12 October 2023

Illawarra science teacher's switch to tutoring scores national recognition for her small business

| Keeli Royle
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Teagan Hines-Waterman from Focus Tutoring.

Teagan Hines-Waterman stepped out of the school system to create her own classroom. Photos: Keeli Royle.

An Illawarra science teacher who decided to make the switch to private tutoring has won a national award for her small business’s success, and her passion and enthusiasm for education are attracting students from right across the region.

Teagan Hines-Waterman had already climbed the career ladder in the public education system, working as a headteacher in Sydney and getting a position at one of the most sought-after schools in the Illawarra. But despite her expertise, Teagan decided she wanted to find a way to step back and gain a better work-life balance.

“So I decided to start a tutoring business in lieu of working full time as a teacher and eventually made the transition to dropping school teaching completely and this is now my full-time job,” she said.

She set up a classroom in her Cordeaux Heights garage, fitted with painted walls, blue carpet, large desks, a whiteboard, and a teacher table with a computer, and word slowly started to spread.

READ ALSO Teachers, school and a dad recognised for excellence in public education system

Now in her sixth year, Teagan has had to add on extra chemistry classes to meet demand.

“I only had a very small handful of students to start with because I just started advertising and the phone calls started slowly dripping in, so I only had two or three kids in a class,” Teagan said. “I’m now full across most of my classes with about seven kids, I see about 40 kids a week.”

The students and their families are seeing the value, and some are travelling from as far as Nowra and Bulli to attend.

“A lot of them drive themselves here, they opt to come here, they choose to come here and I feel for teenagers to choose to do an additional two hours of work in the afternoon is a pretty big commendation for me.

“And some parents are now sending their second and third child to see me so I’m seeing whole family groups as well, which tells me I’m doing the right thing.”

Australian Women's Small Business Champion Awards Focus Tutoring trophy and certificate.

Focus Tutoring topped its category at the Australian Women’s Small Business Champion Awards.

As the HSC gets underway, private after-school education sessions like those that Teagan offers have helped some kids feel more confident heading into exams and given them the attention they might not receive in their everyday classroom.

“At the moment a lot of teachers are leaving the profession for a wide variety of reasons so a lot of parents are choosing to outsource that education to tutors,” Teagan said.

“I like to provide that quality service that sometimes they just don’t get at school for a whole lot of reasons, sometimes not the fault of the teachers or the school it just doesn’t happen, so tutoring is sometimes the way that kids get early entry, that university offer and that ATAR that they need.”

This year, Teagan’s professional goal was to get her business name out there, so she decided to nominate Focus Tutoring for the Australian Women’s Small Business Champion Awards and ended up taking out the top honour in the tutoring category out of businesses right across the country.

“I was completely flawed I got to the finals because apparently across the 30-odd categories they had 2000 businesses apply,” she said.

“Putting that number there, I was like ‘Oh whatever I’ll put my hat in the ring’, and ended up winning.”

“I was stunned, absolutely stunned.”

READ ALSO High school students given a leg up into early childhood education

Teagan said she thinks it’s her niche approach to only teaching senior Chemistry, Biology and Physics that helps her stand out, both in the eyes of the judges and the community.

“I think it’s the fact that I just do one little subject area and I do it really well as opposed to trying to do absolutely everything,” she said.

“I’m the one that does all the teaching, the lesson planning, I just do years 11 and 12 and I just do the sciences. I think because I am in this little specialised area, it gives people a little bit more faith in putting their kids in those classes because they’re like ‘She only does one thing, it must be done properly’.”

And continuing that dedication and personalised approach is something that Teagan hoped the business would sustain for a long time in the future.

“I just want to keep seeing kids come through my door,” she said. “I love seeing whole family groups and just want to keep it full and going.”

To find out more, visit the Focus Tutoring website.

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