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This past year I?ve done many things for the first time. I traveled to Europe. I organized and attended a mini-reunion with some of my closest college friends. I attended the Ecological Society of America conference. I applied to several graduate schools and grants. I visited my 1-year old nephew and helped my sister put her house together after it was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. None of these things would have been possible if I had continued my full time teaching job. None of these things bring in income, either, however, so when I saw an opportunity to work with students out of my home on a flexible schedule, I was excited.
Varsity Tutors is mostly an online tutoring platform; they do offer in-person tutoring, but I have never seen an in-person opportunity arise, so I assume they are rare where I live. The business model appeals to those students working on an assignment last-minute as anyone can request an ?instant? tutoring session on any subject from AP Physics or English to Microbiology or Middle School Math. Tutors supposedly sitting in their homes with the Varsity Tutor screen open are just waiting for such opportunities to flash across their screens. To tutor a session you have to be quick! Often the ?instant session? link disappears in less than 10 seconds. If you?re quick, you launch into a session with a complete stranger to help with ?rate law problems? or ?physics? or whatever subject the client has listed.
Although I never signed up for one of these ?instant? session, I often imagined the Varsity Tutor army who must be sitting up late at night (when most of these ?instant sessions? occur) eager to click on the session as soon as it appears ? don?t process, just click. Who are these people? What are their lives like? If I had more disposable income, I would sign up for these instant sessions myself just to meet the members of this Varsity Tutors army. Was I typical? No way to know.
There is another way to tutor sessions, though, and that is how I worked with students. I would receive an email from Varsity Tutors that said I may be a good match for a student and would I be interested? Sometimes if you say ?YES? the student is still available and you actually set up a time to meet!
The students who I met through Varsity Tutors were excellent. These were not typically struggling students, but rather the over-achieving kind. Those trying to raise their test scores or who needed help organizing their problem-solving strategies; I also had the privilege of working with students seeking enrichment. Their science classes were boring, but they love science and want someone to guide their curiosity ? truly this is every teacher?s dream. I even began working with a student who didn?t want tutoring at all, but rather wanted me to teach a course for high school credit! Quite a different scenario, as any teacher could tell you.
In any case, as many of the students I worked with required significant work outside of the time the students and I met for a session, the question arose of whether I could be compensated for my time. Fortunately, the families I worked with were quite happy for me to be compensated. I would tell them how much time I spent preparing materials and I would invoice it accordingly.
And this is where I learned a lesson from Varsity Tutors: sometimes it is better not to be paid at all than to be paid a pathetically low wage. Varsity Tutors compensated me $15 per hour of work. This was slightly higher than the $12 per hour I could earn as a substitute teacher, though much lower than a teacher rate which usually comes to ~$26-$30/hour if you assume teachers work 40 hours each week (of course, everybody knows teachers work twice this each week, but we all pretend).
And this is where I learned a lesson from Varsity Tutors: sometimes it is better not to be paid at all than to be paid a pathetically low wage.
As my clients were asking me to do more work which required extensive preparation and my time became constrained as I got ready to start graduate school, I realized the pay wasn?t worth the time. So I quit, and that felt good.
What surprised me, though, is that I still wanted to work with my students. I enjoy working with them ? they are amazing and I want to see them do great things, support them if I can. Yet I would rather work with them for free (as a mentor or such) than get paid an insulting wage. Why was this?
When you are paid for work, whether intentional or not, the value of the work becomes synonymous with the wage received. I knew the quality of my instruction was worth far more than I was being paid, and thus the low wage ignited resentment in me. How dare Varsity Tutors charge my client $48/hour and give me less than one third of that income when I had done all of the work. What a ripoff for clients ? spending most of their money on marketing and advertising ? for people to sit in an office and make sales calls all day while an army of tutors did all the actual helping of students. And then to say my work was worth so little ? less than one third of what clients were willing to pay ? my stomach churls at the thought.
So, perhaps this experience will help me advocate for myself in the future. The amount I am paid should reflect the value of the service I provide. And if it doesn?t, well, I?ll take myself elsewhere. Or if the work is that important to me, I?d rather do it for free rather than be insulted by such undervaluation.
If you?re considering hiring a Varsity Tutor, may I suggest you seek a local tutor first. Their rates will likely be comparable (or much less), and the tutor much more likely to be paid fairly. Sure, you will have to plan ahead rather than reach for the ?INSTANT? session at 2 am, but wouldn?t that be better for everyone in the end?