Why we are not an Agency

As a team of tutors, organised centrally, Green Tutors is often referred to as an agency.

But that term makes me wince, and recently I've been thinking about the reasons behind that, as conversations around agencies and independent tutors have increased in 2020.

When I started tutoring, it was because I have an interest in science and maths that I enjoy sharing with others. I always enjoyed learning, and I wanted to be able to help students to see how they can enjoy learning too.

Within a very short term, I realised that I was either going to have to start saying no to people or getting more tutors on board to help me. There was a definite demand for this!

And I was aware that what I am offering isn't like every other tutor. I'm not a teacher or even a full-time tutor. I am a scientist and have been since leaving school. I share a real-life experience of my subject with my students.

I built a team of tutors who are able to do that too, shared my experience, knowledge, and resources with them, and was able to help even more students through their exams. Plus it helps that they're a great team, and we enjoy the odd night out together.

Since the school closures following Lockdown in March, lots of part-time teachers, newly time-rich students, retirees, and more decided to step into the online tuition market to help fill a new need for additional education support.

As part of this, I started a support group on Facebook to coach people to bring their tuition services online: Tackling Tutoring Online.

I was inundated with DMs asking me how I started my business, how I find clients, how I use online tuition software, do I need any more tutors on my team, etc.

But as a scientist I was volunteering at the Covid-19 Diagnostic Testing Centre in Cambridge, supporting my existing students, and helping my tutor team to navigate the changes this had made in their life. And so I put all I knew into this Facebook group, and a pop-up course, and invited others to do the same.

I was delighted to see the way the online education community came together this year to support each other, and the way this shared learning brought so many people new opportunities in 2020, despite the new difficulties.

Unfortunately, with the pressure of new competition and financial worries, there was a lot of negativity, shared online and a lot of tensions that simmered under the surface came out and showed a very ugly face.

I was accused in some online communities of 'poaching' tutors by offering to help them in my group, even though the vast majority of that support was free.

I was classified as 'agency', and therefore I was referred to as a 'parasite', and accused of 'preying on the ignorant'. In the minds of these people, only stupid, incapable people would sign up to a company that took a share of their lesson fee. Agencies are run by corporate fat cats taking money from people who either don't know any better or can't get any better, right?

Actually, no. They're not.

There were some good reasons for these assumptions, based on very negative past experiences that some people shared with me. Some agencies had treated tutors very badly, had expected too much of them, had done very little to support them, or just forgotten about them entirely.

The picture at Green Tutors HQ (the corner of my living room) is vastly different. While working a 9-5 lab job I dedicate time every day to marketing online. I respond to messages and emails in the supermarket queue, update my website in my lunch break, invoice customers at the dining table of a weekend, and write blogs in my pyjamas on a Sunday evening. I don't take holidays abroad - any money I earn goes into learning and growing my business. I no longer take on new clients for myself because I don't have the time, and my calendar has gone from around 20 lessons a week to 5, impacting my own earnings.

In September the tuition team between them delivered 58 hours of tuition. This earned me a grand total of £90.50, and cost me £57.96.

I do not do this to become rich.

I do this for the same reason I started - I enjoy it, I have a passion for it, and I want to be able to share that with others.

And so I reject the term 'agency', and all that comes with it. I'm not an agent. We are not an agency. All of the Green Tutors and I are a team. We work together, support each other, and have the same goal of supporting our students through their exams.

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