Theresa Michael interview

After spending 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, Theresa Michael, 47, used the valuable skills she’d learnt to launch a thriving business

I always feel a giant swell of pride when one of my students passes their exams. But I not only feel proud of them, I’m also so proud that my business is helping to grow young minds. I’ve always had a passion for teaching but, if you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d one day be running my own tutoring company – with 200 employees and 500 students – I wouldn’t have believed you. I got married at 19 and had my first child a year later.

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By the time I was 27, I had four young children. I made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom, dedicating all of my time to raising my kids rather than pursuing a career. I always placed a lot of emphasis on my children’s education – I even enrolled at UNISA to study maths and English so I could help them with their homework! As my kids got older and needed my help less, I started tutoring other school pupils and found myself quite in demand – especially when my daughter, Pascale, who was a tutor at Wits at the time, passed a few of her pupils onto me so she could concentrate on her studies. As more students asked me for my tutoring help, there was an overflow, so I began employing university students to assist me.

But I simply couldn’t keep up with the demand. I found I enjoyed working with all the students so much – and I seemed to have a knack for it – that I decided to turn my new-found skills into a career. I teamed up with my sister-in-law, Amanda, and established Feature our business, Tutors @ Your Service, Pascale Bakos Photography Thinkstock world for a while. But motherhood equips us with life lessons that can be used in different career paths. If it weren’t for the countless hours I spent helping my kids with their homework, I wouldn’t be able to help students the way I do today. Amanda and I have opened branches in Joburg, Cape Town and Pretoria, and we plan to continue growing the business in the future. It’s never too late to start a new chapter, no matter how crazy you think your idea is! Visit tutorsatyourservice.com providing tutoring for all subjects from primary- to tertiary level, as well as homework supervision.

The thought of starting my own business in my forties – without any real work experience to speak of – was daunting. I had to give myself more than a few pep talks in the beginning, but as time went on, I found my feet and became more convinced that I was on the right path. My husband, who is a successful businessman, has given me the support and advice that I’ve needed. Even though I initially felt daunted due to my lack of work experience, I’ve come to realise that the years I spent raising my children was, in fact, valuable ‘on-the-job’ experience. One of the most rewarding parts of my tutoring business is that I not only help students with their education, but I also create jobs for the youth.

Many students battle to pay their university fees and it’s tricky to find a job that fits around a demanding lecture timetable, so tutoring is the ideal solution; they earn money while managing their own working hours. Some of our tutors started working for us during the first year of their studies and have now completed honours and master’s degrees. I have been to many of their graduation ceremonies and always feel so proud. Amanda and I are both still very involved in the business and we interview all potential tutors face to face. I’m convinced that because we’re moms, we can intuitively assess pupils’ needs, and then pair them up with the right tutor. Many women who’ve stayed at home to raise their children may feel that it’s difficult to become an entrepreneur, especially when you’ve been out of the working.

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