This week has been particularly sad for me. I always find this time of year hard. I love my job. I used to work in senior management in schools, but I came out several years ago because I didn’t like where teaching and schools were going, with endless focus on targets and statistics. Schools should be about doing the best for the individual child, not treating them as statistics.
For the past five years, I have been teaching part-time in a private tuition centre. I teach students from about 5-16 and I help them to prepare for GCSE and SATs. In May of every year, the students leave to sit their exams. This week a vast majority of my students left to sit their SATs or GCSEs. At the tuition centre where I work, the children call us by our first names. This is done to make the child feel that we are guiding them through their education rather than forcing them to learn. Surprisingly it works well. The majority make a year’s progress in six months but some, with the right positive guidance, just soar. The focus is on the individual child. We monitor strengths and weaknesses and we design a bespoke education programme to help them.
When my students first come, they lack confidence. Many have been given the wrong advice about their GCSE exams and they have no idea how to formulate an essay or what they should focus on. Most have been told to follow a formula such as P.E.E – point, evidence, explanation. Or write an essay with five paragraphs and numerous quotes. I teach them that English is not about formulas. It is about showing that writers write for a reason. By the end of a few months, you can see their confidence grow. It is remarkable how confident they become. Teenagers can be tricky. However, if you find a way in to develop a good professional relationship, then it isn’t long before they respect you and understand that you are there to help them. Currently, I feel like a proud mother duck pushing her offspring into the world and enabling them to move onto the next stage of their education and their life.
I was genuinely sad this year as many of my students have been with me for several years and I will miss teaching them. I encourage them to return if they ever need help with writing University testimonials or applications for jobs. Most never do, because they now have the skills to take into the future.
Of course, I was given no end of ‘teacher gifts’ and these never sit well with me. My reward comes from knowing that I have made a difference in someone’s life. I’ve given them confidence. They now have the right tools to use in the future. I enjoy receiving cards that have something written inside telling me what a difference I have made. I do tell my students not to buy me anything and this year I came up with a much better idea of having a book for them to write comments inside instead. If you are considering buying a teacher something, then it is so more worthwhile for your child just to write or make a card. These last forever and they mean so much. Chocolates and flowers soon go, but a comment in a card lasts forever. You don’t go into teaching to make money. You go into teaching to make a difference.
So, to all my students out there who are about to sit their important exams, I tell them this. It has been an absolute joy to see you grow and flourish. I am very proud of your achievements. Remember that as much as exams are indicative of our academic ability, they do not define a person. Kindness is the most important measure of success as you become an adult. People will forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel. Remember the Worst-Case Scenario for your exams. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail an exam and you might need to retake it later. You will still have a home and you will still have your family. Exams are not the ‘be all and end all.’ Good luck in your future! I look forward to hearing of all your successes.