Swot City: 10 types of teachers you meet in a Hong Kong tuition center

An enormous billboard for celebrity tutors in Kowloon. Photo: Ohconfucius via Wikimedia Commons
An enormous billboard for celebrity tutors in Kowloon. Photo: Ohconfucius via Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong is awash with tuition centers, from small offices filled with suspiciously shipped-in foreigners to giant mega-warehouses with tutors who adorn outdoor billboards. There is no arguing that as education in the region becomes more intense this industry is booming. Here is the lowdown on those you might find lurking within:

1. The prepper

“Sorry, I’m just planning my November 2019 unit, I’m sure you’ve already done that though.”

So you need to use the photocopier? Tough. This person has a game plan and they’re going to follow it. Hell, they’ve planned for all thirty of their students until next July. They’ll have their lives organized by spreadsheets and every detail meticulously organized by folder. The prepper puts almost everyone else to shame, but it’s just a pity most centers don’t really notice. Naturally, preppers use more office stationery than most others.


2. The “I’m only doing this for a year” guy

“Oh yeah, this is just temporary until I can start networking” (Cue nervous laugh.)

This person has ambition. They came to Hong Kong to learn Cantonese, to rise in the ranks and become a pillar of sweet, low-tax society. To them, working in tuition is a stop-gap, something that lets them gain a visa and start networking. However, a lot of things can happen over the course of a school year and you might see the gleam of determination leave their eyes as they start to actually enjoy the relative ease and comfort of tutoring.

(Side note: These people are prime candidates to become lifers later.)


3. The traveler

“Did I ever tell you about this time I got wasted in Bali?”

Students, be wary of this species of “I’m only doing this for a year guy” guy. Yes, they might have a CELTA certificate they bought on Khaosan Road (by the way, have they told you about the time they were on Khaosan Road?), but most bosses tend to be wary of the traveler. Despite being honest and friendly, they’re clearly doing this because they want a visa to help them fill their Instagram feed with skyscrapers, dim sum steamers, and the Dragon’s Back hike.


4. The home office guy 

“Sorry, I don’t have a printer at home… it’ll be done it about 50 pages.”

printer, photocopier, stock photo, paperwork, office
Photo: stock

Keep going to the printer to find boarding passes, gig tickets, and what looks like the first draft of a novel using up all the paper? It’s home office guy. He clearly doesn’t have access to high-speed internet or a printer at home so he’s going to rinse the office for all it’s worth. That’s not to say he’s not doing his job of course, just a little extra on the side.


5. The mega-tutor

“I guarantee every one of you (*cough*) will get a 5**… once you pay for classes upfront.”

Celebrity tutor Patrick Chan from Modern Education (現代教育) supervising his students as they take a mock Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exam. Photo: 現代教育 via Facebook

Ah, the mega-tutor, a.k.a. the gods of the industry. These people don’t work in centers, they are centers. They cater almost exclusively to the insanely competitive HKDSE crowd desperate enough to throw money at them to speak through a microphone about verbs like a grammar-obsessed megachurch pastor. Want to ask questions or get some individual attention? Tough luck. These guys need to get back to their penthouses or meet with their PR team about another bus advert.


6. The babysitter

“Who wants to play a game? The winner can have all this chocolate, yaaaaay.

Can this person teach? We honestly don’t know, but the kids seem to love them. This person has no end to the games and jokes that they produce seemingly from thin air, and probably does that classic substitute teacher thing where they seamlessly (*cough*) cover up their lack of a lesson plan by plonking on some “educational videos”. These people go together well with the students that show up for no apparent reason, except for the fact that their parents are busy.


7. True believer

“Are you talking about the 2011 paper or the 2016 one? And for which Canadian syllabus?”

Photo (for illustration): Joe Hart via Flickr

This person has a mission: to education every last one of you even if it kills them. Often also a prepper, this person will go out of their way to ensure their students are crammed with knowledge. They believe in their job and that the tuition industry is an important resource for many students struggling. As such, this person is a valuable resource for the rest of the office. They will answer all your questions about curriculums (or is that curricula?) and grade boundaries without breaking a sweat and have an almost uncanny knowledge of every school in Hong Kong.


8. The professor

“Oh, so you’re doing Animal Farm? Tell me, what do you know about classical Marxism?”

This person will fill your head with knowledge. Is it relevant or age appropriate knowledge? Eh, possibly not, but it’ll be interesting. More often than not, the professor will end up talking about the rise of the Roman Empire with a seven-year-old who’s supposed to be doing a reading comprehension exercise.


9. The boomerang

“I mean I’m totally just back for a little bit, but once I really start networking…” (Cue very nervous laugh.)

Thought it was that easy to leave, eh? This person (often an ex-“I’m only doing this for a year guy”) moved on, sold out, and went corporate. They wore a suit, they got up at 7am and then they realized they didn’t like it at all. Life is hard out there in the real world. They miss their afternoon starts and lack of accountability and sooner or later come crawling back. Maybe they’ll give it another shot in a few years, but until then they’ve got some teaching to be getting on with.


10. The lifer

“Back in ‘86… or was it ’87?”

This guy probably started out as an “I’m only doing this for a year” guy sometime in the ‘80s, perhaps on some sort of gap year, and somehow settled into the life. You can tell lifers by the fact that they’re considered integral to a center, but no one knows exactly how long they’ve been there. Lifers are the heart and soul of a center, they are indispensable as their reliability and low chance of leaving means they can foster long and meaningful relationships with students which makes for a better learning outcome.


At the end of the day, however, no matter who you get as a teacher, all of them do genuinely care (yes, even the traveler) about helping. Yes, we complain about working on Saturdays and busy holiday times but we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t like it. The one thing that we would ask is please, please ensure that your kids have some free time to play – we know the education system in this city is like a meat grinder but honestly, if you spend every waking second in education, you’re not going to learn very much.

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