With salaries rising to 180,000, teaching the offspring of the mega-wealthy can be lucrative. But there are downsides to working with students who think money can solve any problem or try to attack you with antique revolvers
Early one summer morning some years ago, Nathaniel Hannan was confronted by one of his students brandishing an antique Colt six-shooter. The private tutor had been hired by the young boy’s super-wealthy New York parents to ensure that his academic performance befitted the family’s elite social circle. Fortunately the tutor, who had been preparing a Latin lesson at one of the family’s homes, owned a revolver similar to the one now pointed at him and noticed that it was not fully cocked, meaning the gun could not be fired immediately.
“He seemed to be under the delusion that he was a gang member taking revenge upon me for a drug deal gone bad,” Hannan says of the boy, who he says had mental health problems. “I managed to handle the situation with a minimum of physical violence. I grabbed the barrel towards the ceiling and disarmed him.”
The tutor recognised the weapon, famously used by the US cavalry in the old west, as part of a collection on display in the family home. When Hannan explained what had happened to the boy’s father, the man “sort of shrugged and asked if I wanted combat pay”. “There were no penalties to the son,” Hannan recalls. “The father did, however, stop keeping the gun on display and I took the bullets out and kept them.” Some weeks later, Hannan had to disarm the boy again after he held a knife to the tutor’s throat. But the tutor stresses that this was the only one of his five long-term posts with super-rich families over the past 10 years where he had to deal with such extreme behaviour.
His experience is untypical for the British tuition industry which, according to the Tutors’ Association, is worth around £2bn a year. The majority of families who hire tutors in Britain are middle-class parents, with students often receiving additional lessons in the evening or at the weekend to help with schoolwork or grammar school entrance exams. But a handful of firms in London and the home counties also provide tutors for the super-rich, who account for about 10-25% of their clients and can pay between £50,000 and £70,000, or more, a year. One, Tutors International, says almost all its clients are high or ultra-high net-worth families.
Hannan, who works for the Oxford-based company, may have encountered only one gun-toting pupil, but the Tutors International founder Adam Caller says his staff have had to deal with incidents of self-harm, child abandonment and threats of violence. He once arranged to surreptitiously remove another tutor from her placement in the western US after a boy pulled a knife on her. “The father didn’t think it was a problem but she was scared for her life. We had to sneak her out of the house when the father was at the bakery, which he went to every morning. The police waited at the entrance to the property and escorted her to a plane.”
Caller believes that such incidents reflect the increasingly complex and exhausting demands tutors face while living with uber-wealthy families. In the past four months, these pressures have pushed the company’s top salaries to about $250,000 (£180,000) a year. “By far the greatest rise in the highly paid jobs is coming from Asia,” he says. “We’ll be earning more than $1m in revenue from four tutors in Hong Kong this year.”
In the past, the toughest roles might involve tutoring a child in up to 15 GCSEs, but now tutors are routinely required to be fluent and teach in two or three languages, from French to Russian and Mandarin Chinese, and to create a lesson programme suited to school curriculums in different countries. Some of the best-paid roles also involve addressing learning difficulties, mental health problems and other special needs: Hannan once worked with a young heir who had suffered a brain injury in a motorcycle accident. Others require additional work: the company has a job advertised in Florida, where the tutor will need to act as a personal assistant and project manager for the family, overseeing the rebuilding of their main residence, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Irma.
However, the mere fact that the family has such wealth and privilege can be the root of their children’s problems, says Caller. Some of these families “don’t work very well because they’re so rich”, he explains. For example, they never have to be on time for a flight, because they own a private jet. “The children grow up without any consequences for their lack of responsibility,” he says. Some of them also feel that “if they put effort into something, they won’t do any better than if they didn’t. They’ve got nothing to work for.”
One role currently advertised involves working with a 12-year-old Japanese boy, whose relationship with his parents is described as “toxic”. The advert states: “He frequently ferments [sic] trouble between himself and his schools. His access to the family wealth has led to his ability effectively to ‘buy’ friends, and … it is unclear whether he has any real friends at all. Over the years, the student has come to rely on his father’s money to solve all sorts of problems.”
The job, which has a minimum salary of $225,000 (£162,000), or $300,000 (£216,000) for a couple, may require moving with the boy to the US and being on call at all times: “The successful candidate will have to work as a tutor, mentor, guide and friend, and in some ways a surrogate parent.”