I hadn’t planned to be writing this tonight, or even this late in the calendar. This post has had some months in the making. It was one of the first topics I ever thought I wanted to post about and its the reason why the url is ‘things ive learnt’.
The title is perhaps a little triggering, particularly in the current world we live in, but I hope you’ll see by the end of the post why its accurate.
As a masters student, and not one of the fortunate few that got a scholarship, I’m rather ‘poor’. After tuition is paid my load gives me £3,000 to live off for the year (rent, bills, food and all the other expenditure that comes along with being human) so to make this a little easier I became a private tutor. Though History is my subject of choice, I also tutor students on English Language as the demand is far higher. Now there are a number of experience I could talk about all day, I want to talk about one in particular. An encounter I had with one Mother who’s son I was tutoring for his English GCSE. (For obvious reasons the names I use are not the actual names.)
I was referred to Sam around to help improve her son’s English grade which the school predicted ought to be at an A/A* level but he was currently achieving B/C, the school thought that his writing ability was the main issue (which is certainly is) so advised Sam to get her son tutoring to help with this specifically. Within the first set of emails I received from Sam she made it clear that she felt her son ought to be a high achiever and that his current level was unacceptable. She also mentioned that she is a lecturer at my university so immediately I felt a sense of pressure about ensuring her son would perform well in his exams. Finally, before our first session she forwarded an email from the school recommending that her son do proof reading exercises to improve his literacy.
Already feeling a level of anxiety about this particular tutoring, I thought the best approach would be to follow the advise of the school, for the mother clearly thought this was the best idea for her son. As the sessions progressed I received an email the night before each session checking that it was running. Now this does seem like an organised approach but it actually felt that Sam was micro-managing the tutoring and that she did not trust me to remember the tutoring session each week. This continued for almost the entire time I tutored her son, aside from a couple weeks. Several of these emails also included what Sam wanted me to do in the session, clearly not appreciating that with several other students and a masters degree to get, I had to be more organised with my time rather than waiting for her email to plan the lesson.
Yet I found the sessions very rewarding, her son was certainly bright and engaged. His classwork that I saw from his books did not reflect the level of intellect I was observing in the sessions so I knew that in order to ensure he would achieve higher grades I would need to really build his enthusiasm for the subject because, ultimately, I cannot revise for him or sit his exam. I was there to help him learn, develop and grow into a more articulate boy.
This is where Sam and I came into conflict. Or rather where she took issue. In several sessions I was presented with her son’s coursework which, under the examination guidelines, is not supposed to be directly changed by an education professional. However Sam sent a lengthy complaint email after one such session about how I had not edited her son’s coursework to improve it. I appreciate that she wants to see results but I didn’t feel that simply editing her son’s work would benefit him. My purpose was to teach him how to do it himself. Likewise a grade at any level has to be a true reflection of that individual’s ability and (this feels cold but its the truth) if her son still wasn’t able to get that grade on the day of the assessment he doesn’t deserve it.
This is something I should have been able to express to Sam, to tell her that the long term benefits of ensuring the improvements in his grade where his genuine ability and not my work masquerading as his. But the imbalance of power and long made an open conversation like this impossible. As a client, as a university lecturer and an a helicopter parents her presence was intense and off-putting. I realise now that I should have pushed past this, articulated my standpoint sooner. And perhaps this would have helped level the playing field, or at the very least let her know that if that’s what she really wanted, I wasn’t the right tutor. But by establishing her dominance in our relation, she effectively shut me up and drove me down a route that did not benefit her son as much as the sessions could have done, because I was so aware of her watchful eye.
What I’m trying to say is that its important to acknowledge the power certain privileges provide you, or disadvantage them. And to not enact this imbalance. ‘Checking your privilege’ is jokey thing millennials and under throw about in a half-hearted acknowledgement of the inequalities within our society. But beyond race, and gender and class, they operate in almost anything and can hinder us from being able to have best possible impact.
So what I say ‘your opinion doesn’t matter’, what I mean is ‘…more than anyone else’s’. We’re all ultimately human, we deserve to hear people and to be heard. Because that’s how we progress and individuals, groups, societies and as a whole fucking species. Bringing power into this discussion benefits no one.
I was going to write another post this evening my brain is too full of this again so i’mma watch some TV and sleep.