August 15, 2009
Every year for the past 4 or 5, I’ve been approached by parents of students and students themselves for help with study and preparation for exams. As an English teacher turned publisher-writer, my tuition gig is mostly the study of literature and writing. Every year, I am both delighted and amazed to see how much and how little my students know. By “how much” I mean their powers of literacy- their street-smartness in hearing (for example) the tone of a piece of writing and responding to it. By “how little” I mean their level of intellectual engagement with what they have to read and write. This is no rap of the knuckles of today’s students. Education, like most large sectors, has become a furious flood of data that stymies engagement for all but the naturally academic. I’ll leave that for another post.
Anyway, my job as a tutor is to work on the “how little” (engagement) so that the “how much” (powers) can shine. The “how little” work begins in a place I call the green room. In common vernacular, the green room is where entertainers and preachers sip a cool beverage before facing the stage. In my vernacular, it’s similar, with a fresh twist. My green room is a place where students come to see that they themselves are the only way forward. They’re it. Whatever they have to put on the table is all we have to work with. At this moment of realisation, engagement occurs. At this moment, students listen, they read more, scribble notes, ask questions, grow, learn and push me over time. Before or outside this moment, they tend to believe the answers lie in a far off horizon – external to their own commitment. If only the right amount of note-taking, study skills and time management were applied, they might then achieve good results. Alas, these are all external measures of no more help than skin lotion to treat a weak heart. In the green room, we learn that whatever has been placed inside us will have to do. I find this is a lesson that leads to surprising outcomes by students previously considered “average”.
Photo by All about Eve