I think it’s important to give a brief backstory before I say why I joined Action Tutoring last year. In 2014, I moved to the UK from Poland to join my family here and continue my studies. I have to admit, settling into a new school was very difficult, mainly for two reasons: English is my second language, and I have never studied for any exams similar to GCSEs, what’s more I had to prepare in a year to pass them and begin my A Levels. Nevertheless, I was determined to get the best grades possible, and worked hard, sometimes teaching myself completely alien content.
After a year at UCL, I’ve realised that I want to become a teacher so that I can share what I’ve learnt with others, and especially help those who find themselves in the same situation that I was. I first heard about Action Tutoring at a Teach First taster event. Action Tutoring’s passion for promoting equality in education appealed to me straight away, and I applied for the volunteer tutor role the day I returned from the event. I was especially pleased that I would be able to help in schools with a high proportion of ESL pupils.
As I already had experience as a tutor, I was able to recognise the pupils’ strengths and weaknesses and help them in a way that suited them. But, I had never experienced tutoring in a school setting, and it has been great to see, at least briefly, the daily organisation of school life, and the relationships between pupils and their teachers. It has also given me a flavour of the kind of environment I will be working in after I graduate.
During my time volunteering with Action Tutoring, I feel that I’ve improved my teaching competencies in three areas: firstly, adapting to new environments and new pupils, especially when I had to cover for an absent volunteer. Also, it has made me more familiar with the expectations of GCSE exams, both in Literature and Language, and how the pupils are working towards these in class. Finally, probably the most important skill: greater understanding of and compassion towards the pupils. The fact that they attend a school which isn’t one of the highest-performing ones doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve extra help towards their exams.
That said, establishing a relationship with my pupils was tricky at first. But, at the beginning of each session, I made sure that I would ask them about their day first, and just chat about anything but their GCSE English, like Sixth Form applications or summer plans. This helped to spark a discussion on the topics too. As I began delving deeper into the meanings of the texts we were covering, and asking open rather than closed questions, my pupils showed great analytical skills.
Unfortunately, many university students are discouraged from pursuing a career in teaching, but even so, volunteering with charities like Action Tutoring is an amazing opportunity to help them at such an important point in their lives and learn why inequality in education is still a problem. At the same time, you gain some of the skills most employers look for: communication, problem solving, time management and flexibility. I always recommend Action Tutoring to anyone who is looking to gain work experience – it is perhaps the most rewarding and motivating way to spend your free time. For me, there is no better time when, at the end of the session, I hear my pupils say, “Thanks, Miss, I feel much better about it now.” Back in 2014, I would have never believed it if someone told me I’d be tutoring English now.
Adrianna Chmielewska, English tutor