Dusting off the Chalkface - June '18

by Emma Williams, MTA

Emma Williams reflects on how private tutoring has informed and reinvigorated her classroom practice.

Many trained teachers try their hand at tutoring: demand is high and the money is useful. I first returned to it when my husband gave up work to re-train, but have found myself bound to it by more than just financial necessity; I now believe strongly that private tutoring has had a profoundly positive impact on my work as a classroom teacher.

It may sound absurd, but it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re paid to do in the frenetic world of mainstream education; marking and administrative tasks – not to mention the 35 “Teachers’ Standards” – can overwhelm you to the point where you lose perspective on what’s actually important. Tutoring, by contrast, has reignited my passion for teaching on a fundamental level; not only has it taken me back to some essential skills, it has made me question the value of some other things that were taking up too much of my time. It has made me better at saying “no” to things that might impact on my ability to perform my teaching role to the best of my ability; as a direct result, I have stepped aside from roles and responsibilities that were in danger of doing so.

Furthermore, tutoring has exposed me to a wider range of specifications and teaching methodologies. Habits inevitably become entrenched when you teach the same subject in the same system to the same age-group for a number of years: tutoring has forced me to think again. The highest area of demand for tutoring in my subject has been for Common Entrance coaching, so – despite the fact that I am a secondary school teacher – this has now become my tutoring specialism. Finding out what some 10-year-olds are exposed to and can cope with has made me question where I set the bar in secondary school; it has also made me ask myself some fundamental questions about what, when and why I teach the core principles to older students.

Yet by far the biggest impact on me has been a powerful shift in mind-set that is hard to quantify. In the last two years, I have taken several students from the bottom of their class to the top. What this feels like is hard to convey, but suffice to say it is emphatically empowering. This positivity has filtered into my classroom practice and has somehow made me feel as if anything were possible. This is not to say that I am naïve about the fundamental differences between what can be achieved through one-to-one tutoring and what can be realised in the mainstream classroom – indeed I have written before on this very topic. But experiencing the irreplaceable value of one-to-one attention has forced me to think of ways in which I can provide more of this in the classroom, particularly for our Pupil Premium students (those who are defined by the government as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds). Blessed with an excellent trainee teacher this year, I have taken the opportunity to act as an expert Teaching Assistant to our Pupil Premium students in her classes, coaching and guiding them to make more progress than they otherwise could.

For the future, I hope that both my tutoring and my classroom teaching will continue to develop and to impact on each other both in practice and in outcomes.

Emma Williams is a private Latin tutor and a teacher in a large comprehensive school in Woking, Surrey. She is also a freelance writer and author. Find her @Latin_Tutor or www.latintutoring.co.uk

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