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Retirement stripped me of my identity, volunteer tutoring helped me redefine it


Article by Sarah Barnes     

becoming a volunteer tutor in retirement image                     

After 24 years teaching including 12 as a headteacher in primary schools in Shoreham, West Sussex and Totterdown, Bristol, 66 year old Sarah Barnes found it difficult to settle into retirement, she missed teaching and the day to day interaction with young people. So Sarah signed up as a volunteer tutor with Action Tutoring an education charity whose vision is a world in which no child’s life chances are limited by their background. She rediscovered her purpose in life and hasn’t looked back since and is urging other retirees to join her.

What sparked your interest in volunteering?

“When I first retired I felt like I had lost my identity. I loved my teaching and being part of school life, so I joined Action Tutoring in 2019 and haven’t looked back since. Tutoring opened up a new opportunity for me, I can make a huge difference to young people’s lives, help them learn and watch their confidence grow. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I love to see my students succeed.

“I had been longing for a challenge, so when I signed up for tutoring I opted to work with secondary students rather than primary pupils, and focus on English – my main subject when I trained as a teacher.

What’s it like being a tutor?

“Everyone learns in different ways, the trick is to understand what works for each student and I enjoy the fact that I need to be creative and in tune with what works best for each of them. It’s being open as a person and listening that counts. Engagement is also crucial, so I start by establishing some common ground and then we have a quick catch up each time we meet. I tell them about the badgers that are digging up my lawn in search of insect larvae and they tell me about their pets, interests, favourite football team etc, so it feels like a personal experience to them.”

“Currently, I’m teaching a Year 10 boy and girl from St Bedes Catholic College in Lawrence Weston, Bristol, and two Year 10 girls from a school in Sydenham, South-East London. My three students are lovely young people, they know I tutor for free and are always polite and grateful. One of them asked why I do it for free, and I said, ’because I can see the potential in you, and there is nothing more satisfying than bringing that out and seeing you progress. It means a lot to me’.

“Even though exams have been scrapped again for the second year running, this learning is for life and not just for exams. Good standards in English and maths are crucial to young people, giving them the opportunity to progress well in further education, employment or training. Having access to tutoring can literally change their lives.

 

Who can become a volunteer tutor?

“I’d like to encourage fellow over 50s to join me and volunteer as on-line tutors to help ‘bridge the gap’ and change the lives of these young people who are at risk of not achieving national standards in maths and English. You don’t need to be an English or maths genius, or completely up to speed with the latest GCSE syllabus; as long as you are prepared to address the small gaps in your knowledge and have the confidence to work with a young person, you too can go for it! Action Tutoring are there to support you every step of the way.

“Action Tutoring makes such a positive impact – if more of us did it, just imagine what a difference we could make to the life chances of these young people.”

About Action Tutoring:

In 2020, 1,098 volunteer tutors ranging in age from 18 to 82 delivered nearly 21,600 hours of tutoring in partnership with 95 schools across the country. The charity works hard to deliver tutoring programmes proven to drive up attainment, ensuring that young people from all backgrounds achieve their goals in a socially mobile society. Volunteer tutors are generally required to be educated to degree level or studying for a degree, and to be able to commit to one hour a week of tutoring across the course of a school term. 

To sign up to join Action Tutoring as a volunteer or to learn more, please email hello@actiontutoring.org.uk or call 0203 872 5894.

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