Career Confidential: The NYC Tutor Who Helps Rich Kids Avoid Bs

I’ve tutored private-school kids in New York City for over five years. I charge $150 to $175 an hour. I tutor elementary-age kids in reading; with older kids, I’m usually just helping them with their homework — helping them write papers, prepping for tests, stuff like that.

The cheapest tutors in New York generally charge around $75 an hour — that’s for kids in public school who are preparing for state tests. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve heard that some reading specialists charge $250 to $300 an hour, and SAT prep for private-school kids can go up to $1,000 an hour. Teachers can’t tutor kids from their own school, but they’ll get a call from a parent at a school down the street whose kid is preparing for the same math test they’re teaching, and they’ll charge anywhere from $80 to $130 an hour for that. Some public-school parents just like to have someone their kids can work with — and I think they’re the smartest parents, because they’re saving private school tuition money but they basically have a teacher waiting in the wings who they can throw $100 a week at.

I have the B and C students at these really high-pressure high schools and middle schools. These are not struggling students! If I brought my remediation materials for them they’d be insulted. None of them NEED this kind of help. Kids with real problems are in special schools. These kids are just in schools where the schools aren’t working for them. If they need a tutor, they shouldn’t be at that school. The parents think the kids are struggling if they’re getting B’s. I don’t think they’re struggling — they’re just B students.

It’s weird to even call this tutoring. You’re managing workflow. It’s what other parents call helping their kids with homework.

The worst is the parents who yell at their kids in front of me. They’ll come in and out and be like, “How’s it going?” Then if the kid doesn’t respond, they’ll yell, “Are you listening? Are you focusing? Do you want to fail the test?” But all the moms are very worried about their kids doing well. Sometimes you’ll get a last-minute call because someone freaked out that there’s a test Monday, and they need a tutor for the weekend. If there’s a big paper due they’ll call the tutor for extra sessions. It was weird how much the parents knew when their kids’ exams were. They’d ask the kids what their teacher said about specific assignments.

Now I get my clients through word of mouth, but I originally got them through a psychologist who I met through a friend. She does evaluations of kids when the parents or teachers think something’s wrong, and then gives them a list of tutors.

When you help a kid, the parents get this idea that you’re amazing, and they tell their friends. But when you say you’re not available, that just makes these parents want you more. There was one mother who called me — her daughter was maybe 11. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. She asked if I could do it if they paid me a little more — my weekend rate. I said no, I was really busy and I live downtown, and she lived uptown. She said, we’ll send a car for you. Then she offered me even more money. I didn’t take the job.

Most of the dads are in finance, and none of these moms work. They’re mostly home in the afternoon, and there’s also a housekeeper and/or babysitter. They all live in fancy buildings — their living rooms are the size of three apartments. The views always struck me — you’d walk in, and there was instantly somehow an amazing view of the city. It’s assumed you have a country house in the Hamptons or Bedford (NY). The kids would always leave stuff at the beach house. They’re just matter-of-fact about it — they’ll be talking about a friend and say, “Oh, his country house is near my country house.”

They ship their bags when they go skiing in Vail, so the week before they’d be packing. They knew all their friends would be there from school. It’s disgusting. They have so much extra. Everything’s easy in their lives. One of my kids asked me if I wanted to see a picture of her horse — it was the wallpaper on her computer. You can’t hate on these kids — she wasn’t saying it to brag. She said it in the same way a normal kid would ask if you wanted to see her favorite doll. But they have whatever they need, and much more.

Some tutors like being associated with these people’s worlds, but that’s why I can’t do that tutoring anymore. It’s unrewarding. I’d rather tutor kids who are really struggling.

You are partially the help. You’re not regarded as a professional, because you’re going to their house. That puts you in the realm of masseuse or trainer. But they don’t know how to gauge if you’re good or not. They’re just grateful you’re there.

The kids are so stressed. They know the parents get pissed if they don’t do well. The parents were really hard on their kids. But the kids want to do well. They’re not like, oh god, the tutor’s here. There’s a whole industry to keep these kids in these schools. It really gives tutoring a bad name.

As told to Doree Shafrir.

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