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Bringing Kids Up To Par

As an English tutor for the past 12 years, Nick Liao understands the pressure of parental expectations and the responsibility of guiding students.

How long have you been teaching, and what do you teach? 

I have been in education for the last 16 years. Right now, I tutor English. I teach phonics, grammar, reading and writing, and of course, TOEFL and IELTS. Pretty much all subjects that are required, even at international schools.

You speak English, but you are Asian. Does this create any issues with parents, especially in your business?

Yes. When parents don’t know me or before they get to know me, they try to negotiate prices. They try to pay me less, or they assume that I might have an accent. They worry that I’m not able to teach their kids up to their standards. Once they have their child take a class with me, they hear my English and see how I teach—then it doesn’t become an issue.

What challenges have you dealt with when tutoring children?

I have taught kids from China, Korea, India, Brazil… but I think they’re pretty much the same. What happens is that most of the children try to do the minimum. So, what I do is tell them there’s a standard. You have to do a certain amount of work. You have to do the things that I ask you to do in order to become where you need to be.

What kind of expectations do parents have for you as a tutor? 

Of course, they want me to bring their kids up to par, to the standard. Parents want their kids to get good grades; their kids may not match up to grade-intensive kids in English programs, which is an international school program that helps non-native speakers. However, it’s not always that they’re falling behind. Some of them want to stay ahead. Others may think that the school is not offering what they need, and the courses are too easy. They want to challenge the children and give them more.

What are the reasons behind students not doing well enough in school?

I think it’s simply that they don’t follow my instructions of doing assigned homework. It’s not like you’re going to do two hours of practice a week, and suddenly your kid’s English becomes perfect. The parents give me the responsibility [of teaching their kids] once they hire me as a tutor. What I want to say is that usually, at first, parents come to me and say, “Hey Nick, be tough on the kids, be strict and give them homework. They can handle it.” Once I do that, the kids complain that I give them too much homework… and they can’t do it. Then, the parents listen to their kids and some get mad. Basically, it’s a double-edged sword.

Many kids go to tutors after school, and it’s typical in China. What is your opinion?

I do think it’s too much because I have seen kids that receive tutoring on every subject: math, English, chemistry, physics and even violin. They have no free time, and they’re very busy, so it’s a lot to handle.

Tell us a bit about the tutoring business (prices, procedure, etc.)?

I’ve been in the education industry for 16 years and tutoring for the last 12 years. Tutoring definitely pays well. For pricing packages, it ranges if you’re working in training centers or one-on-one, one-on-two… It goes from roughly 150 RMB to 400 RMB per hour. After tutoring for many years, you build your customer base, and people get to know you better. I get my students through word-of-mouth or parents’ referrals.

What is your advice for parents that have kids with difficulties at school?

Reading is very important; it helps the children in all ways with English. If you’re tutoring grammar, it doesn’t help the students as much compared to reading. My advice is to make sure to read about 20 to 30 minutes at least every day. Also, kids need to start easy. It’s important for parents to remember: don’t choose books that are too hard for the kids, because they might start to hate reading and that is not good.