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Volunteer Spotlight – Tutoring helps to overcome obstacles, and it gives individual attention, which is sometimes actually what’s needed!
Why did you decide to volunteer?
When it came to Covid, I was worried about my job security, so I started looking into tutoring as an alternative. I thought let’s get up to speed with what I need to do to tutor. It could be an option for me if It materialised that I didn’t have job security. I got all of the GCSE revision guides and student books to get my head back to where I needed to be to think about tutoring chemistry and physics.
When it became apparent that my job was secure, I thought I’m not going to waste that time and effort I’ve put in. I decided to find somewhere I could use it. I did some Googling and I found GT Scholars and decided that I will try and help somebody and support somebody who needs it and hopefully help them with their long term goal by tutoring them. So that’s how it all came about!
Tell me a little bit about you and what got you to where you are today, with regards to tutoring and your job in general?
So many years ago, I did my degree in animal science. As a child, I lived in the country and I was surrounded by nature and I was always outside turning stones over and seeing what I could find or sketching birds – I knew all of the bird species. I took my GCSE’s in school and I took my A levels and then I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or which direction to turn. I had no main focus, so I just got a job in a call centre.
I worked in a call centre for several years, but it wasn’t really hitting the spots I wanted it to hit in regards to where I wanted to be. And so I actually went to University much later. I didn’t study until I was 32, actually. So I graduated when I was 35, and since then I’ve been in Zoo education.
I’ve worked in zoos as a keeper originally and then followed on in the line of the Zoo education. For the last eight years, I’ve been working for an organisation called Zoolab, we’ve been operating for over 20 years, and we go out to schools with invertebrates and vertebrates and teach national curriculum-based topics, anything from reception class right through to Universities.
You can be on your knees with three to five-year-olds right and then in the afternoon presenting to 20-year-olds. You have to change the style of your delivery to make the presentation appropriate to your audience.
So during your time at University and at school, have you ever had a mentor or a tutor and did you find it useful? And what did you gain from it?
This is what I love about the GT Scholars idea. When I was at school, I don’t recall so many options available. We did have choices when I took my A levels. It was very much about going to University, but I don’t remember talks about doing things other than University. I don’t recall all the mentoring and guidance so much.
I just think it’s so important because it’s a crucial turning point towards a path that you’re pursuing for the rest of your life. That path could take you to a career that you love, or it could take you to a career that perhaps isn’t really where you want it to be. Having that additional one-on-one time in the class environment, I think, is so beneficial. It’s extra guidance that as a teenager stepping out into the big wide world is really beneficial.
There’s a lot going on when you are a teenager and you can feel quite vulnerable. So I think any guidance and support is so important and beneficial, especially for families that don’t have additional support and families from disadvantaged backgrounds. So this is why I really welcomed volunteering for GT Scholars because mentoring and guidance is very important.
Do you think tutoring is valuable to young people?
I think it’s great for self-confidence. I’ve noticed that with my own scholar. One lesson a couple of weeks ago, he actually said to me ‘We’re doing a topic in class that we’ve been doing in our tutoring sessions and I knew what they were going to say. I knew that was the formula. The fact that he knew something and was slightly ahead of the game in this particular topic really motivated him. I think that’s self-motivating because you suddenly feel ahead, which perhaps he hasn’t felt before.
I think there are so many advantages. There’s the potential to improve your work and planning and study habits because you are given homework and expected to work with the technology that interacts with the tutor. It’s a good learning experience, people in a class of 35 at school often have different levels of learning and different methods that don’t suit everyone. One on one time allows a student to look at a topic that they may not have understood in class and break it down with the tutor by using a method of tutoring that suits that individual.
Tutoring helps to overcome those obstacles, and it gives individual attention, which is sometimes actually what’s needed. Some people work better by learning in small groups or individually rather than in a big class. I can say to my scholar, Do you have anything you are struggling with within the school that you want to bring to me? Are there any topics you want to bring to me rather than me directing the study? It encourages self-directed learning as well.
And what is the biggest thing that you’ve gained from volunteering with GT scholars?
So much! Really, I’ve had to learn!! The education that I do day-to-day is in groups. But very few times I’ve done one-on-one sessions, so I’ve had to understand different methods of learning, and I’ve had to be patient. It certainly allows you to think about being a bit more patient. There are weeks where my scholar perhaps hasn’t been punctual or he hasn’t attempted his homework and there are weeks he’s been amazing.
It’s about being patient and diplomatic with it, having an understanding that every two students are different and will learn differently. I’ve enjoyed the whole learning experience about tutoring, seeing how it works, and what doesn’t work.
Tell us about your experience with your scholar
I think as time has gone on, I’ve gotten to know my scholar well. I know what he likes, he likes basketball and because of this, I try to make our sessions inspiring and fun at the same time. When we do our recap at the beginning of each week on our online Jamboard, I have got a big picture of Michael Jordan, the basketball player, and I’ve got six Post It notes on the screen. My Scholar has to answer those questions, if he gets them correct then he gets a digital slam dunk on the screen.
That’s our fun recap at the beginning to just bring ourselves back to speed where we were the previous week. We will then learn a new topic. I will get my Scholar to tell me some cool facts about Michael Jordan. I think it’s important to make the sessions fun and engaging to make your scholar enjoy learning.
So what do you think are the most important skills for a volunteer to have?
Patience and adaptability! Sometimes you need to adapt to last-minute changes that may happen, so being adaptable and patient is key. I think a sense of humour is important too. If you can make your sessions more engaging, the scholars remember those sessions.
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