By Lewis Howell
⏱ Wednesday 9th August 2017

It was February the 27th, having recovered from the post-exam breaks, it felt as though Christmas never really happened (until you see your bank balance that is), and there was still that horrible residual winter frost in the air.  In honesty, it was a pretty bleak date, February the 27th.  But it's an historic one too, I thought to myself, as I boarded the 143 from University, on my way to my first ever tuition session.

I'd only finished training about a week earlier, and as many of you will be able to imagine all too clearly, I was completely and utterly terrified.  I'd spent the entire previous evening frantically planning ice-breaker exercises, making my own resources (I was still on that high-horse that all newbie's start on, where no one else's resources would be able to match my own), and trying to convince myself that whilst I was really only three years older than the students I would be teaching, wearing the ugly dress my Mum bought me for Christmas meant that I would miraculously turn into an adult.

After about half an hour of aimless walking (much to my annoyance, I would later discover a bus that would have dropped me right outside of the school), I finally arrived at the school happy to see that other tutors were there too- including a fellow newbie Laura who I trained with!

After having our DBS certificates checked, we were led up to the classroom where our tuition would be held, and Laura and I sat at consecutive desks, anxiously awaiting our pupils.  One by one, Year 11's filtered in, until all the other tutors apart from me had groups of two or three. I had none.  Laura gave me an excited smile from across the room as she set her group their first task.  And still no-one sat at my table.

I was gutted.  The planning, the apprehension, the excitement, all for nothing!  Were they just extremely tardy?

As it turns out, the answer was no.  No they were not.  They just plain didn't show.  And although it was completely irrational, having never tutored those or any pupils before, I took it very personally.  As I sat there with a neat stack of sheets and extra paper in front of me, I started to rethink the entire idea of being involved with The Tutor Trust, Teach First, or any career in education at all.  Clearly the universe was sending me a sign.

As I was having this deeply existential crisis in my own melodramatic little world, our co-ordinating teacher walked in to see me sat at my desk, lonely as the proverbial cloud.  I don't know if he took pity on me, saw the awesome power of tutoring that flowed through my veins, or just wanted to get the most out of the money the school pay to bring us in, but he took a pupil out of one tutor groups and gave him to me.  I will be eternally grateful to that teacher.  I do not remember his name, but thank you Mr X.  Thank you.

As it actually turned out, the tutoring session ended up being brilliant.  Obviously I had to improvise- by the time he ended up sat at my desk we only really had 40 minutes of the session left, and seeing as he was only really in my group for that one session I couldn't do any of the initial tasks and target setting with him.  Because of that however, I didn't really have much time to be nervous, I just had to get down to finding out what I could do to help him in the limited amount of time we had.  In the end we ended up working on his plan for his homework essay on poetry- luckily the poem was one I knew, and I like to think I really helped him with that essay.  I'm not sure what he went on to do, but I like to think he's studying English Literature at Oxford University right now.

Of course I'm joking, but I can't help but feel very fond of that pupil for turning what could have been a fairly anti-climactic first day at work into a very positive one.

I discovered the following week, there had been a miscommunication in the school and my pupils hadn't realised tuition began that week.  We had a great first session, in which I used all of my resources from my unused plan before, and they turned out to be great guys who I enjoyed tutoring for an entire 11 weeks.  Their attendance was even pretty good!

The point of this anecdote I suppose, is that there was indeed a teachable moment (pardon the pun) to be found in that session. In this job, tutoring high school kids (particularly Year11's) after school means that it is inevitable that you will get the odd session where some of your group, or perhaps even all of them, don't show up.  And it can be hard not to take it personally.  Obviously, it's a concern if it happens often, and it may be that you want to look into your methods of teaching- students are less likely to want to show up if they find your tuition sessions dull and unhelpful.  Most of the time though, it will be quite simply because (and this might shock you) teenagers don't really enjoy staying behind late at school.  Weird isn't it?  There are ways to encourage them to come back the following week of course- for example, I have a group of Year Eight's at the moment who know that if they show up on time to my tuition sessions then they get an origami animal.  But there really is only so much you can do to make them want to stay behind; even stimulating, helpful schoolwork is still schoolwork, and if a student needs extra help with a subject then it's likely that the subject is something they really don't enjoy.

Nonetheless, as I learnt in my first lesson, you really can't let it get you down too much. Most of all just don't let it knock your confidence!

Date of publication: 09/08/2017