I find it hard to believe that my first tutoring job with Osborne Cawkwell was over ten years ago. My relationship with the company and the clients is as fresh as ever and I feel deeply lucky to have found tutoring. Having started out as an enjoyable and challenging occupation to follow in between acting jobs, it has become one of the most rewarding aspects of my life.
I’m sure that this is the way many people begin tutoring: they have a degree and an interest in teaching and they have heard that it is a good way of keeping their head above water while pursuing what they see as their true raison d’être. As far as I can tell, this can, for the most part, end in one of two ways: either these people carry on with tutoring, struggling for inspiration for lessons and realising that, despite their best intentions, the profession really isn’t for them; or they begin to find inspiration from their students – an active recollection of the love of learning, enquiry, openness and enthusiasm that seems to seep from the very pores of those who love teaching. This latter classification of tutor can often be found among the colleagues I have seen year after year at OC gatherings.
Despite coming from a teaching family (mother, father, sister) and always having known that I could do a lot worse than following in their footsteps, when I first began to work with tutees I don’t think I could have predicted that I’d still be ringing doorbells with a satchelful of books and a headful of ideas ten years on. A few months into my tutoring career, however, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. It soon became clear that, despite only being able to help one child at a time, the difference that one can make to their life is deep and long-lasting. I realised that my worries about a mismatch between my political leanings and the idea of working, on the whole, with children of financial privilege were unfounded: you realise more and more that money is basically irrelevant to the students. They have challenges to face regardless of the earnings of their parents. I found that I was spending more and more time working out ways of improving things for my students, both academically and emotionally, and it struck me that with every lesson, every setback, every step forward, I was getting better at my job.
Much of my life is still taken up with acting (I narrate audio books and work on radio and occasionally in the theatre and on television) but tutoring is certainly no stop-gap. As I sit in my garden writing this piece and reflecting on the many students I have known, the things I have learnt and taught as well as the friendships I have forged and benefited so much from (not least with Lucy and the team), I know that there is no doubt that in another ten years’ time I will still be tutoring and I’m certain it will still feel as fresh, exciting and rewarding as it always has done.