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  • Writer's pictureKaren Divya Shekar

What I Learned From Tutoring

I have a side hustle.

My “evening” job is teaching kids a subject I dreaded in school—Mathematics.

Now, however, I find Mathematics ridiculously easy. At the middle school level, Math is just a bunch of rules that needs to be followed to work out a puzzle. Nothing abstract. Nothing vague. Nothing hypothetical.

However, there is another aspect to my job that does fill me with a bit of dread. And that is interacting with kids.

Kids are pint-sized powerhouses.

I can, in all honesty, say that the kids I teach are wired so uniquely, it’s hard to understand how people still believe one education size fits all. It doesn’t and it won’t. Here are my observations from over 3 years of tutoring.

1. What I learned #1: All kids learn for different reasons.

Some learn because they have to, others because they’ve been told to. Others study to prove a point or be one up on their peers. Finally, some accept it as a way of life. Therefore, I think it is highly necessary to explain to children why they need to be educated.

I always believed education served no other purpose except to get a job and make money.

However, one Math teacher in my GATE coaching institute changed the misconception for me. He believed that education is a way of life and sculpts the brain and the inward man into something that elevates him from the level of mere Animalia. He said we could set up a paan shop and earn all the money in the world, but our minds wouldn’t be transformed.

I have clung to his idea since.

So I changed a lot of my notions about helping kids out with their studies. My first rule was: does the kid want to study, or are they being forced?

If they are being forced to study, I won’t accept them as students. You can bring the horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink. So you and the child will be at loggerheads all day. This set-up is emotionally draining for a teacher and not the student, as kids really have “fun” watching you make them study.

Remedy: Find out the end goal of the child. Some only want to keep from failing the test. Others want to top the class. Others have no ambition and are content with whatever marks they get. The onus is on the teacher to guide, nurture, and lead a child on a path where they learn to elevate their inner man and not become “hot-shot” members of the rat race.

2. What I learned #2: All kids learn differently

Any teacher will tell you this. However, no teacher can teach a child as per his requirements. It’s just impossible in a class, not so in tutoring.

One-on-one interaction with my students has revealed that every child perceives differently, understands at different rates and comprehends only after practical explanation.

Specifically, in Mathematics, most children are quick to observe patterns. For instance, in the unitary method, they will note that we reduce the first problem into a case for one, before solving. Mostly, students will repeat this solution blindly until you switch from a direct proportion sum to an indirect proportion sum. Then, they look blank.

Also, after 5 sums of one kind, they have no idea how to do sums of another kind! Observed in fraction word problems.

Children don’t understand the “logic” behind sums. They know the methods. Very few kids can tell you “why”, but they can all tell you “how”.

Even when I try to insist on them knowing the “why”, they don’t seem very interested. Kids mostly aim to get the sum right, not learn anything from it. In this regard, children have outsmarted the very system that is in place to educate them.

Remedy: All kids love stories. The only way to get them interested in the “why” is by humanizing concepts and getting them interested in it as a puzzle that once had some person flummoxed. Talk about the scientists that were involved in discovering a particular method.

For instance, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, etc. I must add, however, that my knowledge of Mathematical scientists is very poor. I only know details of Pascal’s life because he wrote a philosophical book! However, I now see the need to get acquainted with these scientists.

3. What I learned #3: Most kids “forget” their Math

Few kids find Math a breeze. The majority are shaky.

And it all has to do with how kids learn and how frequently.

Riddle me this. Why do kids not forget their alphabet? Why do they not forget how to construct sentences or write words? Why do they remember songs from one year to the next and not formulae? How is it that a child “forgets” how to solve linear equations when they have graduated to the next year?

Most of my students have this problem. They clean forget how to multiply, add, substract, or divide fractions from one year to the next! How and why?

No one emphasizes the retention of Mathematical knowledge, which is organically done for languages, arts, games, etc. I believe the scenario is the same for science. Kids don’t learn for life. Instead, they memorize for that year and happily “forget” when they graduate.

Remedy: Regularly hold revision tests. Or else find questions involving the mix of a couple of concepts, such as straight lines and linear equations, etc. Moreover, once a child has learned some formula, they should be able to use it repeatedly in the future, without “revision”.

4. What I learned #4: Children want an emotional engagement with their teacher

No child is a robot or a machine.

Therefore, they all want to engage with their teachers and share their stories. While it is impossible to bond with a kid in a class of 45, where everyone is expected to be “professional”, it is possible in tutoring.

Moreover, every kid comes with a bag of emotional needs and fledgling personalities. But one thing I have learnt, kids won’t learn from a teacher they don’t like.

So you can’t get a child to obey you or trust you unless you’ve made some room for yourself in their heart.

Also, if you are a trustworthy person, children will feel safe to express things they normally won’t to their parents. In this way, you can “watch out” for the child and help them through life.

So, don’t divorce the studying process from the bonding process. Both are beneficial to the other.

Remedy: Be friendly with your pupils. There is no other way. However, for the sake of professionalism, do so only in class and not outside. We live in a very different world from the one we grew up in. Teachers can be friendly, but not friends. Never ever change the student-teacher dynamic.

5. What I learned #5: All kids want to feel special, favored, and thought of as “smart.”

No child likes to know that they have weaknesses, flaws, or deficiencies.

But they do.

Parents and children need to embrace that they were not all born to Einstein or Newton or an IIT graduate. I found freedom when I adopted this thought myself.

I was a circle trying to fit in a groove for a square. It’s when I picked myself up and went to the groove that fit me best that I found I was a pretty good circle! I felt happy with myself.

What I’m saying is, some subjects are not for everyone. It’s ok.

However, to stick with the generalized education system, it is necessary to gain a general understanding of it. Then, specialize in what you can do best.

Therefore, for a child to feel special, favored, and smart, they should work at what they have a natural aptitude for, rather than try to fit themselves into a particular groove.

Remedy: As a teacher, it will take you a year or less to figure out the child’s natural aptitude. Once you do, do not insist on spectacular performance from a child not suited to that subject. It isn’t kind.

I hope this was helpful to both parents, teachers, and students. You can let me know what you think in the comments below. However, please don’t spam!



Apr 03, 2022

Wow, you captured this beautifully! It's interesting how you could teach math to your students, but somehow you learned everything else


Jul 06, 2021

👌 Superb


Jul 04, 2021

This post is insightful. Teaching kids is not easy but very rewarding. Teaching Maths needs some skill and effort. Well presented and explained.

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