How did you get into private tuition, Cleo?
When I was at high school in France I was bilingual and there were kids at the local schools who were taking English lessons in class but their teachers didn’t actually speak very good English. So that was very easy pocket money for me! Then I tutored throughout university to support myself.
Sounds like you were born into it…
It’s always been a part of my life, I think. When I was doing my second degree in Belgium I taught French and English as a foreign language to high-profile individuals – diplomats, movie directors – and I realised I wanted to focus on teaching, I wanted to travel around the world and I wanted to help some children. So I went into it full-time and that’s what I’ve been doing for a few years now.
Do you typically move in with the family?
Usually not. A lot of my clients have many properties – in Dubai one client had a tonne of apartments so they handed me a flat in the Marina for the entire time, which was very nice. But sometimes it makes more sense to move in – especially if you have a tight deadline to help a student pass entrance exams or you have a kid that doesn’t speak such good English. If you’re there you become more of a mentor and a friend and their English improves substantially faster. There are other cases, like when I was sailing around the Caribbean with a family, where obviously, you’re on a yacht, so you’re living with the family. Also there can be things like security issues that means it makes sense for me to live with a client, too.
It’s very interesting. We’re part of the inner circle of some of the wealthiest families in the world – a number of my clients are on Forbes’ rich list – and they live differently; it’s interesting to see how they run their business on a day-to-day basis. It’s also interesting to see how some clichés are just completely wrong.
I think there’s an idea around glamour where there’s this assumption that it’s an Instagram lifestyle. And yes, we fly in private jets and yes, the houses are extraordinary, but at the end of the day, it’s just real people leading a normal life. They have needs just like you and me – and one of their needs is their kids’ education. There’s a normality to it that isn’t captured in those images.
Was it all a bit daunting at first?
It wasn’t, because I grew into it. You need to understand that when I was 20 I was telling off CEOs of companies for not having done their homework – and the reason why they hadn’t was because they’d been playing golf with George W. Bush! Once you’ve done that at 20 everything else is… ‘OK, let’s do this!’ If you’re going to be wowed by the lifestyle or crave it, then you’re not going to get to the top in this profession.
Which curriculum do you follow when a child might be spending two months in Dubai and then two months on a yacht?
It’s dependant on what they are studying. A lot of my students will be going to UK or US schools, so it’s very strategic. Whatever it is that they need to be learning, I have to know what the goalposts are.
How much of a difference can one-on-one tuition make?
If I’m trying to teach you something you’re probably going to have particular things that you learned in the past that you’re quite shaky on. If I’m teaching one-to-one, I can spot these and go back in time to fix it. You can’t do that with an entire classroom.
It’s easy to imagine that privileged kids are all spoiled. Are they?
Kids are kids! All kids are nice, they all want to be loved and want to feel validated and that they are achieving something they can be proud of. That’s not to say that some kids from any background won’t have specific issues. But I’ve never met a kid who was diabolical. Also, the kids are often very polite and well-brought-up.
What was the strangest place you ever gave a lesson?
On a boat during a fishing trip and it had to be interrupted because the waters ended up being choppy and my student was seasick.
Are you ever able to bring the amazing locations you visit back to the classroom?
I try to. I got one student into snorkelling in the Bahamas and we were able to bring this back into a lot of the things we were learning about. We were doing food chains and ecosystems and it became very interesting because she could snorkel and see what was happening in the food chain. It’s a real-life example, it’s not abstract, and coming back up and discussing what you’ve just seen is very different to looking at a video presentation. And it doesn’t stop there, you can then incorporate it into history by talking about how Christopher Columbus arrived there.
Finally – kids often like to buy their teacher a small gift at the end of the year: has anyone ever offered you a diamond necklace instead of a box of chocolates?
No! People often ask me about gifts and I think there’s a myth about the gifts tutors receive. Parents are more likely to invite us to stay at some swanky resort that they own or invite us to stay for a month at some $30 million (Dh110 million) property of theirs.
Cleo’s introductions to ultra-high net worth clients is usually made though Simply Learning Tuition, who have been operating in the Gulf region for seven years. They provide everything from full-time homeschool live-in tutors in Jeddah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi to a long-term online service that has British tutors working from London, helping to prepare children for entrance exams to UK schools. simplylearningtution.co.uk