One day in May 2015, I was looking at exactly this view in the afternoon on a weekday because I was home from work sick. I was nearing the end of a 2 year teaching contract that I did not renew. For two years I lived here, teaching at an international school that no longer exists. This is the story of how I quit after 4 years of full-time teaching and became a full-time math tutor.
But first, I need to preface the story with two points.
One: This is actually a very difficult video to make. It is not my intention to post a video where I talk bad about any of the teachers or school principals I worked with. I hope it doesn’t come off that way. At every school, there were teachers and admin that I respect so I don’t want any of them to potentially be watching and think that I’m ungrateful for opportunities to work with them. I also don’t want to suggest that every aspect of teaching was negative, because that’s not true at all.
My first year of teaching goes down in my memory as a very enjoyable time in my young adult life. I was involved in a musical. One of the grads took a picture of me pushing the overhead projector and photoshopped me to be a waitress in the grad slideshow. I laughed for 10 minutes when I saw that. Speaking of laughter, that was the soundtrack in my shared teacher office. The teachers down the hall could hear us. Working with these people was fun. Another year, the middle school went on a multi-day field trip to the 3 gorges dam. I can’t believe I was able to do that as part of my job. Even at this last school I was at, I had good relationships with parents and students. Just before I left, one of the moms brought one of the year 6/grade 5 students to me and said, “tell Ms. Tong what you told me.” And he said “you’re the best teacher I ever had.” I’ve been in touch with one of his classmates recently, and the classmate told me, “he’s still saying that!” seven years later.
Two: I only taught for 4 years, which is not a very long time. I think I’m identifying the correct flavour, but there’s surely a lot of nuance and depth that I’m missing due to lack of experience so I’m not going to talk about the teaching profession as a whole. I’m really just telling the story of what I went through and how that impacted me.
I’m telling it because a lot of people ask. Those who have seen me teach ask by framing it like “Why don’t you teach at a school instead of tutor one-on-one? Many more students can benefit from your teaching.” And people who haven’t seen me teach have also ask because I suppose it’s a little bit incomprehensible why someone would choose to be self-employed over being a unionized employee.
So, if you enjoy this video, please give it a like, share the content if it can help someone, and don’t forget to subscribe!. If you have a story about quitting teaching, leave your story or a link to your story in the comments.
With all of that out of the way, story time. On the day that I was home sick, my mind starting wandering because that’s what minds do you’re not on go-go-go mode. I was thinking about all the teaching applications I would have to send out back home. I had never planned to stay long term in China but I hadn’t planned on leaving the profession. In the still small silence of my bedroom, I had a moment of clarity. I knew deep down in my gut with unwavering finality that I didn’t want to continue teaching.
For a few months at work now, Sunday night was full of dread. We were supposed to have already filled out a spreadsheet of our week’s plan, with assessment plans and differentiation plans. I don’t know if anyone ever looked at those. Every morning, we were required to sign in by 7:30. There was a sign-in sheet by the door. You were required to put down the exact minute you arrived. Staff do it one after the other so it’s not like you could claim you got there at 7:07 when the entry above says 7:30. Then it was time to prepare for class by making photocopies, tidying up the classroom, writing down the day’s plan on the board. While going through these very routine motions, I remember feeling trapped. Then the bell would ring, the students came to class, and I really had to put on the teacher act. I felt trapped on one side by the micromanaging of things like the arrival minute and the box-ticking exercise such as the weekly plan but also by the expectation that I accept the increased workload by way of increased student count.
For half the year, the middle school only had 5 students. Yeah I get it, instead of marking 25 tests, you mark 5. That is less work, yes. But these 5 students knew the expectations and their social dynamic was fine. When you add 3 kids more than halfway through the year, one of which was special needs, goodbye English speaking policy, goodbye teaching content. The saddest thing was that I believed that if I couldn’t adapt to these sorts of changes, I must not be a good teacher.
I think one of the hardest parts of teaching is that we are in a role where it’s necessary to be a leader and role model, and support the mental and emotional health of our students. But we ourselves may not be working in conditions in which we can support our own mental and emotional health.
Now it’s perfectly reasonable to ask, “OK, so that school wasn’t a good situation. Surely this is an isolated incident. No, I don’t think that every school operates like that to that degree. But I have taught in enough schools to know that it’s hard to be able to teach a course more than once. In 4 years, I have taught all kinds of courses in general science, chemistry, math, ESL, cooking, ICT, geography, Canadian History, Academic Preparation, whatever. Sure, department heads can hand me a binder and say here are all the resources used to teach these classes. But you still have to be able to wrap the courses around in your head so they make sense, and you have to be able to connect the resources to the students who are enrolled in your class. It’s only after going through the course a few times do you understand how it’s put together and how students progress through it. Teaching 10 different courses once has so much wasted labour compared to teaching 2 courses 5 times each. This is not the concern of whoever’s coming up with the teaching load for 1.0 FTE.
Tutoring is completely different. For example, I invested a lot of time into learning math so I could tutor high demand subjects like pre-calculus 12. But because they’re so high demand, the work upfront was totally worth it and I use it every year.
When I first started tutoring, I thought it was going to be temporary. It was quite a change going from an energetic classroom to one person. I remember watching one particular kid do math very slowly and wrong. If that sounds really boring to you, that’s because it is. So what I decided to do was figure out how to teach math. On paper, I had taught math for 3 years as a teacher trained in teaching science. But it’s a little bit different in a classroom. If you have a class of 25, it’s unlikely you’ll work with one student long enough to know what they don’t understand and why they don’t understand. There are too many things going on in one class. But with tutoring, there were no distractions so I could really focus on getting this kid results. Then it felt like solving a puzzle and I enjoyed that. A couple months later, mom happily told me the kid got an A on a test. This kid wasn’t the type to boast, but mom was proud. I thought that this is what work should feel like. Someone in the world is in a slightly better place because of something I’ve done.
Clearly, I’m more experienced now. Probably wiser. Would I go back to teaching? Well, if you look me up on Google my business, you’ll see that I did, part time, all math, mostly during the COVID year. And that is why I made it very clear that 2015 was the year I chose to step away from the profession. Whatever I’ve said to people around me about the very unique and eye-opening experiences of the community at this school, I meant. I’m not continuing next year though, because the choices that involve teaching in schools are to teach full time, which I don’t want, part-time teach, part-time tutor, which means I will be working from morning and evening, which I also don’t want, or do 100% tutoring. That is my choice.
So that is the tea on why I tutor instead of teach in schools. I got into education because I do love working with older children and I love teaching math. Watching students progress and grow is one of the real joys of teaching. If you’re interested in learning more about my services, my name is Clara Tong, I tutor math online to students from grade 8 to calculus. I help students gain confidence, improve grades, and achieve goals.
Thank you for watching. I will see you in the next video.