I didn’t feel comfortable in maths class until year 10. I didn’t hate the subject, but it just felt like a chore. I always struggled to relate to the numbers on the board and, as a result, I found myself constantly drifting off and falling further and further behind.
I was fortunate to have a maths teacher, called Mr James, who changed that for me. He made a big difference and I started to look forward to the maths classes that I had previously dreaded. It was his inclusive nature and his ability to make students feel special in a hierarchical state school environment which was outstanding. He recognised that everyone’s learning requirements were different and he was able to adjust his approach accordingly and he made me feel listened to and significant.
Being an expert gains respect
As an expert maths teacher, Mr James gained respect. He could solve any problem that was put in front of him, but more importantly, he was a specialist in the art of teaching. He could reach all levels and developed exercises that engaged the students who needed extending whilst simultaneously encouraging and developing the students who were struggling with the fundamentals.
Creating a sense of accountability
Feedback flowed from teacher to student and vice versa. All the students in our class felt comfortable asking Mr James for help. He created a sense of accountability. I really liked the guy so I never wanted to give him work that was below what he expected from me.
- Rita Pierson
Building effective relationships
That fact that Mr James knew his subject was vital, but what really made him stand out was his ability to build effective relationships. Good tutors, mentors and teachers are those who share mutual respect and take the time to get to know their students. As the late Rita Pierson (look for Rita Pierson on TedEx) so eloquently pointed out “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.
Developing confidence and self-belief
The best tutors and teachers care and they show this by taking an interest in students’ lives, allowing for a stronger connection that can lead to empowerment. This in turn, sets the scene for everything else to follow, further developing confidence and self-belief and which can empower young people to push themselves to pursue their individual aspirations.
I know this to be true, as I now work in the education sector as a result of the influence of my maths teacher, Mr James. Research supports my experience. Countless academic studies show that mentoring by a caring adult, over an extended period of time, effectively combats risk factors associated with young people.*
In particular, the 2013 study ‘The Role of Risk: Mentoring Experiences and Outcomes for Youth with Varying Risk Profiles,’ examined mentoring program relationships, experiences and benefits for higher-risk youth, and among the findings was a gain in social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades.
I now enjoy sitting down with my 8-year-old daughter to help her with her reading, spelling or maths. It is an enriching experience for both of us and I know she gets more out of it than simply academic assistance. As a result of this I encourage parents to do the same with their own children. Allow your child's experience of a tutor mentor to begin in the home.
Although schools are amazing places, they are also extremely busy. At times, quiet students may not get the attention they require or accelerated students may become distracted and bored. When reflecting on my time in Mr James’ class, through no fault of his own, he did not relate to every single student in the class, as he did with me.
Ideally all young people should benefit from having a significant adult in their lives. A tutor-mentor who understands their needs can play this role and help by ‘topping up” the learning at school. They can work with the student to explain concepts in a different way or improve particular cognitive and practical skills, such as critical thinking, time management and most importantly, build self-esteem.
Reflecting on my experiences with Mr James in year 10, the most significant thing he did for me was instil confidence and boost my self-esteem. Armed with this new sense of self, I went on to become a school captain, a principal and I now work for a tutoring company whose values mirror my own. In my role in education today, the basic belief that underpins everything I do, is focused on getting the relationship right and to allow the magic can happen. Thank you Mr James.
*(DuBois & Karcher, 2005; Rhodes, 2002; Zimmerman, Bingenheimer & Behrendt, 2005).
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