Well, Word Academy, Oxenhope, has been up and running for a whole week. But what is it that pushes a successful secondary English teacher to give up the state school system and go lone wolf English tutor? To be honest, that may be one for a later blog but I can go some way to answer it with some thoughts from the last week...
1) I can teach what I want to... This is the moment where there should be harps playing and the clouds should part to let through the sunlight. To be clear, this is good for the student as well as for me. I can use my professional judgement to teach lessons that will help the small number of students in the room progress. You would think that is always the case. In danger of this sounding political or like a teacher whinge, that is not always the case. When a teacher teaches all day, has large class sizes, where their teaching time is taken up by a small number of badly behaved or needy children, there is just not the time in the day to adequately plan their lessons to really push and pull every student just as much as they need. Not only this, lessons have to follow what is good for the students in that year group as a cohort, linking into exams coming up and the national curriculum. That leaves very little time for catering to students' interests and sorting out those students that don't fit into the narrow scope of what an average year 8, for example, should be doing. What happens if this child needs extra help with understanding the world? Or missed a year at school and needs to go back to some basic grammar or phonics? Or what happens if this child is exceptionally able? Even when pupils do fit into "average," in a group of 30, their personal literacy needs are often overlooked. Because with the best will in the world, teachers are not super-human. Whereas, at Word Academy, I can be that superhuman! I can look after every child and give them the best chance! Because 36 children is much less than the 150 I would teach at state school and 9 lessons is much less than 27... It's just a matter of maths!
2) Group tutoring is as fun as I hoped it would be! The only times I have had the opportunity to teach such lovely small groups has been when I have been passed a massive behavioural challenge. In schools, a class of 4 means that you are about to be handed a class that don't care about their education and are likely to be disengaged and potentially disruptive. So when I had my first lesson last Monday and was met with 3 smiling, happy faces who are eager to learn, it was magical! The students learn so much from correcting each others' mistakes and imitating each others' styles. Not only this, it makes debate possible and games to enable learning. 1-1 tuition, whilst really useful at times, does not allow for this level of fun and for many students is a barrier to the really deep creative thinking that comes from voicing their ideas.
3) Spelling is key. I've spoken to many parents in recent weeks about what it is that worries them about their child's English and literacy skills. What is clear is that spelling comes at the top of the list. Whilst, as a professional, I know that spelling is not the be-all and end-all of being good at English, I accept that a child that cannot spell accurately is at a disadvantage academically for all sorts of reasons: spelling is assessed for many subjects at GCSE, not just English; it gives a bad impression to examiners and sometimes teachers when a student spells badly, plus bad spelling can knock a perfectly bright student's confidence. Not to mention the facts that a bad speller will struggle with this later on in life in the workplace and the worry that many parents have about the effect of technology on their children's spelling. With this in mind, I have taken my knowledge of spelling to the next level in recent weeks. I have studied several pieces of academic research to try to get to the bottom of the best ways to improve spelling. I've now put together a detailed list of strategies for learning to spell more effectively as well as a program of learning for students who are struggling with this element of literacy. The program teaches rules of spelling, etymology of words (where words come from) and spelling through morphology (learning the spellings of parts of words). All this, whilst never promising to create a perfect speller, is proven to improve spellings in a way that just reading or the read, cover, write, check technique never can.
So just one week in, I have had an epiphany about the joys of choosing what to teach, have really enjoyed my fabulous groups of students and feel that I am starting to understand more deeply just one of the worries that parents have in terms of their child's literacy. Please do message me if you want to know any more about what I do or you have any different worries about your child's literacy or their skills for 11+, SATs, GCSEs or A-levels.