The Day in the Life of a Private Tutor

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Private Tuition in London and the U.K.

So what it is like tutoring on a day to day basis? As a tutor of Mandarin Chinese, English and Latin, I can honestly say that sometimes one feels more like a locum doctor than a tutor. From tutoring in a children’s home to educating the pupils of hedge fund managers, one thing is for sure and that is that no one day is ever the same…My tutees range in age from seven to seventy and come from all classes and creeds. I teach an ex head-teacher who wants to learn Latin for the sheer fun of it. I am also tutoring GCSE English to a refugee who has escaped a war zone. I recently tutored the son of a Malaysian minister who needed interview practice for a top British public school. On another day I tutored a boy in a care home who needed help with English but aspired to be a chef — I taught him functional skills (and English) through cooking.

As regular teaching faces tightening budgets and burgeoning bureaucracy continues to crucify teachers and pupils, some teachers have turned to tutoring as a satisfying and potentially lucrative career alternative. Many column inches have been written about the super tutors and their telephone number salaries yet for many it is about much more than just money. After all, a good education is priceless and, as the Chinese say, learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.

Yet what is it that would encourage one to become a tutor? For some, just following in the footsteps of Plato and Aristotle would be enough. After all, It is only the small people that belittle the ambitions of others. The Buddhists have a proverb that could have been tailor made for aspiring tutors — ‘If a seed will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.’ A good tutor can instil confidence in his or her pupils and make them feel that they can be great by leading them to a destination and then turning to them and saying, “You did it. I just lead you to the threshold of your mind.”

Good teachers and tutors realise that it is a child’s natural, innate sense of wonder that needs to be tapped into, enabling both adult and child to rediscover the joy, excitement and mystery of the world around us. By directing children to what amuses their minds one can nurture the unique intellect of each. For me, the greatest appeal of tutoring is freedom — one is trusted to work in a lower pressure higher autonomy environment. Although I am a firm believer in cognitive science and education theory, it often feels as though we have grossly over complicated the learning environment in our schools. Being a primary school teacher isn’t rocket science and nor should it be — we have rocket scientists for that. Teaching should be a celebration of life through a shared joy in collaborative learning and there are as many ways to tutor as there are tutors.

For me, particularly as we grow older and realise how little we know, education is an end in itself rather than a means to an end. As for the benefits to society? These are immeasurable. Thomas Jefferson (1743- 1826), third president of the USA and principal author of the US Declaration of Independence wrote:

‘Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of both mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.’

A lesson that sometimes seems lost in history. Successful teaching should make us easier to lead but harder to enslave which must be good for society however you look at it.

James Glasse is the former head of classics at Sussex House Prep School in London and has taught Latin, English, Mandarin Chinese and humanities at a number of top independent schools. A Mandarin Chinese speaker, he is a published author having written for more than thirty publications including TES Global, the Times, Independent and Guardian.