By Laura Vida Wilkinson
“A good teacher is like a candle — it consumes itself to light the way for others.”
— Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
For a trained and qualified tutor worth their salt, the aim is never to plague a child with worksheets and indigestible facts. This would be painful for both and utterly counterproductive. The vast majority of my tutees look forward to their sessions, have fun and express their gratitude in charming ways. A good tutor’s task has always been to stimulate the natural propensity for learning that is rooted in us all. That is why tutors have been hired by discerning folk for centuries. Whether or not the desire is manifest, every child (and adult) instinctively wants (and needs) to learn. When in abeyance, this desire must be honed by skilled, dedicated teaching. Poor teaching only damages a child’s confidence and self-esteem, impeding learning. Thus a tutor’s role is exciting, rewarding and all-consuming.
Tutoring is on the rise. This is especially so in London and other capital cities, where ambitious, successful parents are easily sucked into the educational rat race. The pressure to snap up a place in a good school can be exhausting and expensive. There is no denying that many parents will get tutors in when their children would be far better off playing in the sun. For who can bear to have their child fall behind? Sadly though, parental anxiety is often contagious; six year old Scarlet’s perpetually terrified face is still etched on my mind, nine years on. It follows that many outstanding schools understandably dissuade parents from getting tutors. One busy day in an excellent school ought to be enough for any child. Free time – for exploring and imagining- is such a fundamental aspect of childhood and life in general.
In my ideal world, tutors would not exist. Every school would suffice and every child’s home environment would be a richly stimulating one. There would be time for the sort of boredom which leads to creativity. Technology would not dominate as it currently does. For there is a reason why the top names in silicon valley do not overexpose their children to the technology which they themselves have invented. Ideally, every child’s complex individual needs and psychological make-up would be catered for from a young age. And parents would be regularly briefed on how best to help their child at home. However, roughly thirty years of teaching and learning have shown me that my ideal world is only remotely connected to ours.
The best supported children usually have:
Educated, caring and well-informed parents who prioritise them
Plenty of speaking and listening opportunities at home/ in school
Natural ability in core subjects
Confidence and a healthy self-esteem
An inspirational headteacher who exudes the ethos: ‘It’s cool to try!’
An experienced, talented and energetic class teacher
A very small amount of ‘homework’ each week to reinforce school learning
A history of effective instruction
A developing love of reading
Plenty of books and games available
Siblings and/or friends
No undiagnosed special needs
Access to one-to-one or group support at school (if needed)
Limited access to iPads (They talk at mealtimes)
Even a child who has several of the above may possibly benefit from tutoring at some stage. A decent tutor ought to support the parent(s) too. After all, tutoring accounts for a mere 30 mins- 1 hour per week. It deeply saddens me when a parent tells me that they simply do not have 15 mins per day to spend with their struggling child due to other commitments. I want to ask them what their priorities are. Why have children then? For a child to make constant progress, it is fundamental that their carers know how best to support them. A good tutor can recommend and source games and books which are tailored to a child’s level and interests. (The average class teacher usually doesn’t have time to give regular updates). Crucially, a tutor can also offer a second opinion on IEP s (Education plans drawn up for children with additional support needs). Such support could make all the difference to your child’s educational attainment. So, by all means, be wary of tutoring, but please do not rule it out.
By Laura Vida Wilkinson