional, whether native speaker or not. [NOTE: The vast majority of high school students I prepared were fluent in English, but their grammar and writing knowledge were poor, due to first language dominance in primary school. They desperately needed encouragement when it came to understanding quiz questions on novels by Dickens and Shakespeare!]
  2. Don’t chase the client.  Driving across your metropolis spending time and gas is illogical; some will say “a necessary evil.” Meeting in a neutral quiet coffee shop close to your home is possible and helps to understand the client’s social hesitancies in English. Let them order a coffee and see how they do. Your “per-hour” charge should also not be so low that you are ‘working’ but not making ends meet. I charge $50/hour and give a per-hour discount for pre-pay of from 8-10 lessons.
  3. Know your forté and passion in training others and actively use them.  For example, I love the verbal aspects of pronunciation and grammar. When I’m in front of a client for the first time I usually offer the first 30 minutes for free, to get acquainted and suggest a plan for the future. Asking permission to correct them at this point may sound obvious, but often it’s very culturally appreciated by professional immigrants. They quickly realize you are serious and want them to improve, regardless of whether it’s in reading, writing, listening, or speaking. If you are meeting with a grade 11 or 12 student, take the provincial exam prep book with you—it’s your authority and it shows them you already know what they need. Chapters Indigo stores has the appropriate provincial books on exam prep and previous exams and answers from grades 9-12. Also check out http://www.exambank.com/ for specific grade practice quizzes.
  4. Commit to them (by contract) for a period of time that you feel they will definitely see improvement.  There’s nothing worse than a track-record of clients leaving you ‘amid stream’ and ‘sort of satisfied’. I usually ask for 10 weeks of 1 to 2 sessions per week. And when they are done and happy, get a written recommendation to post on your website (Oh, didn’t I recommend you have a website as well? I am now!). There are also many websites where you can advertise yourself, in addition to FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and your web-email blog or newsletter.