Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.
Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.
The question is, what will you learn today?
Ludo Millar 1:21
Hello and welcome to the 145th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, the host of this podcast. Welcome back to regular listeners, welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast and a very, very warm welcome to our guest today, Meera Vasudeva. Meera, welcome to the podcast.
Meera Vasudeva 2:34
Thank you very much Ludo. I’m very excited to be here.
Ludo Millar 2:37
And I’m equally excited to have you on we met recently, for the first time at the National Tutors Conference in London, which was a really lovely event. It’s great to meet so many other people in the UK tutoring industry and plenty of people whose faces you’ve only ever seen on a Zoom screen before. So very lovely to meet people in person. There’s been a few episodes recently of people I met during that conference. So it was obviously a very productive time. I hope you enjoyed it as well, Meera.
Meera Vasudeva 3:06
Absolutely. I’m so excited to have actually been because last year I remember it being advertised. I think it was online last year. But I think I remember being at school and not being able to attend. So it was wonderful to finally go this year. And I met so many fabulous people. So it was a great opportunity to network and I’m really looking forward to next year already.
Ludo Millar 3:25
Yeah, exactly, you’ve booked time off, you’ve popped it in the diary. Big props to The Tutors’ Association for organising a great, great conference. But Meera, for those of you listeners who haven’t come across Meera before, then you need to get into your Facebook groups and you need to understand your English tutoring a little bit better because as a little background to Meera, just before we dive in here, Meera has been a private tutor of English for almost 14, 15 years now and was also a GCSE English examiner for over 9 years now, head of English at a school in London for around about 10 years as well. So mixing those three roles, really, as so many teachers do. But the bit that really allows Meera to stand out and one of the angles that we want to come at this conversation from today is that Meera has been the admin and leader of a massive and hugely influential English teachers’ Facebook group. It’s got over, I think, is it 24,000 members now?
Meera Vasudeva 4:30
We’ve got over 24,000 registered users on the website and the Facebook group itself as not everyone has Facebook for various reasons. We’ve got over 8000 and it’s incredibly active.
Ludo Millar 4:41
Okay, well the link to that will be in the show notes as it always is. And hopefully after the next 25 minutes or so, you will be convinced to join that group and to dive into all that Meera and that group have to offer but before we do any of that Meera, I’d love to ask: what is giving you reason to smile today, Thursday 8th December?
Meera Vasudeva 5:04
I suppose, gosh, trying to be- what gives me a reason to smile today. It’s just great to be invited here, Ludo. If I’m honest, I was very close to declining your very kind invitation to be on your show. So I’m completely coming out of my comfort zone. And I suppose I feel quite proud of myself for doing that. And I was cajoled into doing this by my partner. And yeah, it’s a new experience for me completely. So that in itself is growth.
Ludo Millar 5:31
Yeah, well, I’ve always been very proud on this podcast to give certain guests their first podcast experience. And I think that is hugely important because this podcast and this audience is about small business, small education business, growth and doing a podcast, doing a blog, doing your first live workshop or event at a festival, that is all part of it. So yeah, there’s so much for you to add here Meera.
Now, regular listeners will remember and will know that we like to come at these conversations first from the school days angle, looking back to those days when our guests were at school, were tiny terrors or front of the class nerds, whatever it was. Now, I know that you’ve had a busy couple of weeks Meera – Meera is actually joining us from India where she’s attending a wedding next week, normally based in London in the UK – but traveling around, documents flying about here and there, you weren’t able to find any school reports, or you were able to find them, but not bring them to the conversation. But you do have a bit of memory about the trends, the patterns, the threads of school feedback, all those years ago, is that right?
Meera Vasudeva 6:41
I do, I do. I think it’s always been a bit of a joke in the family that I’ve always had reports that probably- I mean, I don’t think I was a tiny terror definitely not, and I definitely wasn’t a front of the class nerd either. I was somewhere in the middle. But what I was is one of those kids who talks a lot. So there was always a threat of “Meera’s really rude. However, she needs to focus on her work more, because she’s a little too chatty”. So I think I’ve just always been really friendly and wanting to talk to people, wanting to talk to the person next to me getting distracted in that manner. So that’s always been the thread of me just being a bit of a chatterbox.
Ludo Millar 7:20
Yeah, I mean, I guess that is a nice, easy thing for teachers to pick up on, isn’t it? You know, without needing to go too deep into what your attainment’s been like, it’s like, “Okay Meera, I shall always recall her, she was chatting at the front of the class”. I wonder where that came from then, do you think that was just you are very much a people person you love to talk to others? Or do you think that class actually bored you a little bit?
Meera Vasudeva 7:42
That’s a really interesting question. I actually think, I come from a massive family. And there’s always people around. And so I think it’s more of a kind of, you have lots of siblings, and you’re talking to everybody, and then you’re in a classroom and you just want to continue talking to everybody. And I suppose that’s translated in that sense of kind of family and communities. So, for example, the English department group, the essence of that is getting people together, creating that community talking to others. I suppose being a bit nosy, seeing what other people are doing, how other people are teaching. So that thread has almost continued all the way through that it’s benefited me in many ways.
Ludo Millar 8:20
Yeah, that nosiness seeing what maybe a classmate’s test score was – “did you get that? Oh ok, you didn’t get that” kind of way [LAUGHS]. Exactly. It’s a sort of constant comparison. So do you think that’s the way that you naturally were as a child and had been almost forced to be by the big family that you’ve grown up in? Do you think that that sense of reaching out to people, always connecting, always chatting, always getting to know people, do you think that is the real ethos of the English leaders’ group? Do you think that’s why you started this group?
Meera Vasudeva 8:55
I think that supportive nature, definitely. I mean, if we’re going to perhaps look at it on that type of psychological level of going back to your childhood, and what happened there that then leads to your present, I suppose, my parents were also foster carers. So for that reason, I’ve had a large family. I mean, I’ve met children from all walks of life who have had many situations, disabilities, really hard times, and you never really know what people are going through. And so the essence of the English department Facebook group, it’s just to be supportive. Our culture, our ethos, it’s to support one another. I mean, teachers have burnt out, teachers are tired. And it’s just about sharing. And it’s about building that community together. It’s about giving people time back – teachers go home and they’re tired. And if it means I share a resource which allows somebody else to just spend time with their family, or just have dinner, or have a bit of peace and quiet and do nothing, because teachers continue, teachers work incredibly hard. It’s one of the only jobs where you just don’t stop. You continue in the evening. You continue at the weekends. And it’s a really sad state, if I’m honest. And so the ethos of the group is to just give back, to share. It’s completely free. I don’t make a penny from the group. And so if anything, I put a lot into it.
So it’s quite selfless in that manner. And I think some people buy me the odd coffee here and there, which is really lovely. And it goes back into just the website because it does cost money to run. However, it is just about helping one another.
Ludo Millar 10:29
Yeah, that is a truly lovely way of putting it Meera. And do you think that same selfless ethos is your why behind the tutoring that you do? Because obviously, you know, you have been a teacher, you’ve been a head of English, but you’ve also been a private tutor for a number of years as well. Is that kind of the same? Or is there a different angle?
Meera Vasudeva 10:51
I think it all just amalgamates. If I’m honest, I think I can’t put it down to one specific why. I think there are lots of little whys that make up my big why of what I do. So I think for myself, when I was a child, I think one of my big whys was being the person that a child needs when they are a child, I don’t think I had that. I went to a non-selective state school, it was down the bottom of my road, I don’t think my parents knew any better. It was none of this kind of ‘let’s search for the best grammar school. Let’s try and get her into a private school’. Firstly, we wouldn’t have even had the money to send me to a private school. I’ve always been very envious of children who have attended private schools, because I think some of the opportunities have been incredible. I mean, I can’t play an instrument. I almost feel as though if I went to a better school, that could be something I may have learnt. And so I thought I went to a very ordinary school. And I think it’s unfair that the knowledge you get in an ordinary state school may sometimes be different to somebody who goes to a private school, and they have greater knowledge at hand. So I feel as though if I had someone like myself, when I was, say, 15 or 16, I think I could have possibly done a little bit better.
I don’t think I did bad, far from it. But I think life could have been a little bit different. And so I think it’s so important to have that knowledge, that guidance, that person just giving you direction. I think so many teenagers the direction is when it comes to exams and studying and how do you even revise and how do you put timetables together? How do you revise effectively? How do you remember things? And so I think one of the whys is that I know I could give children a lot of guidance. I suppose that’s one of my whys, another one is just passion for my subject. I absolutely love teaching English. I love poetry. I love reading books, I think in this day and age where it’s a battle where technology and children are constantly on their phones or Netflix and there’s a million things they could be doing, why would they pick up a book? So they need that guidance again.
But a book is beautiful, poetry is wonderful, on a rainy day, on a sunny day. So really to inspire children to find the joy in English, because I do believe English is a subject for life. It’s not only for exams, and that’s my ethos. I make very clear to students because it’s all around you. It’s in politics. It’s in supermarkets when you walk around. And effective, persuasive language, it’s in politics when politicians are giving speeches, for example. So it’s literally all around them. So I do want them to enjoy the subject and want them to see the relevance in real life. That to be able to communicate effectively, it’s a skill for life, it’s not just for your examination.
Ludo Millar 13:44
If you give that spiel at the start of every first session you have with them, then they’ll be hooked in for years [LAUGHS]. It was almost like a politician’s rousing speech, actually funny that you ended on that touch there. But no, you’re very right, that the relevance of these areas, the relevance of confidence and being able to speak well and speak confidently and speak fluently cannot be understated. And I do think that being a good tutor is often about having confidence as the tutor, but actually more than that, you are exuding that confidence, or at least you’re showing the child those ways to be confident, but also, “Look, I’m going through this journey of trying to become more confident. So let’s do this together. Let’s share in that journey that we’re striving to become”.
Meera Vasudeva 14:39
I think it’s really about educating the whole child as well. And I think my subject lends itself to that so well, because I think when you’re studying English, you’re not just studying reading and writing. You’re studying philosophy. You’re studying psychology of human behaviour. You’re studying society. There’s just so much going on in the reading of one text. And the dissection of one text, that it’s just an incredible subject, you’re teaching them empathy, because they get to look at character situations and morals. And you get to explore that and discuss that and put yourself in those situations. So technically you’re making better human beings, you’re sending off souls into society. And if I could do that, that’s incredible.
Ludo Millar 15:23
What another lovely way of putting it.
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Ludo Millar 15:28
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Ludo Millar 16:10
So, I mean in your experience, Meera, what makes a good (English) tutor?
Meera Vasudeva 16:18
I would say to start with knowledge, I think knowledge is crucial as a teacher because, as a teacher or a tutor, but more specifically as a tutor, you’re giving that additional support, you’re trying to add value to a child’s life, you’re trying to add value. Exam grades and teaching them the success. So knowledge is really important. But I think something that’s really important is building relationships. So when I was in school, when I was teaching in school full-time, I would often say to my children, “I see you more than I see anybody I live with at home. And so we will get on, we will enjoy this time we have together, because I see you the most out of everybody in the week”. 4-5 hours in a week together, that is an awful lot of time. And I’d say to them, “You speak to me more than you probably speak to your parents!”. So I do think building relationships and recognising that children are not robots, you can’t just bring them into a room or have them on screen and all of a sudden, instantly just start teaching, it’s not going to work. I think it’s really important to develop that relationship to get to know them as human beings, it’s crucial to get to know their likes, their dislikes, and what they like.
So you could tailor your learning to that, it’s really important. But I think that’s crucial as well. So a mix of knowledge, experience, skill of how to teach because having the knowledge isn’t enough. So how do you communicate that knowledge to students? That’s crucial. And how do you enthuse students as well? So many switch off, whether it’s face-to-face or behind a screen. So I think part of getting to know them and building that relationship, it’s finding things that may interest them. So whether it’s a story or poem on a topic they like or something they can relate to is really important.
Ludo Millar 18:06
Yeah, that final point is massive, isn’t it? Making it relatable to the real world and you’ve just spoken about it earlier, about how relevant English is to the real world. So actually, that link there is almost self-perpetuating. But making things relevant to the real world will be engaging, you know, children. Children love to learn, that’s without a doubt, but also, they love to keep up with the latest trends or fads or topical concepts. So yeah, if you’re able to relate that to a piece of news or a recent invention or recent creation or recent discovery or something, for example, in science, then you’re well on the way to making the entire session more interesting. And they’re walking away going, “I absolutely loved that session with with Ms Vasudeva”, or Meera or whatever it is, going back to their parents, ranting and raving about how great it was that Meera let them watch a YouTube video or something. It would be instructional of course …
Meera Vasudeva 19:07
And these things stay with you for life, don’t they? I mean, I remember great stories I read. And I love passing that onto my students. One of my favourite stories as a child, and I imagine I must have read it I don’t remember exactly which year group, I imagine it could have been Year 6 and it’s still one of my favourite stories and I love teaching it is Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl. And if there’s anyone in the audience or listening who’s not familiar with it, go away and read it. It’s a great story. It’s not only for children, it’s for adults too.
So things like that. They stay with them for life. Students don’t realise how wonderful reading is. And that actually, if you put away your phone, you could have so much fun reading.
Ludo Millar 19:46
I think that’s one of the most exciting, most enticing little snippets: ‘It’s not only for kids, it’s for adults too’. That should be the mantra of our community actually, because yeah, exactly, we’re all little kids inside, we all want to read the most exciting story or learn an exciting moral lesson or whatever it is. I love that phrase: ‘It’s not just for kids, it’s for adults too’.
So, you’ve been a tutor, you’ve been a teacher alongside that for many years. And lots and lots of our audience will also have done the same, either simultaneously or maybe moving to tutoring after teaching. What skills do you think you learnt as a teacher that you were then able to take into your tutoring?
Meera Vasudeva 20:34
Okay gosh, where do I start? I think everything I’ve learned as a teacher really is, I suppose the only thing that isn’t is the surplus data I’ve had to deal with [LAUGHS]. That’s probably the only thing I find irrelevant. Apart from that, literally every other part of the job has been relevant. So in a classroom, you’re dealing with 30 personalities. And that’s only one class. And then if you times that by 4 or 5 classes you’re teaching in a week – and my Maths is atrocious so I won’t even try and work out, I’m not strong in Maths I must say [LAUGHS] – so you’ve got these 30 different students that you’re dealing with. And when it comes to tutoring, you’re dealing with one child or possibly a small group. So I suppose empathy has been a big thing. Because I’ve learnt about different types of students. I’ve met students from different cultures, different walks of life. So I think empathy has been really useful.
On a personal level, patience. When you’re dealing with 30 different children, you have to have the patience. And just to be able to teach and treat each child as an individual, that’s been really important. Every child has had different needs. So building that relationship has been crucial. And I’ve definitely taken that into tutoring. And the difference with tutoring is it could be more personalised than in a classroom. So in a classroom, you’re forced to kind of deal with all 30 students, and there needs to be some level of dealing with all 30 of them at the same time. But in tutoring, you’re allowed to give more personalised, you’re allowed to have a more personalised relationship with the child.
But I think on another level, just the knowledge and the experience. So if we look at things I’ve had to do as head of department, when it comes to sequencing of the curriculum, when I tutor, I’m not just teaching one lesson in isolation, I’m teaching a series of lessons that I’ve planned. So there’s a connection, there’s a thread of knowledge and skills that I’m building on. And I’ve learned this through my teaching practice, from creating the curriculum for the whole school, from all the way down to Key Stage 3 to 6th Form, there has to be a thread of knowledge and skills and building upon prior knowledge. So that’s been really, really important sequencing of knowledge and lessons.
I think examiner training has been really important as well. So as an examiner, teaching and examining, I think professionally that has benefited me massively for tutoring, I feel I am so much more confident with my subject, I know what examiners are looking for. And I always say to students, at the end of the day as an examiner, all we have is a mark scheme in front of us. So it’s really important for students to understand the mark scheme. And for us to dissect the mark scheme and for them to understand nuances of the marking scheme, which I’m able to teach because of my examiner training. So I think that’s crucial.
I’ve also, as an examiner and a teacher, I’ve been able to look at a range of abilities, and scripts, that means I’m able to recognise frequent errors, and I’m able to teach towards those frequent errors. I still allow students to make them because I think making those errors is incredibly important. So I think I preempt the errors they’re going to make, I even have it on my PowerPoint slide. I’ll give them a task to do and on the next slide, it’s almost like magic, I say to them, “I know you’re going to probably make at least 3 or 4 of these 10 areas”. And they do [LAUGHS]. And they wonder how I know and I say, “This is what you call knowledge and experience”. So I think that’s been really valuable.
Ludo Millar 24:10
Yeah. What a wonderful list of skills, transferable skills. And actually, if you are someone listening who has been a teacher who’s either thinking about moving into tutoring or has just moved into tutoring, then it’s such a logical step precisely for those reasons that Meera just laid out. The skills that are transferable are almost ubiquitous, apart from maybe the data handling and the behaviour management side of it. And then skills that you maybe didn’t even think that would be relevant really coming to the fore. So thank you so much for laying those out.
Ludo Millar 24:50
And now a brief word from last week’s guest, Roshan Daryanani, whose episode you can catch after this.
Roshan Daryanani 25:00
By being on the podcast, I learned that there is a community of tutors who, in Ludo’s words, ‘speak the same language’ and have the same aspirations for their students. That was great to learn because working as a tutor can sometimes be a bit isolating. What I enjoyed most about it is that Ludo is a very relaxed and empathetic host, he made the time go by very quickly. And I’d say to future guests that being on the podcast is fun. It helps you reflect on your own experience, and share what you’ve learned so that others can benefit.
Ludo Millar 25:36
We’ve just got a couple of questions left, actually. And the final one will be about looking ahead to what’s next for you, Meera. And this almost seems like such a big topic to try and squeeze in at the end of a podcast, but I did want to ask you this because of your positioning in both the school environment and the tutoring environment. And the question is fairly blunt. But I’m just going to ask anyway [LAUGHS]. Do schools need tutors? And if so, what can be done to improve the links between the two?
Meera Vasudeva 26:09
I think it’s a really difficult question to answer if I’m honest. So I think we have to be aware of, in a post-COVID climate, kids have missed out on learning. So I think rather than having a divide between us and them, I don’t think there should be a divide. But I’m aware, I’ve witnessed, conversations both online and offline, where there seems to be some hostility towards tutors from class teachers. And I think there’s a range of reasons why, I think some teachers feel it’s burdening them when they get contacted by tutors and it becomes another stressor, because it’s another email, it’s another person to be accountable to or answer an email [from] and give work to or just respond. So I think that’s an issue. And there seems to be, yeah, there just seems to be a bit of a divide. And I think what we need to work really hard to do is to close that divide. And I think because there is possibly a tiny bit of conflict between class teachers and tutors outside, I think the best way to solve conflict of any thoughts always is communication.
So I think increasing the communication between class teachers and tutors, because at the end of the day, we’re working for the same cause, and that’s student success. We all want the same thing, we want students to succeed. So I think being a bit more selfless and thinking about students, that’s really important. So if we were working in partnership with tutors, then I think we just need to think about the bigger picture. Why are we doing this? We’re doing this because we want the child we are teaching to succeed and to do better. We’re on the same side. And that’s really important to recognise.
Ludo Millar 27:50
Yep, absolutely. So … do schools need tutors?
Meera Vasudeva 27:55
I would say, yes.
Ludo Millar 27:59
Okay, I’m gonna hold you to that [LAUGHS].
Meera Vasudeva 28:02
I will say yes, probably.
Ludo Millar 28:04
The democratic answer. But no, I am joking. The real answer is what you’re saying there, it’s to do with the blurring of the lines between the two and not the setting up of a ‘them and us’ situation.
Meera Vasudeva 28:20
And I think we need to recognise that teachers work incredibly hard. I’ve been there, I’ve done that in a classroom, and we can’t do it all. So I think we need to see it as a helping hand, a little bit of support for us and the child.
Ludo Millar 28:37
Yes. Meera, we are almost at a close here. But we wouldn’t want to finish without looking ahead to the future. And without setting up what you are going to be looking ahead to for the rest of this year and coming into 2023 so that our listeners can follow that journey and can be part of it. So what is next for you? What’s next for Meera Vasudeva?
Meera Vasudeva 29:02
Gosh, there’s a range of things. It’s all very exciting. I don’t know where to start. So I think first and foremost, I’m a teacher. And that’s something people need to recognise. I recently gave up my job. So I was working in a wonderful school, it was incredibly difficult to leave because I loved my school. I loved the children. I loved my team. I loved the staff. So it was a really difficult decision to walk away. And I did it so that I could develop and grow my own tutoring business, which seemed to take off really well. I’ve been tutoring for over 10 years or so, so I’ve been tutoring just as long as how I’ve been teaching. And so I walked away in July and I’m only just finding my feet and starting to grow. I’m learning a lot. So I think the year ahead, because I am only a teacher and I’ve never had to deal with things like accounts and branding and social media in those ways, so I think the year ahead in the future, it’s a learning curve. So it’s getting all the knowledge I need, learning branding. Tutoring is now an industry, I think post-COVID, we need to recognise it’s a proper industry as they say. So it’s not just a side job that you do to help out a neighbour or a family friend. Tutoring is a big thing now, and we need to recognise that and respect that as well. So that’s the year ahead.
Another project that I’m working on with a few teachers is, I think, post-COVID, it frustrates me slightly – and this may not be a popular opinion – but it frustrates me slightly that on social media in particular, I feel anybody can call themselves a tutor. Whereas I think there’s a certain skillset required for tutoring and knowledge and experience. So another project I’m working on is to create a platform for parents to find a qualified tutor. So by a qualified tutor, I mean someone who has experience teaching this subject, preferably in a school setting, but at least a degree in their subject. Because I think if you don’t have that knowledge and experience, you’re shortchanging parents and students, and it’s not fair, quite simply. So that’s another project that yeah, the year ahead, it’s just about learning really, for myself, development completely. So I mean, looking at things you offer, for example, there’s lot of CPD you offer and The Tutors’ Association. And so it’s just learning about this new industry that I’m working in full-time.
Ludo Millar 31:44
How exciting. So, you guys, listeners, will be listening to this just after Christmas, 25th December, if that’s something that you celebrate, looking ahead to the New Year, again, if this, January, is a time that you celebrate the New Year, what a really exciting time and time to think about new changes, any changes you’d like to make to your tutoring or your business. I hope some of the things that Meera has been discussing here can inspire that. Meera, if people want to join the Facebook group or the website, where can they do that?
Meera Vasudeva 32:21
Sure. So the website is www.englishdepartment.co.uk. And the Facebook group is searchable. I imagine typing in ‘English departments’, it should come up. If not, I think there’s a link for it on the website (or here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/256295668172162/)
Ludo Millar 32:39
Awesome. Both of those will be in the show notes. Meera, thank you so, so much for coming on, for taking part in your first podcast appearance. I think it was a real hit. So you should do more of these. But yeah, that’s been the 145th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name has been Ludo Millar. Thank you so much to Meera Vasudeva for coming on. I hope you enjoyed talking about what you do, Meera,
Meera Vasudeva 33:04
I did. Thank you for the opportunity, Ludo.
Ludo Millar 33:08
That’s quite alright, and listeners, we will catch you in the new year for our following episode. So have a great end of the year. And we’ll see you soon, cheerio.
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