The volunteer tutors and mentors are in essence the driving force behind GT Scholars, and it’s always great to learn more about them and why they’re passionate about working with young people. We’ve had the privilege of interviewing one of our volunteering English tutors, Sarah, who recently shared more about how she helped her tutees improve their English grades. She also shares a little bit more about her background and why she decided to become an online volunteer tutor with GT Scholars.
Please tell us a bit about yourself?
I work for a local council in London, mainly dealing with contracts and finance. In terms of volunteering, I’ve never done anything like GT Scholars before. I have tutored adults in Spanish and I’ve done volunteering for the NHS and legal charities, but that was always to do with procurement. So this was a new experience for me.
What made you decide to become a volunteer tutor?
During the lockdown, I felt like I needed more opportunities, so I thought it would be nice to do some volunteering. While I was looking around for volunteering opportunities, GT Scholars came up. I thought it sounded interesting and would be something quite rewarding to do. My mom was a teacher, so I understood how rewarding tutoring could be. I thought this would be like a micro version of that, but much easier because you are tutoring one student for one hour.
How did you get started as a volunteer tutor with GT Scholars?
I saw an advert on Do-it.org and I applied. I spoke to Taryn where she told me a bit about the role. She said GT Scholars were looking for English tutors at the time, which was perfect because that’s what I wanted to do! I just went through the process and then I got matched up with my first tutee and went from there.
What did you enjoy most about tutoring your scholar?
There were a couple of things I enjoyed. It’s nice to meet young people because I don’t get to meet them in my everyday life and it’s great to learn more about them. The most rewarding thing for me, which I saw with the first girl I tutored, is that she was growing in confidence and getting better week by week. When I spoke to her mom, her mom said that she feels a lot more confident. She felt like she could do her exams now and that she was not as worried as before. That just made me feel happy, that she felt like that and that hopefully, I had helped her get to that stage. Although, you know, the majority of it was because of her hard work.
What goals have you helped your scholar to achieve?
I’ve had two scholars. The first tutee wanted to focus on exam papers only. She wanted to get confident and, I suppose, improve at answering the exam questions. Throughout the term, she went from being able to do paper one at a certain standard to doing paper one and two at a much higher standard, moving her a level up. I believe she achieved her objectives.
The second tutee was a little bit more challenging because she went overseas a lot and we had some issues with missed lessons. She wanted to gain a better understanding of what the exam papers would be like and what it was like to sit in on an exam. I think we’d built her familiarity with the exam papers. And again, her level improved over the term.
What challenges have you helped your scholar to face?
One of the things that my first tutee struggled with was answering questions on how the structure of text created effects on the reader. We went through various sessions to help build her confidence and understanding in that area. The other challenge was timing, allowing the right amount of time to answer questions in the exams so that they are not rushing at the end. We just practised various techniques they could use for that.
Both my tutee’s had the same approach to answering questions in English, which was to write and not necessarily plan their answers. I had to work with them and show them that you don’t need a plan for short questions, but that it is beneficial where longer ones are concerned.
What challenges did you face while tutoring your scholar?
I did find it a little bit tricky when I first started tutoring. With my first tutee, I didn’t have the training to teach someone how to approach an exam. I searched for resources online and used some of the links that I had from GT Scholars to try and get materials together. I also familiarised myself with the exam papers because they’re different from the ones I wrote 20 years ago. I think it was just about doing research and putting materials together so I could give a good session.
I found it difficult if one of my tutees would suddenly ask a question that was completely unrelated to the session that we were having. It would be about something else they were finding challenging and because I hadn’t planned for that, I just had to kind of answer as best as I could and then potentially get some more materials together for them outside of the sessions.
Why do you think mentoring is valuable to young people?
I think it’s helpful in two ways. The first is that they get personalised attention where it might be difficult for their teacher to give them because there are so many other students. Helping tailor something to that particular student in a slightly different way is what will help them understand things better. So it’s that kind of personal attention that is beneficial.
The second thing is that mentoring builds confidence. Both my tutees struggled with this as they believed they were not good at it. But it wasn’t true at all. That was just their perception and all they needed was positive feedback to build their confidence. This allowed them to try something that they were previously scared to do.
What do you think is the most important skill to have as a volunteer tutor?
You need to be quite flexible in your approach to tutoring. You have to try different ways of delivering the same information. So, for example, one session I did was about Grammar. I realised one of my tutees was struggling a bit with some areas of Grammar and the way I presented it was not working since they struggled to grasp it. I had to explain it in a completely different way. Instead of having this table of information, I started using examples. I got some texts and showed them examples. Sometimes, the student might need you to work through a particular question with them first before they try it by themselves. They might prefer to try it by themselves, and you go through it together. It’s just whatever works for that particular individual and you only know these things once you start.
What was the experience as a volunteer English tutor like for you?
I think it was hard work sometimes, as everything is, but it was good. It was rewarding when the students would say that they understood something, or they felt more confident or were looking forward to the next session. I also like the fact it’s one on one. I think that’s beneficial because, as I said, it means you get to give the student personalised attention. It’s been a fun, challenging, rewarding, and positive experience.
Would you recommend becoming a tutor with GT Scholars?
Yes, definitely. I’ve told some people about it actually, as I think it’s a good thing to volunteer. With some voluntary activities, you don’t get the feedback that tells you that what you’re doing is having an impact. With the GT Scholars programme, you do get that feedback because you get it from the student. You can see the student improving. And when you speak to the parents, they will also give you feedback. I think being a tutor with GT Scholars is a great thing to do.
What have you gained from volunteering with GT Scholars?
I think it’s just a positive thing to do as it makes you feel happy to know that hopefully, you’re making a difference in someone’s life by giving them more confidence and helping them to improve. While tutoring English, I was reminded of why I enjoyed it at school and what I enjoy reading. So in that way, it’s been good. If you find out what subjects they prefer, you can almost tailor your tutoring to that specific subject. So with English, you can make it quite technical. If they enjoy the technicality in the lessons, then present it in that way.
What would you say to anyone thinking of becoming a tutor with GT Scholars?
Go for it! Make sure that you use all the materials that you get. What I liked, through the GT Scholars matching process, is that I had students who were quite similar to me in personality. I think that’s good because it means it’s easier to build a relationship with them, and that makes the tutoring better.