By Lewis Howell
⏱ Wednesday 9th August 2017

It can be so easy to complain in life; the weather, Uni work, the state of one's house plants.  This extends to working as a tutor.  There are some things that can be so easy to complain about when it comes to working as a tutor in Manchester: marking, tuition planning, and those blasted Stagecoach buses.  But then you have those sessions where you're reminded of the fact that actually, this job is pretty damn great.

For a while now, I have had a tuition session on a Wednesday that I will diplomatically call difficult.  My pupils are two Year 11 boys, who for the purpose of this blog will be called Bill and Ben.  Bill and Ben do not enjoy English.  They haven't enjoyed English for the past ten years of their educational careers, and something tells me that- even if William Shakespeare himself was employed by The Tutor Trust and sent in to tutor them- in the one year of school left, they will not enjoy tuition by the end of their exams.  So you can imagine how delighted they were to be meeting me, fresh from half term, at 3:15pm, for a full hour of English tuition.

From the beginning, I could tell that these pupils would not be co-operative.  I was introduced to them by their teacher and met with sullen faces and rude comments for the entire session- comments that can be hard to argue against too.  I mean 'You don't look old enough to be called Miss, I won't call you Miss'- how could I argue with that?  From the offset, Bill had managed to undermine my authority within seconds.  These kids may not enjoy school, but boy they're smart.

The first few weeks saw an extension of this behaviour.  They turned up reluctantly, being chased to the tutor sessions by parents and teachers alike.  The hour would be spent with them trying to distract me and avoid doing work at all costs, they would laugh at the exercises I set them rather than my jokes, they did NOT appreciate the 'fun and engaging' board game I had spent hours making for them (an utter fiasco) and I spent a lot of time having to be stern.  I do not relish being stern.

Then, on my fourth session, something had clicked.  They both turned up on time, they laughed at my jokes, they listened when I told them to, and they completed their tasks in half the time, with half the talking.  I even completed my extension that I had planned!  I walked away from the session stunned, but elated.  It was like I had been given two completely different pupils.  On the bus back home I took the time to think, and realised that actually, what I had initially taken to be a sudden change had in fact been a process over the past few weeks.  They had kept straying from the subject, and I kept not letting them.  They had been testing their boundaries, and I had amazingly earned their respect by not simply backing down.

Buoyed by that session, I went home that night and planned a fun but challenging session, and the next week I felt I was finally able to relax and show them how much I really do enjoy my job, and the subject I teach.  I now love Wednesday afternoons with Bill and Ben.  They're still cheeky and challenging, but newly focused, and I feel we've truly made progress.

That session renewed my passion for working at The Tutor Trust.  I know it seems strange to us now that young people don't appreciate the education they're getting, but honestly, think back to your time at high school.  Of course there were some things you loved about it; your friends, your favourite subjects, even your favourite teachers, but all in all school wasn't something you begged for more of when you were 16.  If you were made by the school to stay for an extra hour on weekday in order to do more work on a subject you're not very confident at and don't enjoy, then your thoughts wouldn't have immediately been 'Oh hurray for me, look at me all getting free opportunities to better myself through extra tuition at English- this is a privilege I should surely cherish!'.  But a big part of our job is to help these pupils to enjoy their education.

For a lot of us, joining the Tutor Trust is- amongst other things- our way of making an effort to do some good in the world.  We all join up enthused by the fact that we are doing a job that will help narrow the gap between rich and poor in the UK, reaching out to young people and offering tailored tuition to those who in many cases really can't afford it.  It can be so easy to lose sight of that when it's a cold Wednesday and you've travelled for an hour to tutor two teenagers who don't want to be there.

There is really one message that can be taken from my experience, and I suppose that message is simply: stick it out.  Keep calm and carry on.  You can go the distance (Yes that is a Disney quote. Read my next blog to find out which film!).  If The Tutor Trust employed and trained you, then you're bound to be good at your job, and if you're good at your job, and passionate about the subject you teach, then eventually you will win over your pupils.  And trust me, it's one of the most rewarding moments when your realise you have.  After all, who doesn't enjoy a challenge every now and then?

Date of publication: 09/08/2017