Tutoring companies are kind of like drug dealers

I’m definitely one for hyperbole, so take that with a grain of salt while I explain what I mean.

All I’m saying is that tutors and drug dealers have vaguely similar business models, in the sense that like drug dealers, the best thing to do with tutoring companies is to steer clear and never get hooked in the first place. (btw, no insensitivity meant, all I know about this topic is what I learned from the movie Trainspotting.)

Start with the less obvious economic similarity: Like drug dealers, tutoring companies and centers make all their money off repeat customers. If you’re a tutoring company, only so many leads come in the door. Whether you’re getting most of your potential customers from advertising, from PR, or from referrals (having a few local school counselors in your hip pocket is the most common referral source I’ve seen), leads are a finite resource, so you’ve got to get the most money out of every student you get your hands on.

And since you can only charge so much for an hour of tutoring, they key is volume: more hours per week, more classes per student.

The “more classes per student” part takes us to the second way that the tutoring business is similar to drug dealing: Once you start, it’s very hard to stop.

Not only is tutoring expensive, but even if you have more money than you know what to do with, it often leads to a student being less independent and feeling like he or she “needs” tutoring. That’s not true for all students, but many do tend to start relying on tutoring as a crutch, when it’s likely they could have gotten through a short-term rough patch on their own.

And make no mistake: like drugs, tutoring is addictive. Once a student has gotten a bit of tutoring in Algebra (and as a parent, once you’ve tasted the sweet nectar of not having to worry about your kid’s Algebra homework for a few days), it sure is tempting to add a science session or two because hey, there’s a big test coming up.  Then you have to do a few extra sessions before midterms and finals. Then Spanish isn’t looking as doable as it was before.  Pretty soon you’ve got yourself a lot of tutoring going on, in every class your kid is in besides PE!

Like drugs, every once in a while you’ll be tempted to kick tutoring.  But if you’ve seen Trainspotting, you probably know kicking is hard to do.

Why is tutoring so dang hard to kick?

Because your kid has no interest in kicking! I mean think about it from her perspective: she’s getting someone she actually likes (no offense, dad) to help with math or science homework every week. And it doesn’t just save her time; it’s way more fun to do homework with a friend.  For the kid it’s a win-win-win.  It’s not their money!

Let’s just say you do summon the willpower to actually cancel an appointment or two on your kid “to see how it goes for a while” without tutoring.  How are you going to know if your little experiment is going okay?  Do you think your kid is going to be objective and forthcoming about the pros and cons of her week without tutoring?  Or is she going to maybe play up how hard this chapter of math is (“way harder than anything else we’ve done this year!”), trying to convince you that “everyone” in her class has a tutor and only Stephen Hawking could get by without one?

I thought so.  I’ve tutored a lot of kids over the years, and every one of them was convinced that they had the hardest teacher in the world.

Once you inevitably throw in the towel on your little no-tutoring experiment and agree to go back to tutoring, you’ll of course need an “extra session or two” for your sweet child to “catch up” to everything she’s missed out on during the dry week or two (the longer you made it, the worse this will be).  And she’ll find that she “needs” those twice-a-week sessions (when before just once a week was good).

And now you, my friend, are exactly where the tutoring company wants you!

So in addition to all the math, chem, and Spanish tutoring you’re already getting, you might as well throw in a little bit of early SAT prep, and history, and PE…