I’m tutoring a lovely Year 11 student.
“Can we do Pythagoras’s theorem today?” she asks me. “We were doing it in our revision session yesterday, and I kind of got it, but everyone else wanted to move on to another topic.”
We spend the next hour really getting stuck in to Pythagoras. We draw and measure triangles. We try to come up with witty ways to remember the formula. We do lots of practice questions, working together at first, until my student is confident enough to try it on her own.
This is where we as tutors really come into our own.
We can work at a pace that suits our student. We can spend time on topics they hadn’t quite understood in class.
And we can allow our students to ask questions they’d be scared to ask in front of their classmates.
“The thing I don’t get,” my student says near the end of our lesson, “is how can you tell if you should do Pythagoras or do that sin cos tan thing?”
There’s not enough time to talk about “that sin cos tan thing” today, but I can already see next week’s lesson plan formulating in my head! I’m excited to show my student how so many topics in Maths are intertwined. Something else they often miss out on in school.
In Maths, your answer is either right or wrong, tick or cross. A lot of kids today complete their Maths homework online and their work is marked automatically.
How tempting it is to just give up when you see a page full of crosses and there’s nobody to explain where you went wrong.
What a difference a tutor can make to those students who feel like giving up.
A good Maths tutor will know the common pitfalls that students fall into, identify misconceptions or gaps in their learning.
A good Maths tutor knows how to provide the right amount of scaffolding, so that their student feels confident completing questions on their own and feels a sense of achievement.
I don’t want to undermine the amazing work that teachers do. In a class of 20 or more pupils, all working at a different pace, it’s impossible to tailor the lesson to suit everyone. Most teachers don’t have enough time on their hands to really dig deep into their pupils’ understanding and to make sure every child really “gets it”.
In a Maths classroom, a little misconception that has gone unnoticed during primary school can have a ripple effect on later learning. A tutor who can identify those misconceptions early on can have a massive impact on that child’s future progress.
Every time I finish a tutoring session, I come away feeling good about what I do. I’m thankful that I’m not a teacher, constrained by time and weighed down by paperwork and target grades. I can teach the subject that I love, at a pace that’s right for the student, and I won’t move on from a topic until I know they understand it. I plan my lessons carefully, making sure the work is achievable for the student, so each lesson feels like a success for both of us. Often their confidence has been knocked by their experience of Maths in school; by designing tasks that are achievable yet challenging, I can build that confidence up again.
More than anything, I love designing activities and puzzles for my lessons. I like to think my lessons are never dull!
I have to say, tutoring has made me fall in love with Maths all over again.