The Silver Lining of an Otherwise Dark Cloud

Authored by:
Caitlin-Marie W.

Caitlin-Marie W.

From the moment I began working as an auxiliar in Madrid, I knew that I also wanted to give private lessons. Initially, I thought private tutoring classes would provide me with some much-needed supplemental income. Little did I know that the private lessons would be far more indispensable to my mental health than to my wallet. As I documented in my previous post, the experience at the school has been disheartening. Whereas at school, I feel mostly overlooked, undervalued, and disrespected my tutoring classes have left me feeling fulfilled, appreciated, and challenged. Were it not for my students and their parents, I probably would've gone home a long time ago. 

I tutor three students (two 6th graders and one 3rd grader) each for one hour every week. While this does not seem like a big deal, it also does not factor in the time it takes me to prepare for each lesson, which I would guess is around one to two hours per lesson. Consequently, tutoring is a major time commitment. This is fully my choice and not something that all private tutors are obligated or expected to do, but I know the experience wouldn't be nearly as satisfying if I didn't take the time to carefully plan out each activity. After all, I would like the lessons to be as engaging for me as they are for my tutees. In my experience, it takes quite a bit of research and mixing and matching of various resources I find online to craft a lesson that hits the sweet spot between too easy and frustrating.

My other goal, of course, is that the children enjoy themselves. With all the workbook exercises, memorization, and repetition happening at school, I'm concerned that students may find learning English boring or even burdensome. I hope unless it is preceded by the word "not,” neither of those adjectives ever crosses my tutees' lips when they describe my lessons. While I may not score a 10/10 every time, I think overall I am reaching my goal. I was immensely pleased when the father of one of my tutees told me that after a lesson on Washington Irving's short story "Sleepy Hollow," he and his son were inspired to watch the Sleepy Hollow film from 1999. I was similarly thrilled when as soon as we finished it, my other tutee promptly hung over her bed the Chinese lantern we made together for Chinese New Year. 

My students aren't the only ones enjoying themselves. I love seeing them open up and show more of their personalities. Sometimes they can be quite funny! In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I did a lesson focused on the short story "Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry. After reading the story, I asked my tutee what the main message of the story was. She gave me a cheeky grin and said, "Even if we get useless presents, we do not cancel Christmas." While this was probably not the lesson O. Henry intended for his readers, it is nonetheless a valid interpretation. It has also been my great privilege to share 90s pop culture with my tutees. In honor of Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, my tutees and I created a timeline of Her Majesty's life. They all agreed that Princess Diana was much better-looking than Princes Charles -- as if there was any other possible conclusion. I also recently designed a lesson around the Winter Olympics where I told a wide-eyed 6th grader about how Tonya Harding probably had something to do with her rival Nancy Kerrigan getting whacked in the knee shortly before the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer. I also had the same student complete an enhanced gap-fill to the song "Power of the Dream" performed by Celine Dion at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I am pleased to report there is one more Celine Dion fan in the world. 

It is a shame and a loss for both the students and me that my experience as a private tutor is not replicated in the classrooms. My time as a tutor has truly been the silver lining of an otherwise dark cloud. For now, I must stop waxing poetic about my tutoring classes. I've got another class to prepare for tomorrow.    

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