Online Math Tutoring: The Definitive Guide
If you have been toying with the idea of a career in online math tutoring but you don’t know where to begin, we have you covered. This article will give you all you need to know about becoming a successful math tutor and what to expect from this line of work. Online tutoring is poised to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) upwards of 10% in the US and much of that growth will come from math tutoring. Even global opportunities are steadily on the rise.
Math tutoring is a space with tremendous growth potential in terms of the sheer number of individuals it can absorb. But more importantly, it is a sector that has witnessed some great personal success stories as well. If you’re compatible with the rigors of the math tutoring domain you not only have the scope of doing well financially, but you also have the opportunity to build a fulfilling career.
The Benefits of a Career in Math Tutoring
There are several bright students out there pursuing a college degree and in search of a side hustle to make a buck. If you are one of those, math tutoring is a great option for you. It certainly has more pay than being a waiter or pizza delivery. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people like the founder of The Khan Academy who created an entire empire based on tutoring. One thing is clear, depending on how you position yourself you can make it big in this sector.
Math tutoring is a well-respected profession. Having it in your CV will always enhance your profile. Additionally, if you have been a successful math tutor even part-time, it is a reflection of certain positive traits such as communication skills, empathy, patience and perseverance. And it will serve you well in your future endeavors.
You may not have plans for a career or a long-term business in math tutoring. However, you should know that tutoring is a full-time pursuit for many and a source of some serious dough. If you gain a few months of experience in this line, it will add to your tutoring experience should you choose to step into it full time.
Nurturing a passion for math
If you’re a number nerd, what better than hanging out with other math learners for a living? Most young math tutors out there pursue this with a zeal simply out of a permanent love for high school math. That may lead some to higher-level math still to become calculus tutor or algebra tutor. If you are that kind of person, then math tutoring is a brilliant way to feed your passion.
Sense of fulfillment
Every teacher out there will testify that teaching is an immensely satisfying job. Knowing that you’ve played an important role in the development of a young person is in itself a form of compensation. Math is a big pain point amongst a majority of students. Therefore, watching them improve and gain confidence through your intervention is that much more satisfying.
The Job Market for Math Tutors
Private in-person math tutoring
Private in-person math tutoring is the traditional form where students must turn up at the tutors’ location, such as Mathnasium, or vice versa. Your ability to earn a living from in-person tutoring depends on the market demand in the neighborhood, existing tutors and their availability, word of mouth publicity, etc. The advantage of in-person tutoring such as Mathnasium or Kumon is that parents typically tend to trust a tutor they can see in front of them. Plus, there’s the advantage of a face-to-face connection with your pupil.
However, the private tutoring business grows slowly. It is necessary that you pursue it for a considerable length of time before your name is well-established as a reputed local math tutor. The effort becomes even greater for specialized tutors such as the calculus tutor or algebra tutor for whom the demand is limited.
Online math tutors
The world of online math tutoring is opening up a wide range of opportunities for people wanting to enter this profession. There are math tutoring roles for all types of people – specialists and generalists, full-timers and side-hustlers, researchers and test-hackers. The interesting thing about this space is that you needn’t necessarily be a trained and certified tutor at all. Scores of kids around the world want help with their homework or project work. If you don’t want to commit to a tutoring career, you can just take up such projects instead of actual tutoring.
Group math tutors
Group tutoring is ideal for math tutors who want to develop into private tutoring institutes such as Kumon and Mathnasium. These are particularly popular in areas like test prep for competitive examinations. Many of these group math tutoring businesses are moving online as well. However, there are mixed reviews on the effectiveness of online sessions for group learning.
The advantage of group math tutoring sessions is that students develop a peer network of test-takers. This helps them share notes on their progress and be in the groove of things. It has also been observed that students who attend group math tutoring tend to stick with it.
Qualities students look for in a math tutor
If you intend to operate as an online math tutor, your qualifications in the subject are going to play a critical role in attracting students to your profile. This isn’t a prerequisite in many cases. However, parents play a part in the decision process of selecting the right math tutor. And they certainly choose based on qualifications above anything else. We have a detailed section below on the various degrees and certifications you can come armed with to be recognized as a qualified math tutor.
However, sometimes, parents just look for basic math teaching aptitude. For example, they are looking for someone to simply assist the child with homework. In such a case, they may not seek a math tutor with a great number of degrees and certifications. Rather, someone who may just be a college student who had a very high GPA in school may bag the contract.
You see, in the world of online tutoring, everyone who wants to teach will find someone who wants to be taught. So, yes, qualifications will fetch you students more easily, but you don’t have to be disheartened if you don’t possess any math tutoring certifications. Here’s a pro tip, if you have great scores in any internationally recognized standardized test, like SAT or ACT, be sure to highlight that in your profile.
Years of experience
The next important filter following qualification in the world of online math tutoring is how long you’ve been around. Back in the days of private in-person tutoring such as Kumon or Mathnasium, this was all that mattered. If there was a bloke who’d been tutoring students in the community for years, that was sufficient reason to want one’s child to be tutored by him. One rarely enquired about the degrees. Likewise, if you’ve been on an online tutoring platform as a math tutor for a length of time, that does have an impact on the parent’s mind.
You may want to know what that length of time is. Well, it really depends, but it’s safe to say at least a year, i.e., one full academic cycle. The good thing about online math tutoring is that, while experience matters, the years required are lower. Even 1 – 3 years is considered a good deal of experience.
Pro-tip: If you have been teaching math in any capacity outside the platform, make sure to highlight that as a valid math tutoring experience.
Specific skill areas
Most students looking for help will have specific skill areas they want to be addressed. You’ll see that in how they search for tutors online – “online algebra tutor” or “online calculus tutor” or “online geometry tutor”. Hence, it’s very important that you highlight your specific skill or interest areas. As mentioned above, if have degrees or certifications or substantial experience in algebra tutoring or calculus tutoring, or another niche, highlight it.
Reviews and reputation
Before online tutoring became a thing, students used to ask around what they thought of a particular local tutor’s teaching skills. Word of mouth was a big factor in building the reputation of a private math tutor, including brands such as Kumon and Mathnasium. If someone was known to dramatically improve the grades of her/his students, everybody flocked to such a person.
In online math tutoring, like everything on the Internet, online reviews replace the reputation factor. Before you’re selected, the pupil is definitely going to look through the reviews posted by previous clients on the platform. So, make sure you ask for reviews from your existing clients so that the prospects have something to go through.
And it goes without saying that you must ensure that the quality of your tutoring fetches you great reviews.
The old school thinking is that math tutoring doesn’t need language or communication skills. Nothing could be farther from the truth. From a child’s perspective, math is a complex subject. Only a good math tutor with sound communication skills will be able to break it down into comprehendible parts conveyed in easily understood common parlance.
Both the parent and the pupil will judge if you pass the communications test. If the child merely mentions, “I can’t make out what the tutor’s saying”, the parent will lose confidence in your skill to communicate with the child, let alone teach anything.
As a math tutor, make sure you are thorough in the medium of instruction. If the child communicates in a language you aren’t comfortable speaking, please refrain from taking up the job.
This trait needs to be demonstrated from the word go. Here are some quick tips on professionalism. At the first interaction, make sure you note the pupil’s requirements and prepare a customized study plan on that basis. This will demonstrate that you are serious about delivering results. Another important aspect of professionalism is timeliness. A tardy tutor is bound to be seen in poor light. Don’t let your timeliness depend on your pupil’s. A professional tutor will be present on time irrespective of when the pupil signs in. Give students and parents regular updates on the progress made. It’s always advisable to build a rapport with your pupils by spending a few minutes discussing other interests such as sports, holidays, gadgets, etc. However, make sure you remain well within the limits of professionalism. No parent wants to hire a tutor who talks about baseball 20% of the session time.
Ability to grasp the student’s style and tempo
Both the parent and the pupil will scrutinize if the math tutor takes the effort to understand the student’s individual style and tailor the lesson likewise. The whole idea of getting a private online math tutor is to get individual attention and a customized approach. The last thing you as a math tutor should be doing is to download a pre-designed lesson plan for a certain topic and rattle off the lesson oblivious to how well the pupil is grasping.
If you want to be a successful online math tutor, you have to take the time initially to understand your student’s math level and learning style. So, on day 1 with your pupil, it’s not a bad idea to put him or her through an assessment test for the topic in question. If the student is struggling with a certain topic, always start with an easy to medium difficulty level test, lest you scare your pupil away. Then, pay close attention to the problem-solving approach of the kid. Make notes on the gaps you notice. Discuss your observations with the student and parent and see if your thoughts corroborate with theirs.
This process will definitely give them confidence that you’re on the right track in terms of gauging the student’s learning style and pace.
Exude an enthusiasm for math
Imagine entering a session feeling “algebra sucks” only to find a math tutor who looks dull and bored about it too. It not going to set the right mood for learning the topic. On the other hand, if the tutor exudes enthusiasm for the algebra tutoring session, the student will catch on the contagion in anticipation of an exciting lesson.
Parents look for zeal and passion for the subject while searching for a math tutor. This is in the hope that their struggling child might someday overcome the difficulties in learning and eventually share the same enthusiasm for the topic.
Enthusiasm may not be obvious in one sitting. If you think you have it, don’t hesitate to offer your client a couple of free trial sessions for them to test the waters before they take a plunge.
Patience and persistence
It’s a well-understood phenomenon that students tend to struggle in math because they fear it and vice versa. As a math tutor, you’ll need to break this vicious loop. You’ll need to make your student stop fearing the subject. The first step towards this is patience. If the student fails to solve a math problem, be patient and encourage a second shot. This time you could give them a clue.
Patience needs to be followed by persistence. Your goal as a math tutor is to ensure that the student can solve problems independently. Your goal isn’t met until the skill is successfully transferred to the student. You’ll need to patiently persist with your lesson, constantly taking feedback from your student on how much had been assimilated. If one method fails, you need to be resourceful enough to try another approach to get the message across. You must have the patience to persist until it is done.
A good math tutoring lesson takes preparation and planning. The topic, activities, examples, exercises, etc., need to flow in an order aimed at transferring specific skills to the pupil. Many a novice math tutor thinks he/she can wing it. It may work once or twice, but it’s a bad idea in the long run. Even celebrity tutors out there plan their lessons and make sure every minute counts. In fact, that is how they are this successful. High-level tutoring such as advanced calculus tutoring or algebra tutoring may need more time to prepare and formulate.
In the past, the student would’ve had to wait until the next time he/she was meeting the math tutor for the scheduled session during the week. Now, the expectation is instant help, or something close. Therefore, a huge factor in the online world, as opposed to private in-person math tutoring such as Kumon or Mathnasium, is availability.
Online math tutoring gives students the benefit of having access to help literally 24/7. So, if there’s a math test coming up in school the next day a quick session may be asked of you, off schedule. Likewise, there could be urgent homework to finish. Or a quick question to ask. Without compromising on your schedule, you’ll be expected to be available.
The other kind of availability is a more mental one. You’ll find parents enquiring, “how many students do you teach” or “how many sessions do you take in a day”. This is to get a sense of how busy or preoccupied you’re likely to be.
Our advice to all aspiring online math tutors is to take enough time to rejuvenate. Make sure you’re not mentally exhausted from tutoring too many. You should be able to give each of your students your full attention and enthusiasm.
You’ll need to be well-versed with the latest technology tools for online classes. The good news is that we have a detailed article on online teaching technology tools. Several online tutoring platforms are equipped with a good tutor toolkit that you can use, including our own, ViTutors.com.
Every parent is going to scrutinize your ability to own the problem and be accountable for the outcome. How eager are you to see their child succeed? Do you have it in you to take charge and to do what it takes to improve the child’s performance in math? As a math tutor, you will need to extend this assurance to parents and students that you hold yourself accountable for the student’s performance.
Now that we’ve gone through the qualifications, traits, and qualities you will need to become a math tutor, let’s go through some strategies that you can adopt in order to enhance your math tutoring game.
Teaching strategies for a math tutor
You may be nervous about your first math tutoring session. Often, novices walk into their first sessions saddled with complex lesson plans and worksheets that eat up their session time and do more harm than good to the pupil’s learning. We want to arm you with some clever teaching strategies that set you up for success in this field.
Choose a simple lesson plan at the beginning
Broadly speaking, every lesson plan has five parts, namely, objective, warm-up exercises, demonstration, practice, and assessment. Until you have a hang of math tutoring, it pays to keep this structure simple. Let’s suppose you’re planning for an online algebra tutoring or calculus tutoring session, choose a single topic as your objective.
Ideally, you should ask your pupil what he/she would like the first topic to be. Say, inequalities. Choose a single objective within inequalities like say, “linear inequalities involving addition and subtraction”. Plan for just a couple of warm-up questions. Use a single example for a demonstration of the topic. Give a couple of practice questions and a small test involving no more than 5 questions. The rule is to keep it simple on day 1.
Observe and modify
Your first session is to get a feel of the student’s skill level and learning style. Use this session to build a rapport and to find out things like the pupil’s hobbies. For example, if your pupil likes soccer, you can design examples and problems based on soccer. Once you have a grip on the student’s learning style, you can prepare your next lesson plan based on these inputs.
Let the pupil lead you initially
Ask your pupil straight up what the next topic should be. This is a smart way to make the pupil feel like he/she is in control of the lessons initially. It also helps you avoid guesswork on what your student needs. Most importantly, it helps you personalize the lessons. The whole idea of online math tutoring is to provide the child with individual attention and personalized lesson plans. Let this be the guiding principle until you’re in a position to present your own assessment of what the pupil should be focusing on.
We tend to get caught up in the day’s lesson plan or the day’s outcome. But, as a math tutor, it is important that you have a vision for your pupil. Let’s say a parent hires you for a 20-session calculus tutoring program for a high-schooler. Your pupil will want to see broad outcomes and a broad plan to achieve them, and not necessarily day-to-day lesson plans.
You could think along the lines of a minimum score in a certain test, or being able to solve a challenging assessment satisfactorily by the end of this calculus tutoring program. A vision of what can be achieved by the end of the program is a great enthusiasm booster for your client.
Use assessments regularly not just to ensure that your student had understood the concepts, but also to validate your own teaching ability. Testing is not separate from teaching. There are plenty of online teaching resources that will help you design tests for your pupils on any topic. Use them well. Make sure to share test results with the parents as well, because, ultimately, they are your real clients. It is often they who need to see the progress you are making with their wards more than the student himself or herself.
Effortful learning in math
Now this a U-turn from our initial point about keeping things simple. Math is learned through rigor. If you let your students struggle to find the solution for a challenging problem, the learning is stronger. It’s much like muscle building – you stress the muscle a little at a time to make it stronger. This may especially be the case in advanced topics such as calculus tutoring or advanced algebra tutoring. Your math tutoring becomes far more effective if your students are invested in a productive struggle while solving problems. In a nutshell, challenge them sufficiently and allow them to try out different solutions. Have them see setbacks and learn something new eventually.
Make sure your students repeat the foundational principles of a topic often. After a point, your students will be able to complete your sentences! But they will also have embedded the key points firmly in their brains.
If you have the option of conducting a joint session for a couple of your students, you should try partner work. Give them a complex problem and ask them to solve it as a team. The learning that the students get from this sort of exercise is immense. Hard math skills apart, they will also be learning the softer aspects like how to communicate a concept with your teammate, how to split work, how to play to one’s strengths, etc. If you can combine students, then try to work on the problems yourself along with your students.
Gaming is a great teaching tool, particularly for math tutoring. There are several online resources for teachers that provide game-like teaching tools free of cost or for a small fee. Even if you can’t use the games to teach a full concept, you can certainly incorporate learning games in your lesson plan as warm-up exercises. Games can do a good job of preparing the student’s mind for the lesson.
Questions you’ve always had about becoming a math tutor
What qualifications do I need to become a math tutor?
Math tutoring typically requires a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and completion of a teacher certification program. If you’re serious about a career in math tutoring, you can consider completing an advanced math program in popular areas like calculus, trigonometry, algebra, etc. A teacher training program or a teacher aide certification helps to give parents the confidence that you know the ropes of dealing with young people. You can consider joining a tutoring association for mentorship, industry connections, networking events, tutor conferences, etc.
Is a degree important?
All said and done, the online tutoring world has changed qualifications and pre-requisites permanently. Some of the biggest, most famous, and richest private tutors out there don’t have formal degrees. But they make brilliant educators. All you need is the intention to become an online math tutor, a basic high school degree, and an aptitude for teaching. Formal qualifications are a plus. Of course, if you want to teach specialized topics and become a calculus tutor or advanced algebra tutor, you will probably need at least a degree to carry out your job effectively, regardless of expectations.
No parent would hire a math calculus tutor who’s never studied the topic. That said, as explained above, the importance of a formal degree is diminishing in online math tutoring. Parents actually welcome self-taught tutors as long as they were good math students back in high-school. In general, a non-certified, unconventional math tutor will have a more relaxed, free-flowing approach to teaching.
Can I be a math tutor if my communication skills are weak?
Rapport plays a huge role in becoming a good math tutor. You need to communicate concepts effectively to the pupil using language and diction that he/she is familiar with. Your pool of suitable jobs does shrink considerably if your communication is weak. That said, it won’t dry up.
There are roles for those of you who are weak in soft skills as long as your technical math skills are up there. At the school level, there are jobs that involve helping with homework or school projects. You can also prepare study guides and test materials and sell them. At a more senior level, you will find research projects that require math experts. These roles do not require strong communication skills, just technical.
Can you teach math while still being a student?
It is very common to find students offering help with homework or test prep tutoring. Make sure you are managing your time well so that you don’t end up biting off more than you can chew. Math tutoring is a serious commitment, so the question isn’t whether you can tutor or not. It is whether you want to shell out time for tutoring.
How much can I earn in online math tutoring?
You get paid by the hour in online tutoring. What you make as an online math tutor will depend on several factors such as your experience, the complexity of math your students want, the charges of the platform you’ve signed upon. The average online math tutoring rates begin at $20 to $25 per hour and can go up to about $80 per hour.
Well-established math tutors with many years of experience and those servicing celebrity students make much more from this profession and are actually quite wealthy from a career in private tutoring.
So, if you play your cards right, you can set your goals quite high in this field. There is a surge in demand from all over the world, with much of it coming from Asian regions.
How to get students if I am new to a tutoring platform?
When you have newly joined an online platform, you have to focus all your efforts on getting your first client. You should try to get some practice within your circle of friends and family or community before you start. Online, you must pitch widely starting at beginner level hourly rates. Be ready to offer free trial sessions. Start with simple projects that are low-hanging fruit. Make sure you do your job well such that you get reviewed excellently.
We hope that this article helps you understand the ropes of a career in math tutoring. Whether you want to be an elementary school math tutor, algebra tutor, or calculus tutor, the demand is there and growing. In the past, the local tutor did not have a clear path to becoming a very successful business financially. Brands such as Mathnasium or Kumon took years to develop. With online tutoring, this has changed. The paths to grow and prosper are far too many. With worldwide demand in front of you, all you need is organizational and marketing skills in addition to your subject knowledge.
Online math tutoring is no doubt a lucrative field but also very demanding on your time and energy. So, be sure you know what you are getting into. Starting part-time and testing the waters is a good strategy before you go full-time. Good luck!