The questions on the sheet blurred as tears of frustration rose in my eyes and I struggled to grasp the concepts needed to work out the answers. I was twelve years old and failing to understand how to work with negative numbers. Luckily, my maths teacher, realising I needed help with maths in general, had offered to let me stay after school to do some extra work.
“Okay, come stand over here,” he said. “This is zero. Now take three steps forward and you are at positive three. Now walk backwards (subtract) four steps – how far are you behind the point of zero? Now if you were to add negative steps, would you go forwards or backwards?”
When the inevitable lightbulb moment occurred, and I finally ‘got it’, the feeling when I knew I could grasp these difficult and new ideas was wonderful. It was like I had been given an incredible gift.
Originally, I wanted to give my time to volunteer with Action Tutoring because I wanted to contribute to society outside of work and was reading more and more about how inequality causes a large attainment gap between young people, which seems incredibly unfair. As a first-generation university student from a working-class background I have some insights as to how difficult it can be to achieve your best at school, especially when there are other external pressures that teachers may not be fully aware of or are unable to do anything about.
But, since I started volunteering with Action Tutoring, I now understand that this gift of learning is something that is bestowed on both the receiver of knowledge and the giver. It is incredibly rewarding to help the pupils learn new things and improve their skills, and their enthusiasm always makes me come away inspired for the week. It even inspired me to run a 10K to raise funds – something that I certainly found a challenge but helped me to strive towards a new achievement, something that the pupils are doing each and every day. The students are running mental 10Ks every day through their learning, and their teachers and tutors are the pacemakers.
I can’t recommend working with Action Tutoring enough – you get incredible support; the volunteer coordinators are so friendly and will bend over backwards to help you become a great tutor, and the students will teach you things about yourself you never even thought to ask for.