Sunday, 19 May 2013

You are not on the bus!

I work as a private tutor. It is work that I really enjoy and feel passionate about. The students I work with have more going on in their lives than their study of the particular subject which I am working on with them and often this will impact their learning. I see a whole range of approaches to education and to learning, not just from the students but from their parents and, broadly, their are two main schools of thought. For some parents, they are in the driving seat, or beginning to coach their child in taking control. The education, the study, is their thing, to be undertaken, engaged in, over-viewed themselves. This is true of families using schools and of home-educating families. For some, they are out-sourcing: someone else has been brought in to deal with this subject and that person - in this case me - is responsible. This is something I have had to struggle with. Where does my responsibility start? Where does it end? And I find that the more the responsibility gets shuffled my way, the more anxious and involved I get. A parent enters their home-schooled child for a different exam board than the one they are working towards and I notice this and provide the student with the correct specification; work with her to locate which areas of the spec have not yet been covered and which have been learned but can now be left; print off past-exam papers and make sure the student knows what materials they need to take with them. Another student desires an A grade because but fails to put in the question practice necessary, telling me that it is futile or that another subject's course-work needed extra time, and then can only manage a U grade on a mock paper. What is my responsibility? What is theirs?
My own children want to go to University and I have put time in to finding out the entry requirements and have put things in place to move them towards being ready to put together a strong application but they hear contradictory messages and are told that they won't have enough GCSEs. They are unsettled and so am I, and I encourage them to access the information themselves. I will take them to another open day, but I will expect them to plan our agenda, prepare what they want to know and to ask the right questions.
Students and children: I tell them that in the end, it does not affect my life - it affects theirs. They are not on a bus towards Higher Education, they are on a guided trek. I have the experience, the subject knowledge and the motivation to journey with them, to show them the way and to model the techniques  but I cannot (not, will not, but physically cannot) move them along this path myself.  It is their journey, their effort and one that they have to engage in. The answers do not come easily, tears will be shed and huge amounts of effort must be expended.
As this academic year begins to draw to a close and young people are filling exam halls, I am filled with this conviction and seeing the necessity of stating this expectation clearly with new and old students as well as with my own children: You are not on the bus! Get up on your feet and get walking. I will walk with you, I will lead and encourage you but the steps are yours. And at the end, the satisfaction, pride and achievement will be yours too.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


I am trying to support my eldest as best I can in his last minute revision for Biology IGCSE which he takes next week. My plan this afternoon was to take a part of the specification and teach it to his brother and sister and he could join in. Interactive and fun, I thought, and better than sitting with a text-book. He did not think so, and with gentle politeness said he'd rather revise alone. So I took his younger siblings to the wood just behind our house and we collected leaves: big ones, little ones, spiky and smooth ones.
We looked at them, listed their similarities and differences and discussed what leaves do and then got out the paints. We made Lego water and carbon dioxide, dismantled them and made Lego glucose and oxygen with the pieces. By this stage their big brother decided to join us. He looked up xylem and phloem for us and made sure that our Lego equation balanced.

The younger two had had enough by this point so they left and my eldest and I broke up our Lego glucose and "respired it" to return it to carbon dioxide and water. We talked about the energy changes and my son was deeply impressed that something as amazing as the breaking of inter-molecular bonds could happen in something as ordinary as a leaf. It was interesting, I hope it was memorable, and it was a good afternoon's work.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Isles Bridge

A perfect home ed day. Really. It doesn't get better than this.
My eldest son is preparing for his first GCSE exam on Friday and the twin priorities this week are practicing differentiation and keeping him relaxed. We did an hour of maths at the table, packed a bag and walked 10 minutes to the river. Paddling, it seems, is irresistible.

It wasn't long before my middle son had waded to the other side with his sister anxious to join in. My eldest sat down with me while I painted and we talked over the things on his mind and he drew a little. We had lunch and I read to them from the Science book (he is also revising for Biology GCSE) and we discussed genetic engineering and genetically modifed food. There are frost-resistant potatoes with the DNA of Antarctic fish which they thought was "cool" but were concerned about whether they were vegetarian.

The younger two returned to the river to dare each other to swim and my eldest and I read more about cloning and developed the dystopian idea of  football clubs cloning their best players and training them from birth to be even higher levels of brilliance. Who would the parent be? Would corrupt clubs produce clones with defective DNA and sell them to rival clubs? What if the child did not want to play football? My son's DNA clearly hold more novel-writing genes than engineering genes! I left him revising Biology on my iphone app as I responded to the calls of the younger to to watch them swim.
By this stage they were blue with cold, even in the bright summer sunshine, so we headed home and sat in our garden with hot chocolate and cake and read our current chapter book pausing only to gloat when tourists strolled passed, quietly and to ourselves of course, that we actually live here.
The younger two went out to rehearse for their play after dinner, I had some time to head out on a long run and my eldest enjoyed a solitary couple of hours.
Everything I had planned to do was done: Biology and Maths were revised, chapter book was read, art was available and so much more importantly, emotions were heard, attention was given and life was lived!

Sunday, 5 May 2013


I only managed five posts in April. My highest total so far has been January ,the month in which I didn't have internet connection. Nearly two weeks have gone passed since I last wrote and it has been so busy that I have barely had time to think that I  haven't blogged, let alone actually type!
My little girl celebrated her 10th birthday,
our first family birthday in our new home. She is such a delightful young lady, with so much will and character and imagination and love.
I have been down to London to teach and had sessions with two students here in Yorkshire. Private tuition is taking up more of my time and my mind as exams creep closer. I been thinking and talking to my partner a lot about the boundary issues involved. While many of our students' parents buy in our services as part of their own active support for their children, there are some who seem to feel that by paying for a tutor they have employed someone  to take on responsibility for the child's learning and grades. 
My eldest is approaching is first IGCSE on Friday and I am so proud of the way he is self-motivated and clear about his own goals. He has Maths and Biology this summer, is taking an on-line Latin course and is still busy writing, writing, writing. We are working hard helping him with his work, supporting his time-management and keeping him in the challenged-but-not-overwhelmed zone.
My middle son has fallen in between the obvious needs of his brother and sister and we have become more aware of the need to carve out the necessary time and focus for him. He is happy working his way cake-by-cake through his Christmas recipe book and taking himself on short walks in preparation for his self-selected 25-mile Keld to Richmond Challenge later this year but is in need of more cuddles and supervision than he has been getting in recent weeks.
We have had family friends staying in our annex and viewed some houses with them with the possibility of them moving to be near us. It has caused no small degree of heart-searching as we have considered all sides of the issue and begun to realise how much it would mean to all of us if they did and how it is probably not going to happen. In opening our hearts to begin to care we have, inevitably, opened them to the possiblity of hurt and disappointment. 
On top of  all this I am still trying to run. I am no longer sure that I will be able to take part in the Swaledale Marathon; I am just not sure that I am fit enough. I seem to have been fighting a virus which brings me down every time I take on too much but I ran 13 miles yesterday so I shall see.
So, it's been a busy time, but much of the busyness comes from fitting in more of the things we love and, as I look out over the Dale in the early moring mist, I cannot say anything else but that life is good.