My Experience as a Volunteer Tutor

Damon Chong  

Someone once asked me why I became a volunteer tutor. I said it is because I benefited just as much. It is not just a deeper understanding of O and A level Math but more importantly, it is the opportunities to develop various qualities such as generosity, patience, empathy, determination,  resourcefulness and a discerning mind. These are qualities which I find very pleasant and admiring when I see them in others. These are also intangible things whose presence, I discover, had helped me to bear better with the difficulties in life and when they are absent, can really make the going tough.

Indeed, these opportunities are the reason why I said once, to a brother in the society, that the students teach me more things than I had taught them.

As a Buddhist, one tries to practice dana or giving as it is a virtue extolled by the Buddha. Naturally, being a volunteer tutor allows one to do so. As a tutor, one gets to cultivate patience especially when dealing with difficult students. The need to explain complex concepts in a creative manner is one of many openings to practice skillful means. One has to study the various temperament of different students and apply different approaches; this is a chance to develop empathy.

I find intelligent students have the ability to grasp and penetrate new concepts easily but can be very stubborn when you try to get them to unlearn their misconceptions of topics that were covered in school. For average students, I find the main problem they faced is a general weakness arising from misunderstandings accumulated over the years (sometimes since primary school). They require more time to slowly digest new things and require lots of encouragements. And even when they are able to grasp the concepts, their understanding is not deep and thus require more practice in order to go pass the tipping point. If they are also lazy and complacent, this becomes especially challenging. Over the years, I find these encounters very conducive in developing a person’s determination and resourcefulness.

Lastly, there are also dangers involved in being a teacher. One needs to motivate the students yet we cannot push them too hard or they will not turn up for lessons. Thus, it is important to have a feel of when to push and when not, and I realized this the hard way. Similarly, as tutors, we do get prideful and instead of helping the students we might end up stroking our own ego. I find it helps to keep the final goal in mind i.e. assisting the students towards better grades. And I believe this constant need to be mindful, to reflect and be sensitive to our intention and motivation is a necessary practice to cultivate a discerning mind.

To be truthful, being a volunteer tutor requires a fair amount of sacrifice. We face certain difficulties and dangers as mentioned. On top of these, there are times of disappointment when the students’ grades do not improve as expected. Perhaps, this too is an opportunity to practice equanimity so as to prepare ourselves for times when life lets us down. Thus, I have no regrets being a volunteer tutor; after all, I am doing this for my present and future happiness.

Thank you for allowing me to share my experience. With Metta!

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