We are not Superheroes: The Matter of Fact about Tuition

Some time between yesterday and today a friend of mine asked if I had “spare time” to provide some academic coaching for the sister of a friend. The lady who was hoping to get some tuition support was in her final year of school and would be sitting for her national examinations at the end of the year. According to the friend of mine, she needed tuition in a string of subjects (except English and Literature – which I teach).

I tried to think about how best to break it to her that it was impossible for me to afford the time and heart for tuition. Furthermore, I am not sure I believe in tuition – not in the generic Singaporean sense of the word anyway.

It frustrated me that this has been the umpteenth time someone has approached me regarding the availability of giving tuition. I have this nagging feeling one of the underlying reasons is because I am a teacher – and teachers are suppose to, well, teach.

So I decided to compile all the frustrations and possible assumptions people tend to make about teachers, students and tuition together. Here goes.

Just because we are teachers in profession, doesn’t mean that teaching comes effortlessly to us 

I think it is a fallacy to believe that teaching comes easy and simple to all teachers. Yes, most of us may enjoy teaching and interacting with young people and may not mind the brunt of angsty teenage minds, but do you realise that teaching is more than just whipping out an assessment book and coaching you through a series of questions? It requires thoughtful planning of an overview, of teaching strategies, to teach, to engage and to motivate. Teaching requires time to plan, mark and to know the child’s strengths and needs. You need time and heart and effort; it is not something that starts and ends when you arrive and leave the student’s home. The last thing I hate is to find myself unable to give my best and fullest attention to a student because I made a mistake in choosing my lots. 

Just because we teach, doesn’t mean we can teach everything 

I teach English Language and Literature, period. If you ask me to teach Science or Mathematics or anything else, I will tell you “no can do”. (Unless you are a kid who is desperately seeking some guidance and I am confident my current abilities will not mislead you.) Even teaching English and Literature means that I need to read up and plan and prepare materials on my part. It doesn’t mean that once someone has gotten a graduate degree, he/she is able to teach anything else from Primary to Secondary to Junior College. Don’t belittle the syllabus nowadays – that’s a deadly mistake.

Just because we teach, doesn’t mean we are obliged to take up tuition 

Teaching and giving tuition are completely two different things, two different ballgames, which require different skill sets, different levels of commitment. I may be a teacher, but that certainly does not make me a believer of tuition. I must say that I frown upon most reasons why people seek tuition. I think it is a concept that has been strongly abused by the rich and the intelligent, and it is founded upon very wrong assumptions of tuition – which has been perpetuated because people are just willing to pay sums of cash for a chance at a good future.

Sometimes I feel that just because we are teachers by profession, people expect us to be interested in giving tuition. “Just teach them in your free time,” my relatives would say. I would want to shoot back, “My free time comes at the end of the year for a few short weeks. Then it wouldn’t be free time anymore.” Honestly, if all teachers wanted to give tuition, we would be tuition teachers.

I don’t believe in every of that tuition crap 

Singaporeans seek tuition for two main reasonsA, they want a guarantee that they can ace an examination. B, they want to make it – they have not been doing well and they hope that a final academic booster programme will help give them what they need to catch up with whatever they have missed for the past few years. 

Usually, the former comprises of students who better off families who also have larger, higher, taller dreams for their child; while the latter comes from families who suddenly realise something needs to be done before a major set of examinations in order to secure a decent future for the child. And both sets of reasons are warped reasons for tuition.

If you are doing well based on your own efforts, you are doing well. Use that as your means to do well in life. You do not need to come in Tops in order to proof you will succeed. Also, nobody (not even the best of tutors) can guarantee a student can ace an examination. Where would that leave the effort on the students’ end if the tutors can guarantee success and achievement?

If you are struggling really badly, you cannot expect a few months or weeks or sessions of tuition to turn things around and make magic. Which brings me to my next point:

We are not superheroes: you cannot create a miracle in a short time 

I advised my friend who asked me if I had “spare time” – that if you need help in subjects A to E, then you need to think about how you can utilize your helplines effectively. Are you sure tuition for all 10 subjects (Well, A to E is 5 subjects) will be helpful?

Also, how do the subject teachers come into the picture? A child should make effort to seek consultation and guidance from his/her teachers at school first – before seeking alternative helplines. For the simplest, most obvious reason: your subject teachers know best. They know the syllabus, they have the latest updates, they most likely have extra resources to spare, they have the strategies and tips.

That is a huge repository of knowledge and skills you as a student need to learn to tap on. Who are you seeking help from? Is it the best means for your success?

The next time you are thinking of seeking academic support or tuition, think about this please.


2 thoughts on “We are not Superheroes: The Matter of Fact about Tuition

  1. Hi, I read your post with interest, having been a teacher and a tutor. I agree that the two jobs are not as similar as they appear but I think that tutors have their place. Of course, tutors must keep up to date with what school provides. They can’t work in their own ‘bubble’. Good tutors can improve confidence and encourage children to participate in their learning in school. Sometimes a different approach can be all that’s needed. As a primary school tutor, I would never suggest that I know better than their teacher who sees them for far longer than I do.
    I too get the occasional request for help in subjects that I don’t do and refusing can be tricky!

    • Thanks for the comment – the entry was written from a very personal trajectory so I must admit there are some generalisations in there which may not be completely true. I do believe tuition has its place – for students who are struggling academically and may fall behind without the complementary support tuition can give. It is when people become over-reliant on tuition to supplement or get ahead of the rest, where it becomes somewhat exploited.

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