Parents evening was the catalyst for my realization that full-time, secondary school teaching was not for me.
It was the evening that I used to both look forward to and lament simultaneously when I was a child, in fear that I would be scalded by teachers of subjects I didn’t enjoy. Or, even worse, praised and embarrassed by teachers of subjects I had an interest in.
As I sat there, for the first time on the teacher’s side of the worn MDF table, strategically placed in the Sports Hall, I cast my mind back to a particular altercation I had had at my own parents evening in Year 10.
‘Yes, but how is he in class? How is he?’ My dad asked again, trying to squeeze as much juice from the 10 minutes of allotted parent/teacher time as possible.
But, for the umpteenth time, my science teacher pointed sharply down at my grades and didn’t say much else, slightly shocked and confused as to what my dad was enquiring.
The moment crystallised everything I didn’t want to happen to me, when I started the profession.
But similarly to my poor, overworked science teacher, I sat there, and as one parent-student coupling gave way to another, I found myself pointing to that exact same place, the little number next to the corresponding name, indicating the students mark.
In all the lesson-planning, paper-filing, homework-marking fun of teaching, I hadn’t been able to really connect with my students on a level that my favourite teachers had connected with me.
I had too many students to ever hope to do that. The feedback on my teaching had been almost 100% positive, yet I was already slipping into that trap of seeing these children as a collection of marks and improvements.
This worry could have been premature, but I felt it was foreboding of a larger issue I had with the job.
I couldn’t see myself as part of this system. Part of a school that boasted good test results, yet seemed to sacrifice the mental well-being of their teachers, and disregarded those young students that found working in the classroom atmosphere challenging.
As I was packing up my files and trying to polish off the rest of my coffee before it got too cold, one of the parents I had seen earlier on came up to me. He leaned over to me and whispered that his son’s tutor was not able to carry on their sessions, and he was looking for another.
All of a sudden I saw the answer to my problem, the solution to my desire to teach children, but also inspire and connect with them. A system of teaching, within which I didn’t have to condescend or punish without explanation.
A system within which I didn’t have to palm off a child’s genuine confusion or misunderstanding of an exercise, in order to implement crowd control. A system where I could connect with a student on a human level, in order for them to see me as a helping hand, rather than an intimidating, didactic adult.
I now have around 4 students that I privately tutor in the comfort of their own home, and a few students that I tutor in a wonderful Community School. I help them with English (both language and literature) and each lesson is focused on the individual’s strengths and weaknesses.
Most, if not all of my students have seen gains in their English marks over the time that we have been working together. This is, of course, also thanks to those teachers that are able to handle the intensity of the schooling system. I respect these individuals, but I do not envy them.
Tutoring is definitely my personal preference, I am able to talk to these students in a comforting atmosphere, away from the uniformity and pressure of the schooling environment.
And the relief is evident on both sides, the students are able to open up to me about their problems and issues with the subject. I am able to talk to them, and guarantee them of the fact that the more time they spend practicing these exercises, the better their marks will be.
The worry of truly helping my students is still there, but it is a worry that is focused on individuals rather than hopelessly directed at a group of students, all of which are different, all of which have their own, incredibly unique needs.
As a tutor, I hope to tend to these needs, in order for every student I work with to excel, as all children should be able to do.
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