I must admit, it was never something I had particularly aspired to do. Graduating from Oxford University with a 2:1 in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, most people asked me if I was going to be the next female Prime Minister. But one rainy evening, after spending six months in Guatemala and having ditched the rather dull graduate job in the NHS the year before, I sat at dinner with a couple of old uni friends who advised me that tutoring was the way forward, at least for now. They were both still at uni, completing masters or law conversions, and they had found that it had been an interesting way to earn a bit of cash along side their studies, and it was a hell of a lot better than working in a bar. I was unconvinced but signed up to a couple of online tutoring agencies anyway just to see what happened.
That was 18 months ago and I’m still doing it and actually made a full-time job of it for the 2010-11 academic year. At first I thought, who on earth is going to pay me twenty-odd quid to teach their child for an hour on subjects that I hadn’t even thought about for nearly two years? I didn’t have an iota of a teaching qualification although I had been a youth worker and had inadvertently coached quite a few of my friends and friend’s siblings through their GCSEs and A-levels. But then I remembered, the two things that the majority of people don’t know how to do, that teachers seem unable to teach but that I had been forced to master through my A-levels and three years of Oxford was 1. how to pass an exam, and 2. how to write a damn good essay. Seeing as passing exams and writing damn good essays was what 90% of people asked for when they made enquiries on the online tutoring sites, it soon became clear that I was in fact much more qualified than I thought.
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Unfortunately (in my opinion) the entire education system from primary to degree level, is set up around passing various assessments be it SATS, GCSE coursework or degree dissertations. Even more unfortunate is the fact that many teachers and university professors do not know how to teach the skill of jumping through the flaming hoops otherwise known as assessment criteria and markschemes. Perhaps it has been a long time since they sat an exam of their own or perhaps they even object to having to teach ‘exam technique’, believing that it is something that a students should have to learn for themselves.
I have tutored incredibly bright students who have simply not been made fully aware of what is expected from them by the exam board or just haven’t ever been taught how to construct a well-argued essay. This is when I think tutoring is its most useful, when you can help someone master the rules of the game so that you can enable them to display their full ability and knowledge. It is teaching this art of hoop-jumping that most appeals to me about tutoring. It’s showing the student how easy the game is once you know how to play it. And because the rules change from exam board to exam board, from university to university and from year to year, the tutor’s challenge is a constantly changing one: you need to be aware of all the rules and know how best to teach them to each student.
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