Memoirs of a Tutor

Today’s blog is written by Jen Christie, Meta Prep’s Head of English

Forget about Jules Verne’s novel, ‘Round the World in 80 Days’. In just three days, I’ve taught children in South Africa, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Ireland, the UK and Hong Kong. I’m not travelling by hot air balloon.  Almost all of my travel these days is via a first-class ticket with Zoom. 

What’s Zoom?

I am one of those people who used Zoom long before it was a verb… not that I was very good at it. My mobile phone was my weapon of choice and I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. The sound was terrible and usually my camera and I were generally unfocused. 

How times have changed. Covid-19 has brought so much pain, fear, frustration and destruction into so many lives, but I can see one positive thing that has come from it. Adults aren’t so uncomfortable about communicating in front of a camera anymore. Hurrah!

Three years ago, when I first moved to Provence, I had a lot of requests to continue with 11+ preparation. Frustratingly, when potential clients realised that I was no longer in London – they balked. They wanted someone to come to their homes, have a cup of tea and to unlock the mysteries of 11+ English.

What parents didn’t yet understand was that children, for the most part, were already perfectly happy chatting and learning in front of a screen. They had grown up with cameras and all sorts of tech. From my perspective, they seemed to have an innate and organic approach to technology and online ‘life’. They simply turned up, tuned in, and got on with things. The camera didn’t bother them. A screen was the least of their worries.

This was a stark reminder for me of how often adults tend to underestimate children. Young people are almost always smarter and more capable than people assume. And I don’t just mean ‘book’ smart, I mean ‘life’ smart. My students teach me new things all the time. For example, did you know that there is a cocktail in Alaska that contains a human toe?

Jokes aside, kids are pretty clued-up these days and in my experience most children are keen and eager to learn new things. For me, only part of my job is about ‘teaching’. The other, and arguably more important part, is about building a relationship where my students see me as a trusted friend. Nothing makes me happier than watching them belly laugh at something we’ve both found quite funny.

Given the right set of circumstances, most children are willing to work hard. Get them on side, gain their friendship and trust; build their confidence and self-esteem; and they are often willing to work VERY hard.  That’s when I know that the balance is just right. They’re having fun, they’re learning some really fantastic new material and their internal locus of control is in good shape. They know they’re responsible for their own learning and they are quite happy to get stuck in and see what they can achieve.

Changes in education

We all know that education is changing. It always is – although sometimes it tends to go slowly round in circles. As an example, in the 1970’s, teaching children to read using phonics was extremely popular. Over time, this changed and the use of teaching phonics for reading became rather unpopular and children were encouraged to spell phonetically and to sort of do their own thing. And now, phonics are back on top — popular once again. Many things in our lives are cyclical, and unfortunately this includes pandemics. Some experts are now arguing that we should use this pandemic as an opportunity to assess and review many things in our lives – including education. Interested in this subject, read Arabella’s blog about exams and rethinking assessment. This could be a wonderful opportunity to re-examine how children learn and to discover the processes involved with learning itself. There is a plethora of new information out there about the science of learning. 

This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about the work that Meta Prep is doing and how this new, online school uses the science of learning and metacognition to help its students to become better learners. Imagine knowing how your brain worked – how your individual brain liked to learn. Imagine knowing what really motivated you – and how to use this to your advantage. Imagine having a metacognitive toolkit at your disposal whenever you were tackling something new, intriguing or challenging. When it comes to metacognition, things are changing for the better. Oh, how I wish I’d been taught these skills as a child!

And so, when it comes to the world of online schooling, tutoring and teaching, I’m truly excited! I’m happy as a clam, even in the midst of a pandemic. I’m doing what I love and my students are happy, thriving and achieving. It’s win-win all round. As we say in Provence, Santé!