Troublemakers want to learn too.

The benefits of teaching without being a teacher.

I’m sure that it’s been mentioned before but just in case you missed it: I started my tutoring business after learning that employers were hiking lesson prices up without informing employees and expecting us to convince people to stay. I did the opposite: I told them to leave, as quickly as possible, and join me. It probably wasn’t the most professional move ever, but I don’t really care. What I do care about is when students come home and tell me that they proved someone wrong today by doing the most complex sum on the page, or stood in front of 30 classmates and justified why Akon should win a Global Peace Prize. These little wins turn each child from “at risk” to unstoppable, all because I stopped to listen. Sometimes it’s that easy.

The school system suited me perfectly. I would hand 10 drafts in until I knew I was going to top the class, or work diligently on my homework every day before going to play outside until sunset. I never left an assignment to the last minute, I never stayed within the word limit and was either renown for being the teacher’s pet or arguing with them. I wanted to know everything there was to know about a topic, but now the average student’s attitude is all about passing. Not good enough for me! The difference between a higher grade and a pass is usually effort. Sure, it might be a difficult topic to learn or grasp or conceptualize but we have so many tools that allow us to work in ways like never before. There are countless online games that are educationally based, platforms where teachers can put video tutorials and quizzes up for homework, and even do the whole thing backwards by learning online and doing homework in class! That was mind-blowing. Suddenly there was less suffering in front of your computer and more problem solving! That’s what I wanted to do.

But not everyone does, and they have different ways of expressing that. To challenge myself, I went back to high school and started assisting with their homework club which was a stellar initiative in itself. Kids could stay after school and work with their class teachers or just practice general topics in the learning centre instead of waiting on the oval to be picked up. The rules were extremely strict but as a tutor [not a teacher], I could easily let them slide a little. Headphones were totally okay, as long as they were used to block out the background noise and focus on working; groups were allowed to discuss topics but when it got off task they’d feel me stare from 30m away; all pieces of equipment were available to students so whiteboards became mind maps and swivel chairs were used to explore motion laws and friction. Walking into the learning centre in the middle of these lessons would be a little confronting at first but everyone was learning. Well, almost everyone. A large group of friends would regularly steal all the chairs and sit in a circle around one computer. They claimed to be writing a rap for their business pitch, but it wasn’t very good. There would be the occasional outburst, or regular beat-boxing but that was the extent of their engagement. One of them appeared to be playing games, so I marched over and was ready to assert my dominance when I realised that it was an alchemy game. Instead of making a scene I asked him how to play and if he knew what the little symbols meant. He replied that he was just mixing things together haphazardly so I set him the task of researching the real uses for those mixtures and there were some cool results.

That happened on the last week of term. When I returned four weeks later, that same student ran into the learning centre when I arrived, slammed his extension maths homework on the table and asked for help. If someone told me two weeks ago that this would happen, I would laugh in their face. In that previous lesson, I spent 40 mins with a senior maths students who were learning how to solve differential equations on the whiteboard while everyone watched. They would try, fail, and repeat. Apparently that inspired others to give it a go! Most interestingly, the student kept questioning why he was in extension maths anyway, after disclosing that he’s signed up for senior physics next year. He was also doing mental calculations like 180-(28+63) in seconds while others reached for their calculators, but that’s beside the point apparently. The trickiest section of the upcoming exam is finding angles for triangles within a circle. It looks messy and confusing but just like any mathematical concept, there are rules. So we drew excess of 100 triangles trying to solve, justify and explore these rules until 30 questions were solved. Other students were recruited as well, some core maths classmates that were studying the same concepts. Each had their own way to approach the questions, and the discussions were lively and full of ideas. The group of rappers turned into mathematicians when I stopped to hear them out, and it was the best class I’ve ever run.

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