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Bums On Seats

November 14, 2012
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Thoughts From The Corner

Giving private English tuition is full of surprises – as the saying goes, ‘You never know what’s around the next corner.’

Our ‘Experienced Tutors‘ website brings in enquiries from all around the world. One would expect our clientele to be local i.e. from Stoke On Trent, England. That, however, is not necessarily so. The power of the internet to reach into the nether regions of our planet is quite incredible and never ceases to amaze.

We receive enquiries about one to one tutoring from all over the world. Some emails are short while others are rather. . . shall we say ‘ponderous’. However, English is English and it is nearly always possible to tell if English is the mother tongue of the writer.

This experience of receiving emails from foreign climes always reminds me of a previous life I had, as a lecturer, at a local educational institution. The name of the game, from the institution’s point of view was ‘bums on seats’ and ‘retention figures’ i.e. get in as many students as possible and keep them as long as possible (even if they were on the wrong course!) because governmental funding depended on those retention figures. I, however, had a problem with their ‘game’.

My problem was that I wanted my students to, not only pass their GCSE English but also enjoy the course they took. After all, what is the point of keeping bums on seats if the students were unlikely to pass and struggle with the material – not a recipe to enjoy their studies.

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Struggling adult student

The first lesson of the new course was always an assessment piece. From the opening paragraph (assuming the piece was written in paragraphs!) it is possible to judge if a person is likely to succeed in their English examination nine months later. Rather than allow a person to struggle, I would discuss the problem with the person and find a suitable course for them to follow until they were of a sufficient standard to commence the GCSE English.

It is this being able to judge someone’s standard with only a few words which is vitally important in order not to waste everyone’s time. The road to GCSE level English (and ‘A’ level English) success can be long and bumpy and needs to commence on solid foundations. The wheat needs to be sorted from the chaff – retention figures or not!

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