A Tutor's Tale

A Tutor's Tale

Home Tutoring Chronicles by Joan

Private Tutor Seeking Glory!

I was stunned last week when a parent client of mine mentioned the discussion she had had with her child’s school teacher.  During my work as a private tutor, parents relay to me many comments made to them, or their children, by teachers.  Comments which, in many cases, I consider wholly inappropriate, or quite simply tactless. 

Comments such as the (Senco) teacher who said to one dyslexic child, ’Sheena, you know how you are different to other children...’

At another school the Senco, at the end of a meeting with parents and head teacher, finally agreed to have the child assessed for dyslexia by an educational psychologist said ‘well, we can test him but I’ll be surprised if we find anything.’ (The child was subsequently found to be dyslexic).

One of the puzzling questions I have often asked is, why are teachers not given some sort of customer service training, as I was when I was a civil servant?  After all, parents are just another form of customer.  School teachers, as a group in general, seem very adept at irritating the life out of parents.  They often make parents feel as if they are the children; they rarely explain the terms/jargon at the parental sessions; they expect that in five minutes a parent will understand everything they are trying to convey about a whole term’s or year’s work. 

The fact of the matter is, many parents haven’t the slightest idea how to support their children with school work.  When a teacher suggests they should practice phonics at home, or help them with their maths, many parents cannot remember how to do the calculations, and they certainly don’t know the modern methods used in maths these days.  Many parents probably need a course that explains how they could help their children.


The particular conversation mentioned earlier was the usual five minute information session at a parents’ evening, where the teacher was explaining about the term’s work. This particular little girl hadn’t been doing too well at maths. According to the parent the conversation went something like this:

Teacher:  Well, Amy isn’t really working at the level she should be in

maths, but she has improved slightly.  She doesn’t concentrate very

well and doesn’t seem to understand the basics much of the time.


Mum:  Yes, I was a bit worried because she told me she couldn’t

do her maths.  We are thinking of getting a private tutor for her.


Teacher: (screwing her face up) Oh well, yes and they can take

all the credit for her reaching her targets next year.


What is surprising at this reaction is, that in the majority of cases, when a private tutor is engaged by parents, no-one knows about it.  The parents tend not to mention it to the teachers at school.  Equally, for professional and confidentiality reasons, the tutor would never mention their clients to anyone.

The role of the private tutor is one that is very rewarding, but it is also not one that cannot be shouted from the rooftops, or mentioned in a newspaper or even in casual conversation, because of client confidentiality.  Private tutors spend their life working one-to-one with children, who often don’t want their friends to know they have a tutor.  Some children do tell their teacher and friends, but this is usual. 


While I have no problem with parents keeping their private tutor confidential, I do have a problem with the attitude of some teachers. Their assumption that we will take all the credit is quite simply wrong.  The teacher gets the credit when a child’s grades improve; the school gets the credit when the overall SATs levels are good or excellent and puts them in a good position in the league tables.  Added to this, the private tutor will only be teaching perhaps a maximum of three or four children out of a whole school, so their impact on the overall figures is negligible.  The impact and credit a private tutor receives is from the parents and child.

One child I taught about two years ago went from a 3c in Literacy to a 5a in four months.  His teacher, who was never told he had a private tutor, simply declared ‘I don’t know how you’ve done it.’  He also gained the highest mark in the numeracy SATs for his year in the school.


As private tutors, we are perfectly happy being invisible; we are perfectly happy to see a child, who previously struggled at something, leave us confident and able to tackle learning problems on their own. 


What we are imperfectly happy about is when school teachers assume we want to steal their thunder. Quite simply, what we do want is to be judged for the kind of teachers we are –no more and no less.


New Challenges and Parent Consultations

September brings with it a change of season, often a change of temperature and weather and also a change of teachers/school for many children and young people. Parents themselves find a change too; their primary school child is suddenly a little bit more grown up; attending a secondary school and branching out on their own. They will meet new people and have many new challenges in the time that they move from Year 7 to Year 11, and each of them will gradually increase in ability, level expectations and workload.

As a parent I well remember feeling anxious when each of my three children became secondary school pupils - they all seemed to handle it much better than I did. I spent the first couple of months worrying that they would fit in with their new classmates and would understand the work well enough to progress.

Following September the half term break in October brings the first parents' consultations and you will discover how your child is settling, and if they are on target with their work. It pays to ask the teachers to be clear and concise and to explain the jargon they may well use to describe your child's current level of progress. Many parents leave the consultation not much wiser about how well or otherwise their child is doing and continue to worry. These kind of worries are quite normal. It may be that some children need a little bit of help; someone to sit with them one-to-one to explain and discuss the work in a different way so that homework can be successfully completed.

In this situation a professionally qualified private tutor can be a real help, since they have the subject knowledge and teaching background to help them to fully understand work that, for various reasons, just doesn't quite gel in the classroom. A free consultation with a private tutor can answer any questions parents may have and begin to alleviate any concerns that they and their child may have. Children often keep their school worries to themselves and sometimes grow up believing they are not very good at a subject, or are not very clever.

This is where one-to-one tuition really makes a difference. Children build a relationship with the tutor and are confident enough to ask questions and therefore begin to fully understand the topics, subsequently reaching their potential as well as building their self-esteem and confidence.

Learning and succeeding goes hand-in-hand with building confidence and self-esteem - one increases the other and the right private tutor can help a child to realise they are intelligent and capable - something that can often be lost in a classroom of thirty other children.

As the new school year begins ask your child in which subjects they would perhaps like a little more help and consider engaging a private tutor. For any child that lacks confidence and has a poor self-image, it will be money well spent.

Proud Parents and Confident Kids


One of the bylines that private tutoring gives a child is the increase in confidence. This is perhaps because they are working one-to-one with a tutor who is patient, listens to them and adjusts their teaching methods and language so that the child understands the work, and they can then work independently and on more complex topics. There is no substitute for building confidence - it is the one thing necessary for every person to succeed in life. For example, how many highly intelligent people do you know that have never achieved their potential? When you ask them the reason, the answer will be wrapped up somehow in the fact that they have never had the confidence to try, and therefore are still in the same position as they were ten or even twenty years ago.


The way to overcome this is to foster a 'can do' attitude from childhood; if you are one of the people who did not achieved all that that you had hoped, for whatever reason, then it is doubly important that you encourage your child into this positive frame of mind. It is quite simple to do by saying the words, 'Just try your best; I think you can do it.'


The one thing that the parents of my many pupils have in common is that they are aware their child is not reaching their full potential and they believe their daughter or son will benefit from a one-to-one teaching situation.


Many of my pupils have had mock SATs over the last two weeks and the benefit gained by their one-to-one teaching and learning is reflected in the positive results.


Michael, a highly intelligent year 6 pupil, who was struggling with English and reading at school, was assessed by me in October 2012.  I was immediately aware of two problems; first he was rushing; second he was guessing the words he didn't really know. The second point seemed to be as a result of the classroom situation where the topics are on tight deadlines and have to be completed so that other topics can be carried out during the school day. This is a common problem when schoolteachers have so much work to get through and some children unfortunately feel they must rush everything.


Apart fom Michael's high intelligence, the other trait he had in his favour was that he listened very carefully to what I had to say and he followed it exactly. The result of all this is that after four months of private tuition Michael has moved up SIX LEVELs in his reading from a 4c to a 5a. Not only that, but he also achieved the top mark in his Maths mock SATs - an added benefit since his more proficient reading skills means that he can more readily understand the problem questions set in the SATs papers.


One of my tutors, Tui Palmer, has also had similar success. She has been tutoring Jack in GCSE Maths for about two-three months. Jack's parents were concerned because they felt he could achieve better results if he had some one-to-one tuition. In November Jack's teacher felt he would achieve a grade C, but since Jack's hope was to go on to do A levels in Sciences he needed a higher grade, so was disappointed at the expected C grading. In early February 2013, Jack's delighted mother contacted Tui, after parents evening, to say that Jack's teacher was really pleased with his progress and that he now expected him to achieve an A* - great results for so short a time.

The Scandal of 11+ Coaching? I don't think so!

The new year is a time of beginnings, but it is also a time for endings as well. Like so many other people, the new year brings to mind what I have done over the previous twelve months.  As I reflect on the past year of teaching with my company, Tees Valley Private Tutors, I find I am warmed to the core.  My students have all done well and have made either good or excellent progress,  Some students I have, sadly, had to say goodbye to, as they no longer need me - a good result one might conclude.  Some students I have recently said hello to, and I look forward to working with them in 2013 - a whole new set of challenges.


For some students, the challenges are greater than others, and without wishing to keep beating the same gong, I am particularly thinking of those students who are dyslexic.  My attention was drawn to an article published in the Daily Telegraph on 4 November 2012, where it was reported that some local authorities were endeavouring to make the 11+ examination 'Tutor Proof' by changing the examination.  Please read the article - (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/9653189/Grammar-school-tests-to-be-made-tutor-proof.html) - it makes fascinating reading for those of us interested in education issues.


This made me slightly irritated, as the implication here is that the majority of the work done by a private tutor is for middle class parents, who want their children to go to the state grammar schools after having the advantage of attending an independent fee paying school, up to the age of eleven years. I do teach, and have taught children, who attend independent schools, but they are few and far between. For my own experience, nothing could be further from the truth.  I consistently teach children who attend state school and whose parents often give up something in order to pay for tuition to help their child reach the government dictated SATs levels, or reach the required Grade C or above in their GCSEs.


The challenge is, for those children born into a household where both parents work to make ends meet, who need to achieve certain levels of attainment, both for school and/or for their future college/university entrance or chosen career field,  as to how to reach that attainment level through their own efforts,  when state school teachers cannot spare the time to give more intensive teaching.  It goes without saying that those who could be given more intensive learning would go on to greater levels achievement if they had the luxury of that intensive learning.


The scandal is not that the 11+ exam is attainable by extra coaching; the scandal is that some children would easily attain this level if they were given a better chance of achieving a higher level of learning and understanding in a state school, if the number of children in each class were not so high.  Independent schools benefit from the fact that class sizes are, generally speaking, a maximum of 15-16 children.


Can you imagine if classes in all state schools had the maximum of 15 children, then all of them would achieve that much more.  What a world approaching Educational Utopia that would be!



The continuing story of Peyton Place is nothing on this.....

If you read my blog in May regarding the assessment of children by the school  SENCo, and in particular the misdiagnosis by teachers, of one of my pupils in the Redcar area, you may be surprised to learn that this is not yet resolved.


After many meetings with the Head teacher, SENCo, class teacher and Deputy Head, this ten year old boy is not receiving any additional help at school, even though he continues to display poor literacy for his age and expected level, as set by the national curriculum.  It begs the question as to whether his parents are being fobbed off with the assurance that he is getting additional  one-to-one help; Oh sorry, they said later, I meant small group work.


No further assessment has been done by either the SENCo or by the Educational Psychologist, even though the psychological assessment TWO years ago said he should be assessed again ONE year from the date of that report.


I repeat the question I set then in my May Blog - What on earth are they doing?  The time has come to stop beating about the bush.


Quite simply this school is failing this child.


A ten year old child who is in need of a little extra help that would make so much difference to his self-esteem, his confidence, and ultimately will provide holistic benefits to all of his learning.  This is because, as we know, once a person can read fluently, they can understand a wider range of topics and contexts; they can read and study on their own.  This is the point at which learning begins.  As the writer Mark Twain said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”  Although this may seem humorous, taken literally,  this boy's schooling IS interfering with his education.


His parents have spoken to me on many occasions regarding the situation; they are fed up with having to go to these meetings; they are fed up of asking questions and putting forward their case; they are fed up with being treated like imbeciles by a group of professionals that have closed ranks and are using empty promises and jargon to ensure parents are outside of the knowledge; outside of the circle so they will admit defeat and leave with their tail between their legs.


My reassurance was, yes, I am quite happy to continue tutoring your son, but with an extra one or two sessions at school in addition to mine, then we would really see progress on a greater scale. This is what I want for him and it is right to ask for and receive this service.


I have written a four page letter, which is both polite and professional, for the School Head Teacher and the Educational Pscyhologist, which set out my observations of the child over the six months I have been teaching him.  I have used the same terms, the same jargon they use in school reports, which no parent understands.  I have shown my mettle and I have played their game. I have set out my stall - my qualifications are listed after my name.


I wonder if they will listen.





When the Student Surpasses the Tutor

Checking my emails recently I found I had received one from Helen.  I confess I had difficulty remembering who she was.  However the title for the email - 'Good News - Thanks!' - didn't seem threatening, so I duly opened it.  


I then realised that Helen was indeed known to me and was in fact, one of my former adult students from a community class in Creative Writing which I had taught about 2-3 years ago.  The class ran for two terms, but as numbers dropped, the service unfortunately had to close it, since it was not financially worth their while paying the overheads for an attendance of only six students.


I have to say that I loved teaching creative writing, and for personal reasons, long after the closure,  I decided to walk away from this particular commitment. To have one of the students remember me and take the trouble to write to me after 2-3 years was really a thrill.


The email clearly brought to mind the room, the students and the lovely evenings we all spent reading our pieces to each other, talking about how to improve them and what we particularly liked about each others' work.  I remembered reading the work produced by the students, all of which were interesting reads, many of them  good, but there were three outstanding students, one of whom was Helen.


It was easy to remember Helen's work because her 'slant' on some of the titles I gave the class as writing topics was always unusual, different from the norm.  She always managed to come up with something unexpected.  The odd thing was that Helen did not have a lot of self-belief in her own writing.  She had always written things but was new to a creative writing class and in the way of things, did not think her work was particularly good; I believe she thought it was slightly inane.  I remember talking to her and explaining that her unusual take on the subjects is just what people are looking for - both readers and publishers.


Some time towards the end of the classes, I mentioned a variety of university courses in creative writing and explained the kind of topics that would be covered and suggested if anyone wanted any more information they could ask me privately.


After one of the sessions I clearly remember Helen asking me if I thought she was good enough to carry on to University.  My reply was, 'without a doubt.'  I talked a little about her options and I believe after this session the class closed, so I didn't see Helen any more, however, the class did have my email address.


About two months later I asked to provide a reference  for a university creative writing course for Helen, which I did with great pleasure.  Time goes on, as they say, and I thought no more about it.  Then about three months after the reference letter I once again heard from Helen -she had very happily been accepted on the creative writing course and was beginning in September of that year - perhaps 2009/10 - I am no longer certain of the dates now.


Back to my email of the other day - yet another email from Helen from whom I have not heard for about 3 years. This was to say that she had completed her Master of Arts in Creative Writing and had gained a distinction in all parts of her submissions.  As well as this she has had short stories and poems published.  She had once again taken the trouble to write to me and thank me for my encouragement and inspiration from the very first class she attended.  What is gratifying is that Helen is now more qualified in the subject of creative writing than I am.


I can truly say there is no greater joy for a teacher than having a student excel, develop and indeed surpass you in a subject.


So, my heartfelt congratulations go to Helen and I am so pleased she had the courage to continue with something that was initially, a daunting prospect for anyone to begin.  







Controversy Rules Again - but these Four are Excellent!

It is now three days since the GCSE Results were published and yet again there is controversy.  For the past decade or more, many 'experts' have said that general standards have fallen, students are leaving school lacking basic English and maths, and in addition,  that the GCSE Grade C doesn't mean very much when someone cannot spell, punctuate or write a sentence coherently.


This year, for once, the controversy is quite the opposite, as I'm sure you are aware.  For the first time in a decade the pass rate for GCSE English has fallen by 0.4%.  This may seem like a small figure, and in percentages I suppose it is, but in real terms it means that of the 669,000+ pupils who took English Language this summer possibly 2.500 or more, of them are believed, by their teachers, to have been down graded. Many schools intend to appeal the marking, and it is widely felt that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) have had a change of marking policy due to political interference - in other words, the government has told the exam markers to be much more strict in the way the English papers are marked.  The government has denied this, and only time will tell if this is true or not.  If it is found to be true, then perhaps the days of this coalition government are numbered?


Aside from the controversy, a number of pupils have done well, gaining A* and A for their English, and I congratulate those pupils wholeheartedly.  This year I have tutored four GCSE students; two in English Literature; one in maths; one in both maths and English.  I am pleased to say the results are excellent, and I can have no complaints against the markers of these examinations.  Their results are as follows:


Rosie (from Durham)  -  A* in English Literature

Athulya (from Ingleby Barwick) - A* in English Literature

Kim (from Coxhoe) - B in both Maths and English

Oliver (from Yarm) - C in Maths (when he was predicted a D)

Congratulations to all four or you.


Four results out of over 669,000 may seem small, but these were the first set of GCSE students in my first year as a private tutor, and all four worked very hard for their results.


The general conclusion from this is that one-to-one tuition works really well at all levels, and therefore, gives the student a real chance to improve on their already existing knowledge and skills. 


One cannot overstate the importance of having the opportunity to ask questions in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, with someone who has time and treats the pupil with respect.  In this way all children, at whatever age, are then able reach their expected levels and go on to achieve.


When does OFSTED ever conduct their own reflection?

For every practising teacher there are lots of times when you know you have delivered an interesting and fun-filled lesson that the students/pupils have enjoyed.  There are some that you have to admit did not go so well and others that were outstanding.  No matter how objectively one tries to reflect on lessons, that reflection will always be subjective to some degree.  The overall important consideration for any reflective exercise is to consider how much, and whether the students/pupils were actively engaged in the learning. 


If students and pupils have actively participated in the learning process, they are able to use the knowledge and skills from that lesson in other ways; in life, school work, college assignments, homework or personal writing etc.  - they gain transferrable skills.  It is the reason why all students/pupils come to education - to learn how to do something and transfer it into a way of earning a living or enriching their own life in some way.  


An important part of the teaching and learning process is the reflection of teaching and learning, because it allows one to objectively examine successes, failures and everything in between, and to improve by adjusting/changing what you did previously. 


As I reflect on the first year of my private tuition work, I and the parents of my pupils are pleased with the standard of teaching I have provided and of the standards which my students and pupils have achieved.  Six of them achieved  SATs results that were above their teachers' expectations; one was chosen for a gifted and talented course; one was presented with a school certificate for outstanding achievement in English Language in his Year 8 exams; two gained their maths GCSE at grade B & C; one gained a B in English Language.  To date I am awaiting results from two other GCSE students whose results will not be known until August.


In my previous blog I described how a year ago I found myself unemployed after 36 years, and although I had other things in life to keep me busy, the blow to me personally was immense.  From that position I now have many pupils/students and two associate tutors who also work with me.


ln addition, I have undertaken some work in a local primary school which was very valuable and which I enjoyed immensely.  The school recently had their OFSTED inspection and were graded as 'Satisfactory', but this begs the question:

"Do OFSTED ever carry out the reflection process about their own systems and grading structure, in the way they direct all teachers should?" 


The reason I ask this is that this school in my view does an outstanding job in the teaching and learning process.  It is in an area of high unemployment, crime and a great apathy towards education and work.  The majority of people in that area live on benefits and subsequent generations expect that this will be their lot in life too.


As an illustration, I have cousins who live in this area.  One of their daughters did very well at school and came out with grades A and A* for all of her GCSE subjects.  The occupation she went into?  Factory work!


What is not fully recognised about the primary school in which I have been working, is that the teachers care very much about the children; I have rarely witnessed this kind of commitment and genuine care for children in a school before.  Because of the general apathy to education and prospects in previous generations; lack of ambition and belief in their future, and parents' general lack of academic ability, the children in this primary do not achieve as well as children from other areas, where both parents are educated and are employed in good income jobs.  


This lack of help from parents due to their own inabilities or apathy to education, means that the SATs results for this primary school are low compared to the national average - a key factor in the school's overall grading by OFSTED.  What is not reflected in the school's grading of 'Safisfactory' is the really outstanding job those teachers do, not only in caring for the children, but in building a set of values and teaching them what they need to know.  The dogmatic way in which the gradings are applied by OFSTED seems perverse, when we look only at the level of results of the pupils, and do not account for socioeconomic factors in the immediate area.


Research conducted over many years strongly suggests that children coming from more educated parents, who earn a higher income and who have a strong/ambitious work ethic will almost always achieve higher examination results than those from more poorly educated and lower income families.  Knowing this, then surely the socioeconomic level of the surrounding population should be factored into the final analysis, and OFSTED should adjust the final gradings of each school accordingly? 


In this modern technological, computerised society of ours, can OFSTED not come up with a mathematical calculation that will adjust the grading levels to more fairly reflect the really outstanding contribution of the teachers in schools such as this one?


After all, the OFSTED inspectors were all once teachers themselves weren't they?

Success Comes in Many Forms

At about this time last year I had been working for about nine months for a company under contract when I was told that I was no longer needed. As you can imagine, I was devastated especially since I believe I had completed my work well, with loyalty, and had put in many hours in order to secure a successful outcome.  As with all writing, this is only my point of view, however I met targets that were set for me and certainly in my appraisal interview nothing at all was mentioned about any unsatisfactory work.  People who worked with me may have a different view, but there was certainly no indication that I was in any way unsuitable for the job. For the first time in thirty six years I faced the prospect of unemployment. The question I ask now is this; how does one recover from such a blow? 

Well, it so happened that I had already been approached a short time before, to carry out some private tuition, and I had done a little of this.   As there was nothing else on the horizon, I decided I would use this opportunity that fate had thrust at me, to try to build a private home tutoring business.

I can now say, in all honesty, that the company that 'let me go' have done me the greatest favour that they could ever have done.  From the humble beginning in July 2011 with five private pupils, I now have a thriving business and I am personally tutoring between twelve and sixteen pupils per week.  In addition, I have secured the services of two well qualified teachers who also tutor privately as my associates.

Since my last blog, six of my pupils have had SATs and their results have been extremely pleasing, for them, their parents and for me as their tutor.

Of the six pupils that had SATs, every one of them has exceeded the targets set by their class teacher:

Sean, Sam(1), Joe and Harry, all in Year group 9 were at levels 5b/5c/5c/5c respectively; this year the have achieved 7b/7c/7c/7c respectively. 

Sam(2), Annabel both Year Group 6, were at level 3b/4c respectively, last year and have achieved 5c/5c respectively                                           

In addition:

Sam (2) was also recently diagnosed as being mildly dyslexic; Annabel at the age of 7 could not read sufficiently well to keep up with her targets or with the rest of the children and was recently selected to attend the Gifted and Talented Creative Writing Course.

As the title suggests, success comes in many forms, sometimes heavily disguised, but ultimately, when one rises like a phoenix from the ashes of what appears to be failure, that success is often sweeter for that rebirth. 



The biggest challenge is ....

Unusually, there are no real dramas to speak of this week, unless of course, you include the half term holiday.  For some reason children always become a little less focused; a little less able to concentrate, when there is a holiday looming.  Perhaps it's the flurry of arrangements with the street parties (?) or the topics and events at school, related to the Queen's Jubilee.  Whatever it is, the pupils this week have definitely been less attentive and more excitable as the week has progressed.  However, there is something else which is decidedly the bigger of the two challenges when teaching.


From all my teaching of adults and children, I find that the biggest challenge to overcome is not a lack of concentration, but a lack of confidence in their own ability.  From beginning teaching with someone either one-to-one or in a classroom, one has to gain their trust and respect, but the one thing a teacher has to impart into the psyche of a learner is that they are able to, and can actually do the work.


Over many years, I have seen adults display an almost complete mental block in something for the first 4-6 weeks (one 2 hour session per week) of a class.  At some time during these 4-6 weeks they have heard so many times from me that I believe in them, I believe they can do this and they will succeed, that eventually they begin to believe it themselves.  Guess what?  From the first moment that they believe in themselves, they find the work is okay, they do understand it and they can do it.  This is the point at which the learner begins to really learn; they 'take off'; the snowball effect, if you like.  They learn one thing and it doubles; they learn two things and they double etc. etc.  Before you know it, they have climbed that mountain and succeeded.


I have also seen the same results with children; children who believe they cannot do maths; don't understand fractions/decimals/percentages; perhaps don't understand some words in a piece of writing.  After working with them for about a month one-to-one, the same metamorphosis occurs.   They suddenly being to learn at a faster rate, because they now believe and know, they can understand and do the work.


This is one of the greatest rewards I know in teaching. It is also one of the reasons why one-to-one teaching succeeds, when the same work has been taught and explained perfectly well by the teacher in school, but to a class of 25-30 children - there isn't always an opportunity to work one-to-one and for the child to ask questions that they need answering in order to feel really confident with one aspect of the topic.  This lack of confidence on one or two parts overshadows the rest of the learning. The child begins to lose a little confidence in their ability.  As parents we all know what happens next; a slight lack of confidence in one area then leads to a lowering of confidence in other areas of work - it's also a snowball.


Watching someone blossom and develop from a point of low confidence, to a peak of believing they can achieve something is the single most energising change I have had the pleasure to witness over and over and over again in my teaching work.  It is the reason why we want to teach; why we continue to teach and why the reward in teaching is not for those who are looking solely for financial rewards. 


As a people centred profession, if the people (i.e. learners) are not at the centre of your reasons for teaching, then it is the wrong profession for you.


GCSE Panic Stations!

I had a rather unusual request this week, given the time of year.  As many of you will know the GCSE exams are looming and some schools have completed some examinations already.  I was contacted by a family in Durham, whose daughter is due to take the English Literature GCSE examination in two weeks time.  The student in question wanted some extra help with essays for the examination questions.  I decided to take the challenge and then after confirming date and times of the session, I had second thoughts and wondered what the devil I could do in two hours? Regardless of this, I had made a commitment and so duly went along at the appointed time, to the family home.

The particular syllabus I had to summarily read over, prior to the teaching session, was Edexcel; it seems the school where the student attended had only recently changed examination boards.  As well as this, the class teacher had been off ill for some of the term and had not realised that the essay criteria was completely different to that which had been taught for all of the previous year.  The student(s), as the whole class are in the same position, were therefore in a bit of a panic.

As a private tutor, all I can say is, thank goodness for the world wide web, from which I was able to download enough material on to my laptop and take this with me for myself and Jenny (not her real name) to work on.  After discussing what she wanted to tackle first, I also produced my copies of Pride and Prejudice and some notes, and we set to work.

The main change from the way the students had been expected to write their essays was that now they had to include a number of points and quotes, whereas previously they had to focus on one point and discuss it in depth.  Jenny had a slight panic attack as she wasn't certain how to do this. After reading over one or two example questions, I noted a few points and then began to write an introduction to the essay so that Jenny could see how to put it together. I illustrated my points, adding quotes, character traits and language examples etc., to explain my argument/analysis.  Once I had done this, Jenny let out a sort of 'Oh, I see!"  She then set to work independently on the next example question and we went over it at the end.

I must add, that previously Jenny was predicted an A* for this subject, and in the mocks the exam board marking system would have given her a C - she was obviously devastated by this and that was why I had been called in.

I am happy to say, that at the end of the two hour session her father remarked that she seemed much more relaxed about the exam now.

I was quite proud of that, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say. I am going back for another session with Jenny in two days time, so hopefully that will allay any of her fears that are still stubbornly hanging around her shoulders.  However, there is a long wait to August for the results - we teachers all wait with baited breath too.

Teachers Lack of Knowledge Means they are Failing our Children

Do you sometimes wonder what schools, teachers and SENCOs, are actually doing about the children who are not reaching the government's literacy and numeracy targets for their age range.  Well you are not alone. 


I was recently engaged to tutor a junior school boy in the Redcar area, whose parents were concerned about his lack of progress in literacy.  On further discussions and investigation, I discovered that an assessment by both the school SENCO and an Educational Psychologist had been done two years previously, but had not been followed up by the SENCO or the teachers.  This particular boy is now really struggling and has real difficulty with phonics and reading.  This resulting difficulty is also affecting his other school work and his confidence and self-esteem.


The sad thing is that the Educational Psychologist recommended a further assessment the year after writing his report, as he felt he could not categorically state whether the child was dyslexic or not -  a common feature if a child is referred to the Education Department before reaching their 9th birthday. (It is very difficult to tell whether a child is dyslexic or nor before this age).


Surprisingly, the school concerned has a good reputation and the most recent OFSTED inspection listed it as a Good school.  This makes me wonder what on earth they were doing, although as I have said in previous blogs, I do not work in a school where I have to teach and take care of lots of children - I teach one-to-one as that is my speciality, so perhaps I cannot fully appreciate the work level they have on a daily basis.


Allowing for stress and heavy workload, what is more worrying is the attitude of the teachers this particular boy has had, and their lack of knowledge about the basic signs and features of dyslexia.  One teacher said she thought he could be autistic; another said he could be epileptic; another teacher gave another misdiagnosis.  Of the three teachers concerned, it appears that not one of them thought to have a short discussion with the SENCO in their school, to ascertain whether he had previously had an assessment, or thought to consult the SENCO to ask for a new assessment for this child.


After a long talk with the parents and the child I believe there is a very strong possibility he is dyslexic; he has all the indicators and signs; he is otherwise a bright, intelligent boy with a lovely personality.  My first assessment with him showed that he had a worrying lack of knowledge of phonics; he had difficulty sequencing; he lacked confidence in his ability to read letters and words and appeared to have a short term memory.  (There were also many other features which are too numerous to list).


Can I suggest to all universities running teacher training courses, all schools and all education departments that they all, as a matter of urgency, ensure that ALL teachers in ALL schools are given a short course in identifying possible signs of dyslexia.


Children falling into this undiagnosed category are often told they are lazy, daydreamers, thick, slow and of low intelligence.  These comments and a few even nastier ones, are still bandied around by teachers.  These are counterproductive and are certainly not professional.


Parents of other pupils I teach have also had a battle with school head teachers and SENCOs to have an assessment carried out.  One of my other junior pupils in Ingleby Barwick had his written work put on the whiteboard for the whole class to correct his spellings after the teacher had first told him it was disgraceful and he had to write it again.  After a letter and a visit from Mum the SENCO agreed to an assessment, but said that she didn't think that they would find anything. When the  assessment was carried out by an Educational Psychologist it was confirmed that the pupil was indeed dyslexic.


Another pupil I am teaching, and have done so since September 2011, is in Year 8 at a school in Billingham.  Up until my tuition she simply had a teaching assistant with her in every class reading out the work to her.  After a long battle, a temporary SENCO who failed to pass on information and details, she has finally had an assessment. The current permanent SENCO has written to me to ask for details of the work I have been carrying out with her.  I as more than happy to reply with full details.  This last example shows how the work of the SENCO can be done when someone cares enough about the work they do.


Very soon, parents across the country are due to go to schools for information about how their child is doing at school.  Teachers are very efficient at explaining their child's progress in technical terms and jargon - most parents have no idea what they mean and are reluctant to ask because they are made to feel stupid.  I urge all parents to ask the teachers exactly what they mean.  Ask those questions that you want and need to know: 


Is my child's reading at an average or acceptable level?  Is my child's understanding of maths at an average or acceptable level?  If not, ask them why not and what are  they going to do about it.


After all, legally the parent is responsible for ensuring their children are educated - if they skip school are the teachers prosecuted?  I think not.




Pupil's success is my success

I was elated this week to hear that one of my pupils has been selected to go on the Gifted and Talented Programme for Creative Writing.  That may not be earth shattering news to most people, but this particular pupil has had a difficult ride at school early on - let me explain.

Annie's (not her real name) mother contacted me about four years ago because she was concerned about the lack of progress in literacy and Annie (aged 7 at the time) was not picking up phonics properly - she was worried about her daughter's lack of ability to read properly, resulting in a lack of progress in other subjects too.  Annie didn't like literacy or numeracy and found both difficult.

We started off using a variety of multi-sensory resources (3D letters) so that Annie could try out words and spellings without making mistakes on the paper; then we would write down any words/sentences etc. as a progression from the initial teaching points.  As well as working hard, I created a friendly relaxed atmosphere where Annie felt that she could achieve and we would practise other words until she understood them.

Annie's mother also had her assessed for a Specific Learning Difficulty (Dyslexia); the Educational Psychologist found that Annie was not dyslexic, but she did have a short-term memory which hampered her ability to retain necessary and important information for any length of time. I have come across this difficulty before - it manifests itself in such a way it is easy to mistake if for dyslexia, as the signs and symptoms are very similar.

After a short while Annie began to feel more confident and enjoyed the work we did together; she began to enjoy reading and literacy.  Her progress is such that Annie, now in Year 6, is reading more complex story books and is enjoying creating her own stories. 

After building progress and confidence in literacy, we began work on her maths and here also Annie has made great strides forward, and can correctly work out most of her homework with some input from me on how to tackle the calculation and what does the teacher actually want her to do.

So why I am still tutoring Annie after four years - perhaps you think that does not show progress or success? 

The truth is Annie still likes and enjoys the work we do together and she feels comfortable enough to ask me anything, because she knows I will answer it with patience and in a way that she can understand. More importantly, she is able to use that understanding to help her with her other work, and when she has school work that she finds challenging, we are able to  talk about it and use questions and answers with each other so that she can work out the method and answer herself.

From a child who disliked literacy and numeracy so intensely that she used to cry and shout at home,  to the Gifted and Talented group in Creative Writing - that sounds like success to me!



Teachers have too many holidays

Well, it's coming to the end of my few days off.  I have been ill for most of this and I have exactly two more days before I continue my teaching work.  Yes, granted I am not teaching all day in a school, as I have chosen to make my career in private tution, but I still have to prepare work for my pupils beforehand as all teachers do.


In addition I have an appointment to see some new clients this week, so you see, when teachers say but we don't get all those weeks off; we work during our holidays preparing materials and classses and training, they are telling the truth.


Aside from all that, there is no other job I would rather do, and if I had to work until 10pm at night preparing work I would gladly do it, and have done so for a number of years in the past when I worked for a local authority education service.


When you find your vocation or calling in life, then that is something that energises your whole and makes you happy to be alive.  It also puts me in mind of the quote by Confuscius, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”   I don't work much because I love what I do. 


What is even more surpprising is that I spent many years believing I was not good enough to be a teacher because I was taught under the old Grammar School and Secondary Modern system - I attended the latter and so grew up believing I wasn't very good. To have a job in the present economic climate is a great feat; to have a job you love is wonderful.


If your child expresses a wish to achieve something you think they cannot, please, please keep quiet.  Encourage them, help them; do all you can to make this come true.  At some point, their wish will either come true, or they will find their true calling on their journey as I did.  Also, take the trouble to read this link on Rob Smedley - Great inspiration for children who are told by someone they cannot achieve something, which does still unfortunately happen regularly in some classrooms in this country.


3rd April

Welcome to my new blog which is about the issues, challenges and successes that arise in my work as a Private Home Tutor.  If you have read my website then you will know that I teach primary and secondary Maths and English, Creative Writing and English Literature.


I hope the blogs will be of interest to parents, teachers and other private tutors.  Many parents are concerned about the development of their child at school, and in particular, the levels they attain in the SATs and GCSE qualifications.  Some of my writing may well discuss an issue about which you have more information, or it may be something about which you have strong feelings.  Please do read my blogs and post a comment - I will be more than happy to gain more information and other points of view, however I would appreciate it if you feel it necessary to make comments that are negative, that they are worded in a  manner that is both constructive and polite and that they are not just complaining, throw-away remarks.


Today's session

As a private home tutor I have to work during the school holidays as I am self-employed am not able to gain from a regular income that provides me with paid holidays.  Also many parents like their children's tutoring continued over the holidays, including the summer holidays.


Today I visited two young girls and we made and wrote out Easter cards.  Since they had already made one at school they were surprised that they would be making another one. 

"But," I said to them, "Have you made one for Grandma?"

"No" was the reply, as I had expected.  Mum smiled and left us to it.


After an hour we had two lovely Easter cards; one addressed to Granny and one addressed to Nanny, complete with infant-formed letters and lots of princess stickers all over the envelope.  Both children loved making these and were very proud of what they had done.


As both girls are only 5 years and 4 years old, it's obviously important to keep them interested as well as providing a stimulating topic to help develop language skills and writing formation.  This was an important consideration when first talking to Mum about how I would tackle the weekly sessions with them. It was really important that, in the initial visit where I met Mum and the girls, Mum understood that the work at this age involved lots of language, cutting, sticking and picture making so they were engaged as well as learning.


The girls are very lively and keep me on my toes.  One of them is very mischievous and as quick as lightning in picking up glue, pencils etc. that her sister wants.  A firm approach is often needed but they are lovely children.


Over a period of time we have created a spring picture with key words, a small biography with photographs and used 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a basis for reading, language and making model caterpillars and butterflies.


What I have found is that working with such young children also challenges my creativity a great deal!

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