MY BACKGROUND

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I grew up in Dulwich, and went to Dulwich Prep, then later Tonbridge School in Kent and Magdalen College, Oxford.  Since my childhood I have always spent a great deal of my free time learning about things which were outside the syllabus of my education – about the arts, history, philosophy and languages in particular – because I have always seen learning as a wonderful thing in itself, as well as having a practical purpose.
 
I think this love of learning carries through into my teaching, where I try to create the same enthusiasm and interest in my pupils. I am particularly sympathetic to students who are uncomfortable about simply following rules and learning things for no apparent reason, and I try to encourage students to challenge assumptions, think for themselves, and generally see learning as a creative process rather than a passive one.

QUALIFICATIONS

  • MA in Creative Writing (Poetic Practice) from Royal Holloway

  • MA in English Language & Literature from Oxford University

  • CertTESOL (Trinity College London) qualification for teaching English

  • CRB checked

What can a private tutor provide? – A holistic approach

As a private tutor, I see my job as to focus on things which are more difficult to achieve in the classroom.  A classroom full of students can be an efficient place to impart information, but the requirements of exam syllabuses, the great deal of material to be covered, the focus on the aggregate needs of the class as a whole, and the distraction of bureaucracy and paperwork that school teachers have to contend with mean that finding time for the development of the fundamental intellectual habits and skills which are the foundation of creative, rational and brilliant intellectual beings is rarer.

 

I can certainly help a student to revise and retain information which either has been or will be covered in school, and perhaps help them to understand something they didn’t understand before by tailoring the presentation of it to their individual learning style – but no matter what the syllabus, it is these underlying habits and skills which I really consider my primary target, and which will help your child to handle whatever information is sent their way, now and in the future.  Focusing on these skills avoids too much overlap with what typically goes on in a classroom, and maximises the potential of bespoke one-to-one teaching.  I aspire to teach my students to 

 

  • read and analyse other people’s arguments

  • spot logical inconsistencies, misleading rhetoric and sophistry

  • make creative connections between heterogenous nodes of their own knowledge

  • express themselves more precisely through an expansive vocabulary

  • read questions and instructions carefully and mine them for clues as to how to get the most marks in an exam situation

  • develop confidence, whilst avoiding complacency

  • synthesise information dialectically

  • evaluate the reliability of sources

  • engage in respectful debate with others, and maintain their own position with supporting arguments

  • acknowledge error stoically but not complacently, and work towards limiting its likelihood in the future

  • be able to modify their position in a debate with grace and humility

  • ask for clarification without embarrassment when they don’t know something

  • enjoy the creative possibilities of language

  • find positive enjoyment in learning and knowledge for its own sake, and not as a means to snobbery and oneupmanship

  • conquer the fear of silence, and take time to think before responding

  • build up a framework of factual knowledge into which further factual knowledge will fit more quickly and easily

  • develop the ability to easily retain any kind of factual knowledge through the practice of universally-applicable memorisation techniques

 

Some of the tools I use for this are:

 

  • Socratic dialogue

  • Patience; giving a student as much time as they need

  • Strategic positive reinforcement

  • withholding of information – to stimulate independent thought

  • reflecting questions – to encourage students to always develop a preliminary thesis

  • use of silence, quiet and slowness – to encourage patience, humility and thoroughness

  • spaced repetition, in the way I plan the lessons, and sometimes through use of spaced repetition software

 

In good schools, and with good teachers, of course, many of these things will be being taught, but often it must be incidentally, with the syllabus and the aggregate needs of the class taking centre stage.  With a private tutor, these skills can be, and I feel should be, the main focus.

 

Materials

 

Some parents feel that the quality of a teacher is proportional to the amount of material they create themselves.  There is some sense in the idea that pre-existing materials are unlikely to meet all the requirements of any given student, but the fact is that the pedagogical importance of good materials and handouts is to a degree a product of the classroom setting.  If you can work individually with a student, you can do spontaneously, vocally, and dialectically, many of the things that would be covered by a handout in a more didactic way.  I often create my own materials when I see that it would be helpful for a particular student, but for a starting point I usually use pre-existing materials (such as the Bond books up to 11+ level).  It is the way these exercises are presented, discussed, and analysed with the student that makes the difference; the way they are used as a springboard towards larger discussions of the area, or further practice; the way they are integrated into a programme of spaced repetition, or related to other areas of study covered together.  This can make the whole process radically different to how it would be if the student worked through the book alone, or with a parent.

 

Essay structure

 

I am sometimes asked to focus on essay structure, often at short notice or for short periods, as if this is something that can be blitzed.  The idea I think is that you can drill things like PEEL paragraphs, or secret magical formula, into a student's head, at short-notice, and they will be able to churn out perfect paragraphs that tick all the boxes.

 

To an extent, this can be done, and it may help a student to move up a grade or two if internalised and practised over the long term, but there is a limit to how good an essay one can produce with these techniques.  One could also argue it is a waste of the opportunity a private tutor can provide to ask them to reiterate rules and formulae which could be looked up in a book, or on the internet, and have probably already been discussed in class.

 

Most students have the potential to produce not just good essays, but exceptional ones.  Really good essay writing is the product of a dynamic, creative mind which is in the habit of questioning, challenging, and synthesising any new information which it encounters.  These habits are something I can help your child develop, carefully, over time.  Someone who is used to following didactically-imparted and formulaic techniques for essay-writing will almost by definition be unable to write a really good essay; to someone who has developed these habits, it is second nature.