How I became an English tutor in York

I’m one of those people who was always going to be a teacher.  Just on my mother’s side of the family alone, my mother works in higher education, my aunt is a primary school teacher and my grandmother taught EAL.  When I did ‘what should I be when I grow up?’ tests, the answer was always teacher.  If you’d asked me when I was 16, I’d have turned my nose up and told you I was going to be a writer, a lawyer or a vet, depending on the week, but in my heart of hearts I think I always knew.

Teaching English is brilliant for two reasons:  I get to talk about books and I get to talk to teenagers who, in almost all cases, are funny, brilliant people.  Put simply, books make me happy and teenagers make me smile.  The combination is exhilarating.

When I moved to York it was for university.  Like lots of York graduates I then decided to stay, because, well, why wouldn’t you?  York and North Yorkshire are beautiful.  I may not officially be a northerner but this is definitely where I belong.  I married my northern boyfriend and we settled in to our respective schools.  (He was a History teacher for a while but now he does things with computers.  Apparently this is also fun, but I suspect not as fun as tutoring English.)  I loved teaching in schools with a passion – I loved boarding, I loved English, I loved Drama, I loved school plays, I loved being a form tutor, I loved UCAS (I know!), I loved my students, I loved my colleagues and I loved, loved, loved talking about books all day.

Bearing in mind how much I loved teaching in schools, it was a slow move to becoming a private tutor.  I took on a couple of students to whom I was recommended by other teachers and gradually I decided that as a tutor I would be able to make more of a difference than I could as a school teacher.  When tutoring English and Drama I and my students can achieve so much more in an hour than we can in a classroom environment.  With no distractions, an hour of tuition can be like a week’s worth of classroom lessons; we can focus entirely and precisely on what that particular student needs and we can make enormous progress extremely quickly.  This is brilliant for students who can suddenly see that they have ability they didn’t realise they had and can get an almost instant confidence boost.  I can plan schemes of work but I’m also not tied to a school’s deadlines so if it becomes apparent that we really need to spend 20 minutes on structuring complex sentences right now, we can do it and the student can get immediate feedback.  I can work really carefully with my students’ needs and, importantly, they can tell me exactly what they want without worrying that they’re taking up too much of my time or that I won’t have the spare hours to dedicate to helping them when they need it.  They get an instant level up – and, in a way, so do I.  I see that glow of confidence, that smile as a particular skill clicks into place, that laugh as a previously impenetrable text suddenly makes sense.

Teaching English and Drama in York was brilliant but tutoring English and Drama in York is even better because the same things are still true – York is beautiful, books make me happy and teenagers make me smile – and now, to top it all off, I get to teach every lesson with a freshly made cup of tea and a slice of Yorkshire parkin.  It doesn’t get better than that.

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Half term shenanigans

So the iGCSE is done and dusted, the Shakespeare paper has been tackled this morning and pupils will be breathing a sigh of relief up and down the country… Not quite so for the GCSE lot, who have English Language still to go – cruelly placed as it is, just after half term.

How do you maintain that exam focus over a week of holiday?  Yes, of course, you stick to your revision timetable, and you try to remember to eat well, and, if you’re like me as a teenager, you lock yourself in your room for a few days at a time only to reveal yourself, mad-doctor-haired and more than a little smelly, desperate for a shower on about Wednesday afternoon.

crazy-professor-28436930The most important thing you can possibly do though, no matter where you are in your exams and no matter how many you still have to go, is to give yourself a day off.  A whole day. Preferably (and I know that in terms of your social life this is tantamount to suggesting you run through the school shouting the national anthem while wearing a bear costume) while turning your phone/laptop/brain-chip that connects you to your friends off.

I can hear people scoffing.  But you’ve just spent the last few weeks living, breathing and dreaming exams.  You’ve been in school every day or revising at home, you’ve sat in the same spot in the exam hall staring at the head of the same boy in front of you through hour upon hour of test and you’ve spent your break times and lunch times conferring with your friends about which bits were easy and which bits were hard, probably winding yourself and each other up about all the silly little mistakes you might have made but won’t know about for sure until results day.  You need to just…stop.  Have a day off. Spend it outdoors.  Spend it with your family but tell them they’re not allowed to mention the E or the R words.  (That’s ‘exam’ and ‘revision’ not ‘Emergency Room,’ though probably best to avoid a trip there too.)  Go to the seaside, engage in some mindless window shopping, play with your little brother, walk the dog, read a magazine, watch the news and remember the real world out there, go to the park, go swimming – do whatever it is that you used to do back in the days when you were ‘normal’ and not thinking about Geography Unit 2 when you woke up in a sweaty panic in the middle of the night.

Have a day off.  Your books will be there tomorrow.  And when you’ve had a good, old-fashioned exhausting day of playing out, (which no one is ever too old for, by the way) sleep well, set your alarm for a decent time and get going on that revision.  It’ll be worth it.

Favouritism

047d039e0bdfdda1503c03154f3b8966It’s no secret that teachers don’t have favourite pupils.  It’s unprofessional, cruel to the other children in the class and generally not fair as, of course, all children have the right to be treated equally,  But what I – and I suspect most teachers – do have, are pupils that stick in the memory, even ten or twenty years down the line.

In my first job I had a Theatre Studies class with one particular student who was so incredibly talented that he made me cry during his examined performance.  I taught a boy in an A level English class who used to bring me poems and bits of novels he was working on.  I had a girl in one GCSE class who struggled a great deal but worked so hard that she got an A* through sheer force of will – and she did AS English a year early, at the same time as her GCSEs, and got an A.

All of these pupils from ten years ago, and many from more recent schools that I’ve worked in, stand out for me from the hundreds – thousands? – that I’ve taught.  But what I absolutely love about tutoring is that now, all my pupils are memorable, and for all the right reasons.  Every tutee that I see is here because they want to learn.  They want to improve.  They’ve taken the brave step of acknowledging that they need help with some particular aspect of their learning – even if they’re not completely sure what that is and they need me to help them figure it out – and they’ve arrived, pen in hand, ready to go.  Some of them are very shy, some are confident, some seem confident but are actually incredibly nervous.  I’ve tutored pupils whom schools have refused to teach – who have all turned out, by the way, to be bright, sparky, impressive young people.  I’ve tutored pupils with SEN who are floundering in classes of 30 at school, and who have sat with me, drunk copious amounts of tea, given it their all and done the unthinkable – passed a GCSE that ‘everybody’ said they would fail.  I absolutely love tutoring because every student that comes through my door leaves again more confident and motivated, better equipped to face their difficulties and feeling ready for the next step.  So no, I don’t have favourites.  It wouldn’t be fair.  They’re all brilliant and I remember them all with a fierce pride.