update: my part-time job wants me to work more days — am I being unreasonable in saying no?

Remember the letter-writer last year whose part-time job kept pressuring her to work more hours? Here’s the update.

I have an update for you!

The job ended up being very sketchy. As some commenters guessed, it was a indeed a chain of tutoring centers. The commenters made me realize just how bad of a workplace that was, and just how unhappy I was. I’m very glad I wrote to you.

Here’s what happened next.

I kept struggling at the admin job. I tried to improve but I kept messing up. We eventually had a desperate need for an English tutor, so I asked if I could retrain as a tutor. My boss said yes. I think at that point she could see that I was not a good fit.

I was a fantastic tutor, though. The kids loved me and families were calling begging for spots with me. I really really enjoyed tutoring.

However, the company still had very bad practices. They lied to families of special needs children (ADHD, mostly) that tutors have training in those issues when we don’t. They placed fourth graders in classes with high school seniors and expected it to work. They also cut tutors hours at the last minute frequently.

I began job hunting again, and when I got a new job, I left with two weeks’ notice. My boss got very angry when I left and told me I was “making a dangerous mistake” and “burning all my bridges” and I was “ungrateful.” She said “haven’t we always been good to you? What’s wrong with you?” and I almost laughed.

Now I am a medical writer. It is a MUCH better workplace and I am way happier. I find it a little isolating to write all day and I miss working with kids. But I like my current job a lot and I’m growing so much as a writer. Now my skills are: tutoring, HIV testing, sexual violence counseling, medical writing, and being an admin.

In the future, I would love a job that blends writing, mentorship, and working for a cause I care about. But I feel lucky and happy to be where I am now.

{ 66 comments… read them below }

    1. Karowen*

      I once turned in my notice as a waitress to take a part-time job in my field. The boss said, and I quote, “You’ll never work here again.” I really wish I had had the presence of mind to thank him for his vote of confidence and assumption that I’d be great at my new job.

    2. Crazy Dog Lady*

      I feel like I’ve heard “ungrateful” when it comes to horrible work environments. I had a boss who would tell everyone resigning that they were ungrateful and destroying their lives, even though the company was in a horrible state (they continue to have salary cuts and layoffs, while competitors seem to excel). It’s ridiculous and hilarious at the same time!

      1. AllisonAllisonAllisonetc*

        Sounds like a guy I went on one date with after I told him there’d never be a second….

    3. L McD*

      I’m sure there are counter examples, in a world of infinite possibilities, but every time I’ve encountered someone being accused of “ungratefulness” they’re in an incredibly toxic situation.

  1. Willow*

    That’s awesome, congrats on your new job ! I don’t know if you have the time in your schedule, but you might want to look into volunteer tutoring at your local library. It’s very fulfilling to help kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a tutor, and it sounds like you really enjoy tutoring.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      Yes, this! Also, you might want to look into if your company has any “adopt-a-school” or programs where staff mentors local students. Otherwise, I’ve found VolunteerMatch a great way to find local volunteer opportunities.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      I work with a few organizations that desperately need mentors and tutors (Higher Achievement, Horton’s Kids, College Bound, and Everybody Wins; all in the DC area. Anyone got a couple of hours a week?). There is NO lack of ways to tutor or to work with kids. A quick Googling will very likely turn up an avalanche of tutoring opportunities. No, you might not get paid for it, but you can’t have everything.

      1. Stitch*

        I could totally research this myself, but I find results can be difficult to sort through when I try to get into specifics. (The avalanche can have its pros and cons.)

        You mention DC area – do you know any programs that operate in the western suburbs? I’m out at the end of the silver line, so it’s a PITA to get to central DC, but I’d love to volunteer out here. My ideal would be a program like Circesteem (when I was in Chicago – they combined academic tutoring with circus play for at-risk youth), but I already contacted Zip Zap Circus and they don’t have a consistent program around here. Now, I know my hopes are pretty high looking for a social circus program, but do you know of any similarish things around here? I’d love helping kids out with both academics and the arts, but really I just want anything that’s close by.

    3. Rob Lowe can't read*

      We had a program called Read to a Child at my old school (I think it exists in my current district as well, just not at the school I work at) where professionals come in once or twice a week and eat lunch and read books with students. It’s awesome and the kids love it.

  2. MashaKasha*

    “However, the company still had very bad practices. They lied to families of special needs children (ADHD, mostly) that tutors have training in those issues when we don’t. They placed fourth graders in classes with high school seniors and expected it to work.”

    This is interesting. One of my kids worked at a tutoring center as a high school senior! There wasn’t much training involved that I know of; ADHD-related or otherwise. The students didn’t get much face time with their tutors either; the tutors were mostly grading papers. Although some of the students came to my son with questions and he was able to help them out. One thing he told me was that these centers rely heavily on repeat business/permanent customers. If they help a child get to a level where he or she is comfortable with the subject, to the point where this child doesn’t need any more tutoring, they just lost a paying customer. (Or so I heard from a jaded teenager!) I suspect that is where a lot of their bad practices might be coming from. I’d imagine that, depending on who’s running a location, some centers would have more ethical practices than the others. It sounds like OP’s boss, who was running OP’s center, was pretty unhinged (“making a dangerous mistake”? That makes no sense! Dangerous how?), so there you go, bad practices.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      If they help a child get to a level where he or she is comfortable with the subject, to the point where this child doesn’t need any more tutoring, they just lost a paying customer.

      Whaaaa? That’s incredibly weird. They’re going to lose customers anyway, because KIDS GROW UP.

      1. blackcat*

        Well, when I’ve tutored, I’ve found that some parents find it very odd that I begin by saying that it’s my goal that tutoring be temporary–my focus will be on teaching students how to learn a subject so that they can do so independently in the future.

        I have found that this is an EXCELLENT way to weed out super helicopter parents who want a tutor who basically does the kids homework for them (which is, actually, what quite a few parents want*). The idea that the goal of education is fostering intellectual curiosity, developing metacognitive skills, and learning what works best for you as an individual is not shared by all people. Some people just want their kid to go to Harvard.

        *I am a highly qualified tutor in a difficult STEM field, and I do actually have extensive special ed training. I charged $$$$ because if you wanted someone highly qualified to teach math, chemistry and/or physics to your child with dyslexia, I appeared to be the only game in town (in a major metro area). I think this type of parent is perhaps more common among those who are willing to pay $$$$. What’s fascinating is that people will pay so much for my tutoring even if they have a run of the mill kid with a bad teacher. Hiring me to teach Sally when her entire problem is that her math teacher doesn’t like girls seems like overkill. But if I liked Sally, I’d take the money and spend half our time talking about why her teacher was an ass for treating girls that way (which I viewed as working to solve the problem I had been hired to fix).

        1. AnonInSC*

          I just want to say that boosting the girl’s confidence and teaching her the problem was the teacher an NOT her totally counts as tutoring in my book. If it helped her learn what she needed academically to make it to the next step and kept her interested (or at least not leaving the field b/c of a sexist teacher – they could leave it for other reasons), it worked. I’m sure I’d feel that way as a parent, too.

          1. blackcat*

            Oh, yeah, I do realize that part of what some parents of girls paid for was the fact that I was a skilled woman in STEM, particularly at the AP level (AP calc, physics, and chem tutors are more likely to be male).

            But if I were them, I’d hire a confident female undergrad who’d charge $50 or so per hour rather than a specialist who chargers $100+/hr. For cases where I knew they really didn’t need me, I’d recommend that (offering names/contact info). Most would still prefer to hire me, though. Perhaps my willingness to say “Look, here’s what your child needs. You can get it for less.” made them think I was a more trustworthy tutor. I don’t know.

            1. JessaB*

              Yes. This is a big thing. People respect professionals who tell them that “no, you don’t need my services right now,” or “we don’t have that but you can get it here.” They’re also very likely to recommend people like that to their friends. Because truthfully real honest professionals don’t just take every single job because they can, they want to do right by their customers, and it does bring in a lot of business. Particularly in fields that rely on word of mouth or prior customer feedback.

    2. Chriama*

      The biggest struggle I have with tutoring older kids (grade 9 +)is that they just want to know how to do the homework questions. They don’t care that they don’t understand the fundamentals and their parents don’t want you going back to teach long division when they’re failing a test on quadratic equations. My favourite is actually elementary school because the classes move slower and there’s more time to play catch-up. Also, I find that if the kid is in elementary school and the parents are willing to spend a few hundred bucks a month on a tutor it’s indicative of their home life. I can assign homework and they’ll usually get it done, or give weekly activities that they do outside of our sessions. Also adult students who are paying for the tutoring themselves are pretty good at actually trying to understand the basic concepts. Basically the worst subset of students as generalization are high school kids whose parents are paying for it.

      1. OhNo*

        That actually makes a lot of sense. So much of high school is just doing what you have to do to get into college, that actual learning seems to fall by the wayside a lot of the time. Same thing happens with writing, in my opinion: rather than learning to write well consistently, high school students just want to learn how to write a good application essay so they can get into college.

      2. Shell*

        Ha, I did very well in high school math because I did my homework and got a feel for the questions and how to plug in an answer. Same with physics. But damn, I don’t understand the actual theory at all. Four years after high school, I was given a surprise question during an interview about electrochemistry (which I hadn’t touched since high school chem) and I still reasoned out the correct answer because I understood (high school and early undergrad) chemistry. I betcha I can still answer a lot of high school and first year undergrad chem questions. But trignometry, calculus, etc? Nope, nope, nope.

      3. Honeybee*

        Yes. Ironically, that’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with high schoolers (and college kids) – I like banging my head against the wall of trying to teach them that there’s more to life and learning than just trying to get into college/grad school/a job.

      4. theblackdog*

        I did tutoring in college and I discovered that another really good group to tutor were the “non-traditional” students (e.g. laid-off and going back to earn a degree). I figured out that many of them had real-world experience and I was able to use it to help explain the math concepts that they thought they had not learned or hadn’t actually touched since high school. They more often valued what they were learning because they didn’t have the attitude that they were just here long enough to finish the classes and graduate. I found it was more fun to tutor them because they were willing to try to work it out for themselves rather than just ask me for the answer.

        The other thing I found was many of them discovered they were capable of doing college-level math, but they had basically been told during high school “Why bother? You’re just going to go work at the mines anyway once you’re done here.” It was kind of heartbreaking to realize they ended up burying a lot of potential for years. At least now they could tap into it and push to do something greater.

    3. Brisvegan*

      I’ve seen what I suspect was slightly dodgy behaviour to drum up tutoring business. We were looking at tutoring for one of my kids at one stage. They needed help with one area that I also could not help in, but the kid tested way above their age group in literacy, numeracy and reading comprehension on national testing. They were intelligent, an avid reader with an excellent vocabulary. Teachers commented that the kid was a good reader.

      The kid was given a test to do, but not told to ask for the second page/ question or that it was a timed test. (The tutoring company also didn’t tell us that this was what had happened.) They supplied the second question after my kid carefully worked through the first. Kid was stopped from completing the test. They then told us that our kid was reading at a primary school level (while in high school), because kid was ‘unable to complete’ their test. Their report recommended substantial tutoring in English and reading skills (and mostly ignored the area child was asking for assistance in).

      When we said that we weren’t going ahead with the tutoring plan, they were quite pushy by email and phone for a while, too.

  3. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    Ugh, sorry they were so crappy. I am a tutor, but my company works with kids one-on-one in student’s homes. I’ve heard horror stories of centers, but just so you know if you have an itch to tutor, not all tutoring companies are like that.

    1. Blue_eyes*

      This. I have been an in-home tutor and home school teacher through an awesome agency. If you have any free time, tutoring can be a great way to make a little extra money and it sounds like you enjoy it too. I just started a full time job but I still tutor a bit on the weekends for some of my favorite clients.

  4. NGL*

    “They placed fourth graders in classes with high school seniors and expected it to work. ”

    So either you worked at the same center I attended in high school, or that practice is pretty widespread :-/ (I was a HS junior struggling in math – I was seated with 4th graders who were math geniuses and doing stuff ahead of their grade. Since we were using the same worksheets, we were placed together. I begged my parents to let me quit after a month because it was mortifying)

    1. lowercase holly*

      not to mention that “tutoring” inherently sounds like it is one-on-one, not more group classes…like the kind students have trouble with already..

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Small-group tutoring can be effective if the kids are at similar levels, both academically and in terms of maturity level. But in this case they weren’t.

    2. Michelenyc*

      I struggled with math from grade school all through college. I will never forget my 4th grade math teacher that I should be in retard math. His exact words. I went home, told my parents, and back to Catholic school for me where I had awesome tutors.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        That teacher is a stain on the entire profession. I’m sorry he was so terrible.

  5. College Career Counselor*

    Congratulations on the new job, OP! BTW, that future writing/mentorship/working for a cause job you mention could include working with organizations such as Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, Inroads, or the Posse Foundation.

    1. Honeybee*

      I have volunteered for two of those organizations (SEO and Posse). Both excellent, both very well organized, both really care about the students.

  6. CADMonkey007*

    What’s a person to do with a boss who reacts this way to people leaving for a new job? In this instance, it sounds like OP didn’t care either way about a ‘burned bridge,’ but what if a good reference was really important? Is there any way to smooth over a reaction like that?

    1. Mike C.*

      The only thing you can really do is have enough other references that are good so that the crazy boss actually looks crazy rather than being a “huh, the truth must be in the middle” situation.

    2. Winston*

      It sounds like this boss it’s never going to be a good reference for any past employee. OP should just be grateful that the boss made this clear.

    3. Chriama*

      It kind of depends. Some blowhards like it when you placate them, but if they ask for too much (e.g. 6 weeks notice) then they’ll still get ticked off if you have to gently refuse. Some people are just power-tripping and will hate you forever. I would try to have some objective records of your time there (e.g. written performance reviews from before you tried to quit) as well as other references from coworkers or other supervisors you may have worked with. If there’s an HR you can speak to them about fear of retaliation and see if they’ll counsel the boss. But basically, if you can objectively say “unfortunately my boss didn’t take it well when I left” but you have a bunch of written performance reviews and several coworkers and other supervisors will to serve as backup references then it’s less of a concern.

      Bottom line is if you think your boss might be crazy vindictive then try to cultivate relationships with other people while you work there so that you have alternative references when you leave.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      You hope to god you’re still working for crazy boss and can say no to contacting current employer on your applications.

  7. Aglaia761*

    OP you might want to look into grant writing for a non profit. It’s a great way to give back while using your writing skills.

    1. Dang*

      I’ve wanted to do this for years but never found a way to break into the field. Do you have any ideas?

      1. Development Professional*

        Look for a very small non-profit (1-2 full time employees) in your area doing work that you care about and are ideally at least somewhat familiar with. Try connecting with the staff or one of the board members to see if they are interested in this type of volunteer. Also, do some reading and learning about the grant-writing process in advance on a site like Foundation Center so you can speak knowledgeably about what’s involved.

        Keep in mind that the writing part of grant-writing is only half the battle (and sometimes even less). It’s also a lot about researching which foundations would be interested in supporting you, understanding what their application process is, and managing all of the many deadlines and paperwork that comes with that. It’s unlikely that anyone will need you only for the writing part, but rather to responsibly take on a full process, maybe just for one foundation that they want to apply to, not all of them or something like that. Sort of like if you went to a soup kitchen and said, “I only want to cook, not do any chopping, serving, or cleaning.” Maayybe if you’re a gourmet chef, but otherwise, they need help with the whole meal!

    2. NatalieGee*

      Local arts groups (especially small ones) are usually always in need of a grant writer! If OP likes children, maybe look into community arts groups geared towards children.

      I volunteer on the board of a local community theatre and we’re really fortunate to have two members that write grants as part of their day job. That extra money really helps when you have a show with 30 kids that ALL need costumes.

  8. Mike C.*

    “making a dangerous mistake”

    Who in the hell says something like that?! That’s absolutely crazy.

    Congrats on the new job. I just wanted to point out that if you really enjoy working with kids and doing tutoring, there’s nothing stopping you from working on your own (hell, you have clients that you can use as references!) or maybe volunteer your time at a school or library.

    1. LQ*

      I assume someone who thinks it is going to suddenly turn into a dramatic sound effects filled movie any moment.

      (Also I have to ++the library volunteering very much. I know someone mentioned above too. It can be a great opportunity.)

      1. OhNo*

        Me too. I honestly can’t think of another reason anyone would say something like that… Unless they’re just bonkers, which it sounds like this boss might have been.

      2. Shell*

        Ditto. Although if I were feeling brave, I may actually point blank ask the crazy boss “are you threatening me?”

    2. Koko*

      I always wonder with bosses like this, if they really think the world works that way. Like, in their version of reality, do people always stay in the same job their whole life, and does he presume that this reaction is a normal and appropriate one that he assumes all managers have when their employees give notice?

  9. Laura*

    Aw, so happy OP got away from that place! I had a bad feeling about it. When I was younger, I was tutored at a similar business and yep, I was placed alongside high schoolers for “one-on-one” tutoring time. It certainly wasn’t effective!

  10. Ted Mosby*

    you’re making a dangerous mistake??? by leaving a part time low level admin gig at? with two full weeks notice? welcome to crazy town.

  11. LL*

    Many tutoring chains are franchises – OP, if you worked at one of them, I would let their corporate offices know how they are mistreating employees. Trying to coerce you into giving up time off is bad enough, but encouraging you to sign away breaks during the workday is reprehensible.

  12. Hobbits! The Musical*

    I’d just like to add my voice to the congratulations – sounds like you did the best you could in a bit ideal situation now you’re in a far better mental emotional and financial place. Yay you!

    Also, not sure what opportunities are around for you locally (I’m in NZ) but I’m getting personal satisfaction from 3 different types of tutoring – literacy/numeracy for adults, primary school (USA elementary?) kids, and conversation support for people in recovery after brain injury (e.g. a stroke or head injury).

    And yes grant-writing could be a great way to utilise and hone writing skills especially if the org. or institution for whom you’re writing is in the field where you also want to tutor or mentor.

    Best wishes for your new job and good fortune with finding your niche.

  13. Kia*

    I don’t know about anyone else, but the whole “you’re making a dangerous mistake” comment sounds like a threat to me. I’d definitely go to HR or someone and say “Hey, so-and-so just threatened me for leaving, along with other unprofessional behavior. You might want to address that with him.”

    1. AF*

      That comment and “Haven’t we always been good to you?” is the sign of an incompetent manager and manipulator. It’s perhaps not a serious threat, but more gaslighting – making you doubt yourself. And the answer to the question is NO – you haven’t always been good to your employee, which is why they’re leaving. It might be worth it to talk to HR, but if there was no exit interview, it sounds like company culture is dysfunctional and would likely defend the manager over a part-time employee. (I’ve been in this situation more than once.) Glad you were able to free yourself, OP!!

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