When I picked up the phone to speak to Tutor Desk founder Richard Harris, I did not expect to hang up forty minutes later, having had a debate about the education system and importance of exams in school. ‘We’ve been lulled into this false idea that education is meant to be crap and I think that’s a crime – it’s a real sin.’ If you need a man who is ardent about what your kids (or future kids if you are my age) learn in school, Richard is your guy. Falling into tutoring almost by mistake, he has gone on to set up a business, employ his own tutors and publish a book in his free time – and I thought making it to the gym after work was an achievement.
Breaking down the teacher-student hierarchy, as a tutor (and self confessed geek) Richard is passionate but also persistent in his approach to be a friend to his students. ‘The trick is to make them enjoy what they are doing – children are like emotional sponges, they soak up and become whatever they are given.’ With no formal teaching qualifications, Richard was more than happy to share his journey into tutoring and offer advice for those hoping to follow in his footsteps. Whether you are considering a career change, or thinking of tutoring alongside your day job, this is one man worth listening to.
In your opinion, what are the most important skills a person needs to be able to tutor?
One of the ideals I strive for in my business is to only employ really good communicators. Yes you need to know your stuff, have your qualifications and be able to teach it – that’s a given, but you also need to know how to talk to the thirteen year old in front of you. It’s all about effective relationships.
What are the benefits of doing your job?
There are so many! It’s going to sound really cheesy and cliché but it really is a lot of fun to see someone mature and blossom in front of you. If you are naturally passionate about ideas and education, working with these concepts every day is a real thrill. If you can walk in to someone’s house one day and see a person who has been haunted by a subject for their entire life, and know that in six months they will love this subject, you feel awesome. Whenever my students get good results I can’t wait to run home and tell my girlfriend all about it!
Good answer! What are the hardest parts then?
It’s hard to see children who have been spoken to incorrectly. Children are like emotional sponges, they soak up and become whatever they are given, so if a parent or teacher is putting a child down or giving then negative self-concepts, I find that hard to watch. For students to achieve the best results and enjoy learning, they need to be encouraged and to feel confident in their abilities.
What are the main things to consider if you are trying to tutor alongside your day job?
I would say energy is such a big deal. Tutoring is akin to performing on stage – your charisma can captivate and excite your student, but there is a finite battery to it. It’s a hard job to do when you are tired, especially if you are working nine till five and most of your energy has gone into that. If you are used to just coming home and slumping on the sofa, I would make sure you only book one or two hours in any given evening.
How do you help your students achieve their goals in just an hour or two a week?
That’s a cool question and it’s going to sound really flippant but in a lot of ways it’s actually really easy. The trick is to make them enjoy what they are doing. I know it seems strange, but if you are clever, you can make just about anyone excited about even the most tedious subjects school has to offer. You get to spend as long on a subject as the student needs which you can’t do in a big class. The main way you make them enjoy it is by getting excited about the achievements they make. Once the student starts to see real achievement, they get excited and want to see more. On top of this, you need to be cool – talk to your student like you would your mate, have a laugh, mess around and take a real interest in their life. If you can make a real friendship, learning is so easy.
Let’s get onto the subject we’ve been skating around – in your opinion, what are the main problems with our education system right now?
How long have you got? The root problem is the system is quite literally medieval. If you look at a classroom from 200 years ago nothing has changed except the blackboard is now white. In transport, agriculture, communications or construction, a professional from 200 years ago would not even recognise their profession today. In education, however, we have hardly moved on at all. This has led to several crippling issues with school education; the subjects are, mostly, irrelevant to modern life and there is often a one size fits all approach to students. Why are we not teaching kids coding or computer software skills? I think we’re too complacent with school being rubbish, we’ve been lulled into this false idea that education is meant to be crap and I think that’s a crime – it’s a real sin.
Good answer! Final question – do you believe you can be a successful tutor without having a background in teaching?
Yes I do – I am one! However I do think that a real talent in teaching can be helped by formal training, and so 90% of all the tutors I employ have some degree of teacher training. However, the real secret is in good communication and I think if you are an excellent communicator, then that will compensate for any lack of training.
Thanks Richard! If you want to find out more about his work, take a look at www.richardharristutor.com or give him a shout on twitter! Alternatively, have a look at the tutoring courses listed on our site and get inspired.
Jane McGuire received her BA (English) from the University of Loughborough. A yoga enthusiast with a sweet tooth, in her spare time you will probably find Jane in the gym or online shopping.