I discovered my gift for tutoring selling hoovers at Homebase. While studying physics at university, I worked part-time explaining how the hoovers worked. A woman I was speaking to remarked that I seemed to know my stuff. I said I was doing physics with computer science at university and she said I should work for her tutoring agency. They had a kid who needed computing help and didn’t have anyone. I quit my job that week and have been doing it ever since. Now I am developing training for tutors to go into schools and help teachers. I am also writing a book on tutoring, talking about the benefits of working one-on-one with students.
I was a music producer for 12 years and still make a living from it, but it’s an experience that feeds into my tutoring and teaching. I worked with some of the best producers in the world. What I noticed about all of them is that what they taught you wasn’t just about sitting there and pressing record. The majority of the work was coaching the musicians to get them into the right position. It really does require a lot of patience and a lot of attention, to not just the detail in the music but the person or individual.
'I am never happier than when I am tutoring'There’s a lot of parallels to my tutoring because I work one-on-one with students. Very often it’s about creating a space for them to succeed rather than just drilling them with times tables or making them memorise facts. My belief is that any child is great, they just have blockages stopping them from getting where they want to. My main job is to remove those obstacles.
I’m dyslexic and I struggled with school. Teaching was the last career I would have chosen. My biggest motivation is providing children the support I didn’t have as a dyslexic kid. Every kid is different and they all need different levels of attention in the course of their education. That’s the joy of tutoring. You are always one-on-one, you are always giving them the support they need. In a school situation you are making sure you get through the syllabus. I am in a unique position where I can get them working on their own learning as well.
A lot of my job is about removing barriers that stop the kids from concentrating and finding ways we can change that. I do a lot of work helping kids be present and focused in the room. I had one kid who had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and his parents had written him off as a lost cause. Helping him understand why he was not focusing on certain things but choosing to focus on others made him concentrate better and come off his medication.
One-on-one learning is the most effective style of education. The problem is that it is the most expensive. For me, it’s slightly unfair that it is only available to kids who can afford it. That’s why I set up the Tutorfair Foundation to make this kind of learning accessible to with kids who otherwise could not afford it. Tutoring has been termed the shadow education sector, but I think it could be hugely beneficial if done properly. My work has been focused on making it more about supplementing the classroom teaching, even if it’s just one or two sessions a year or term.
I chased the dream of doing music and film because it sounded cool, but I am never happier than when I am in a lesson. A friend of mine a few years ago said: “You really like teaching don’t you?” And I said, “Yes it’s really cool, I like it.” And she was said, “No, you really love it. Your face just lights up when you talk about it.” Talking about film and music, I don’t get that same enthusiasm.
Teaching gives me energy; lessons with kids who are supposed to be difficult actually power me for the rest of the week. I love it when a kid jumps from 25% to 85% in maths in a week. They just jump and they start to get it. Everything just clicks and suddenly they become like a sponge. You can help them unblock their learning and realise their potential so when they break a subject such as algebra, something you never thought they would get, suddenly they want more and get so excited. That rush is just wonderful.
Please feel free to see the full article on the Guardian.
Photograph: Quinten Z Dreesmann and Breanna Yen