In our latest volunteer spotlight interview series, we had the chance to sit down with Sophie, an English tutor with GT Scholars. Sophie talks about how the programme has had a positive impact on her and why it is a good opportunity for anyone who would like to volunteer with us.
Can you tell me a little bit about you and what got you to where you are today?
I graduated with a degree in law from the Uni of Kent in July 2020, and my plan was, initially, to go on and then do a Masters. But then I rethought my plan and decided to take a gap year instead and try to gain a bit more life experience. I think coupled with the pandemic, I needed a little bit of time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do.
I’ve been volunteering with GT Scholars since October now, which feels like a very long time ago, and also been doing some activities in schools along the way, too. Most recently then, I actually secured my first “proper job” working for a legal consulting company. I’m just excited to start working life, I think.
What made you decide to become a volunteer with GT Scholars?
I did some tutoring in the past and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In light of the pandemic, I knew the detrimental impact it’s having on education, and I thought I would try to offer my services somewhere to do with education. So I’d done English tutoring in the past and I’d done it at my school, every Saturday they used to run a Saturday school. That’s when I thought there must be an organisation that does this or runs these services for free for people who are interested in boosting their confidence in their learning or who just want a little bit of extra help.
And that’s when I found GT Scholars and I saw the work you’ve been doing. And I knew that I had to get involved.
What do you enjoy most about tutoring?
What I enjoy the most is when you are when you’re doing the tutoring and if you’re explaining a concept or a technique and then seeing the student understand that concept and being able to apply it to an exam question, I think seeing that, it gives you the reassurance that you know what you’re doing and it’s working.
But then it equally gives you that sense of pride that the student is able to understand the materials and answer the question in full. That’s a really rewarding part of the experience is to see the impact that it’s having, and I think that’s the part that I enjoy the most
In terms of goals for your scholar, what goals have you helped them to achieve?
I think with both of my scholars that I’ve had so far, they’ve both been working at a higher level than maybe you would expect for someone who wants to get involved in being tutored. And I think the general consensus was just feeling more confident and self-assured in their answers. So it might not necessarily be that they want to get a 9 in their GCSEs because, you know, sometimes aiming for that target, if you don’t reach it, it can be a bit disheartening.
The general view is that feeling more confident in all variations of the questions and I think by going through different types of exam questions and practising in the sessions, I think it boosted their confidence and sort of helped them push them towards their goals of feeling like they can do any question that comes at them.
When you look at your scholars since October last year and you look at the challenges that they had to face, especially during lockdown and the pandemic and, you know, with school being off and on all the time. What challenges have you helped your scholars to overcome?
With my first scholar, which was when I first started in October, I think there was a lot of up and down with schools going in and out of lockdown, and obviously that then going hand in hand with the fact that the schools being closed and students were going ill or having to self isolate for two weeks at a time. So I think the learning process was very disjointed for a lot of children, not just the scholars that I tutored.
I think trying to remain within sort of an academic mindset and remembering that even though you’re not in school for a few weeks or months at a time, still trying to stay in that school mind frame. And I think that proves sometimes to be quite difficult. I think the adjustment from not being in school since mid-March to then going back to school in September. I think especially with my first scholar, the adjustment was quite a shock to the system.
Trying to ease her into it without giving her too much homework and other resources to be looking at and just being realistic at the same time and thinking that this is someone who hasn’t been in an actual school environment for six months, so equally trying not to overwhelm her and just giving her what she can cope with.
It has been so challenging for scholars, for parents, for teachers and tutors. And I’m sure during the last year as a tutor, you may have faced challenges. If so, have you faced any challenges during your tutoring, with GT Scholars, and if you did, how did you overcome these challenges?
I think maybe the biggest challenge for me was that when I’ve done tutoring before, I’ve never used technology. It’s always been in person. I think this set up of doing everything online is great because obviously we are not wasting paper. And you don’t have to worry about travelling to a location, but then at the same time getting to grips with different technology that you need to use. And I mean, even Zoom, I had never used Zoom before.
I think it was something you had to accommodate yourself with quite quickly in order to let the sessions run smoothly. And also, I think that overcoming that is just finding the technology, resources and the materials that work for you. Let’s say the online whiteboard, if you found that that didn’t really work for your scholar, perhaps doing a Word document or PowerPoint or a poster, or something that you can use as a visual aid that best suits the needs of your scholar.
Can you tell me why you think tutoring is valuable to young people?
I think the main reason I would say, as I mentioned before, is building self-confidence and sort of setting milestones for your own personal growth. A lot of people think that tutoring is only about boosting attainment, but I think it’s a lot more than that in a lot of circumstances. You might have some students that will come to you who are working at beyond a four or five level, so they are passing in their subject, but it’s not about that. They still want to try to aim higher or they want to feel more confident in a variety of questions.
I think the feeling that a student can experience from understanding a topic or getting a question correct can far exceed that feeling of achieving an A* sometimes. It gives that student the belief that they can keep going and that their hard work, even though perhaps they’re not achieving the A*, is still being rewarded.
What do you think is the most important skill a tutor should have?
I think there are a lot of skills that would go hand in hand, I think it goes without saying that you need to have good communication skills and you need to be able to effectively get across your point. More than that, it would be being empathetic and equally being positive because what I’ve worked out for myself in doing tutoring before, it’s very easy to assume that the way that one person understands something is the same way that someone else will And that’s not always the case. So it’s important to adapt your learning style, or the way that you communicate to fit the person that you’re tutoring.
Remembering that everyone is different and learns in their own way, will help tremendously as a tutor and then equally encouraging them when they’re confused or stuck on a question will give them the added security of knowing that if they do make a mistake, that it’s OK and then we can work on an answer together and it’s not the end of the world if you didn’t understand it on the first try.
How important has support been in getting you to where you are today?
I think support has been pivotal to getting me where I am today. I think sometimes we forget along our own personal journeys what the role is that other people play in that. So whether this be in an academic sense from school or university or then a more personal sense, if it’s friends or family, it’s reassuring to know that you have someone looking out for you, watching over you when you embark on something new and being there for you during maybe the more difficult times and then the more high points, so having someone in your corner, is really important in celebrating your wins and then equally commiserating your losses and just sort of standing there as being like a little bit of a safety net and knowing that you just have someone there that has your best interests at heart.
In terms of volunteering, what have you gained from volunteering with GT Scholars?
I think volunteering over the last nine months, I’ve spoken a lot about self-confidence and reassurance and things like that, I think I’ve actually gained more confidence in myself and more self-assurance and then equally better communication skills as I’ve had to adapt my style of teaching depending on the scholar, like I said before, it is easy to assume that one person will understand the concept in the same way as another. So adjusting my approach and taking a step back and then evaluating my explanation before then re-explaining, I think this has been really valuable for me. It’s maybe not that they’ve not understood it, it’s just because of the way that I’ve explained it. With technology, I think this has also helped me with my creative side.
I think when we get older we lose touch with our creative side quite a lot. And it’s a shame because when we were younger, we would play with different toys and we expose ourselves to that side of our brain that is engaged a lot more than when we are much older. So making PowerPoints and drafting lessons or using more engaging formats for the sessions, I think has used an area of my brain again and made me approach things in a more hands on way. I haven’t done that in a very long time so I think that’s been really nice.
What was your overall experience tutoring with GT Scholars?
I think it’s been a really positive experience, when I first stumbled across GT scholars, I think I was first drawn in by the principle behind the organisation. It’s always natural to assume that if someone wants to be tutored or rather maybe needs to be tutored, it’s because they’re not passing or they’re not achieving a certain grade in a subject. Whereas I think the motto behind GT Scholars is in the “It doesn’t matter if someone’s working at a C grade, if they want to get A, B, and they might be forgotten about because they are passing. It doesn’t exclude them from coming onto the programme”. A lot of other tutoring companies or just private tutors, that’s what they lack, that vision that if you were in their shoes and you’re passing you don’t have to do anything else in order to get the grades that society deems is OK to achieve. But for your personal growth, you would be pleased with yourself if you could do better than that.
Being with G.T. scholars, as I said before, the two scholars I’ve had have been working way above a passing grade and it’s just I think it’s really nice to see that they want to still push themselves to do even better than they already are because in their schools eyes or maybe in their parents eyes, they’re already doing way above what the school would necessarily Deem them as being capable of. That’s been really eye opening. It’s really shown me that tutoring is not just for those small groups of people that are not doing as well.
Would you recommend becoming a tutor with Gt Scholars, and if so, why would you recommend it?
I would recommend becoming a tutor, and I think one of the reasons which I’ve already mentioned is, again, because the the motto behind it is that you’re not going to exclude someone just because maybe their own personal goals are not what a tutor would deem as a low enough grade as being worthy of having a tutor. So because GT Scholars allows a far greater range of students with all different working levels onto the programme, it really means that no matter what your target is, you can be accepted onto the programme.
Secondly, I think for your own personal growth and just your own goals, it’s helped me unlock different areas of my brain in different areas of my personality that maybe I hadn’t seen in a while. So for those people who maybe find themselves with a few extra hours on their hands or they’d like to give back in some way, what better area to give back than education? Because the people that we would be tutoring and the people that we are engaging with now are the future. I think helping them in any way they can to achieve their dreams will only benefit everyone in the long run. Helping those young people who have those aspirations can only be a positive thing.
What would you like to say to anyone thinking about volunteering with GT Scholars?
I would say just apply and it can’t hurt to apply. If you don’t apply, then you’ll never know. I think initially when I applied, I wasn’t sure if maybe you’d be oversubscribed, because when I applied it was the middle of the pandemic. I thought maybe everyone’s got the same idea and I didn’t know whether that would pan out, but luckily it did. And here we are. So I think if anyone’s in a similar position, they should just apply.
And I don’t think that anyone would regret it because you’re doing a great thing for someone who wants to benefit themselves, whether that be through a career goal and they’d like to be mentored and they’ve got a specific career path in mind, or whether that be they’d like to improve their grades in a specific subject. There’s a really great principle and a good heart behind the organisation. I don’t think you’d regret volunteering at all. In fact, I think you thoroughly enjoy it.