Teaching in Taiwan: Private students

This is a continuation of my posts about the pros and cons of different teaching gigs in Taiwan.

Most of us call our one-on-one tutees “privates” and after all these years it still makes me giggle because that was the preferred euphemism for genitals in my family.

Pros: You usually get paid more per hour to teach one-on-one than you get paid to teach a class.

Cons: I hate privates. I get so bored teaching one person, a kid or an adult. The kids are exhausted already–they’re in school forever and ever, then buxiban classes, then you come right into their living room with extra brain work. Some of them are cooler than others, sure, but any eight-year-old can have an off night. And the last thing I want to do after teaching all day is teach for another hour, especially when my student is a surly, tired kid who really just needs to be set loose in the park for an hour like the human animal s/he is.

As for adults, I’ve been the English tutor and the Chinese tutee, and either way, things can get weird. First of all, Chinese people have no patience for this silly Western idea about free time. Like they will ask you what you are doing at all hours of the week and then come up with some crazy suggestion about teaching them on Sunday mornings or Friday nights. And if you say no without lying about having some other money-making opportunity, they will be confused or annoyed that you aren’t trying to earn as much money as possible, whenever possible. Beyond that, I find that students don’t always stick to the lessons, including me. After a few weeks, if you get along with each other, then the “classes” turn into these friendly, low-key therapy sessions. So you end up having a fairly intimate conversation with this other adult woman, and then you exchange money. I don’t like it.

I am sure that there are plenty of teachers in Taiwan who have taught privates without this problem, but I am telling you how it went down for me. I stopped taking on privates and stopped going to private Chinese classes because it just got too weird or boring to be talking about husbands and housework and maybe like dreams deferred at the same time for an hour every week.

The other drawback is that privates can and will cancel at the drop of a hat. Teachers who rely on private students for an important part of their income will often come up with some kind of contract that mandates that they still get paid even if the student remembered just an hour before class that it’s grandma’s birthday.

Also, you have to come up with your own materials and lesson plans and I find that it takes a lot more work to come up with a really engaging private lesson than it does to put together a fun lesson for 12 kids.

And finally, privates are technically illegal, though it has always seemed like there’s much lower risk of getting caught teaching in someone’s home. If you’re teaching a lot of privates, you might want to keep it on the down-low though.

Conclusion: Some teachers love privates. Some teachers make most of their income from privates. Some teachers believe that teaching privates is more enjoyable and less stressful than teaching classes. I am not one of those teachers.

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