From Cleaner to Scotland’s Primary Tutor of the Year

Teachers… people generally imagine them to be academic, hardworking, progressing through school and onto university. 

A 16-year-old carer who left school with few qualifications and started working life as a cleaner is not someone who fits that teacher mould. 

I am Scottish Tuition Service of the Year, yet I was also that 16-year-old school leaver.  So, how does that kid become the woman I am today? 

For me, school wasn’t an enjoyable experience.  I had to work hard to achieve meagre results.  I was an awkward kid, and yes, I was bullied.  I hated maths; I just didn’t get it.  I hated PE.  I was good at English, though.  I got my head down and left when I could.

I took the first job I could get as a cleaner in the National Library of Scotland.  It was early mornings, with the shift starting at 4.30 am.  I quickly took on a second job in Safeway, working the tills.  It made for long days, but I was young and had energy.  Eventually, though, I moved on.  I got a job at the Scottish Government, of the Scottish Executive as it was back then, before finally becoming a legal secretary at a start-up law firm.  I worked hard and, after a time, sat down for a meeting that would change my life. 

The firms partners, Kenneth and Matthew, told me that they believed in me, that I could and should aim to become something more.  I decided then I want to follow my dream and become a teacher.  School might not have been easy for me, but some teachers changed my life.  The world could use more people like them.  It wasn’t an easy road, I had few qualifications, but I was determined. 

Going to university wasn’t just my decision; it wouldn’t just impact me.  So, I went home and spoke to my parents.  I was the primary breadwinner, though my younger brother would soon qualify as a teacher.  Could we find a way to afford for me to go to university?  Did my then boyfriend (now husband) want the hassle of having his girlfriend go back to studying, losing lifestyle, and the incredible holidays we enjoyed?

I was lucky; everyone supported me.

University went well; I passed my classes, headed into fourth year, and mum got ill.  She passed away before I graduated, and I started my teaching career under a cloud of loss.  Just four years later, my father then passed away.  I was achieving my dream, but the bottom had fallen out of my world.  I was working all the hours, had all the stress, and why, what was it achieving?  My mum died at 50 years old, dad at 59.  Life was short.  But still, I kept going, kept teaching.  Too many people had believed in me, supported me, and I couldn’t let them down.

Then one day, it came to a breaking point.  Literally.

A freak accident in class left me with two broken toes.  I realised then that if I didn’t get out, I wouldn’t get out.  Teaching was breaking me. 

That is when Carol’s Tutoring was formed.  You see, I am a great teacher.  I love helping kids believe in themselves, the way Kenneth and Matthew did for me.

I love seeing them shine and achieve.

I love teaching them the life skills that support their mindset and emotions.  I may have needed out of the excessive admin and politics, but I was a teacher to my core.

When I started tutoring, I was all on my own.  I used a play-based approach and spent hours every week in the car, dotting from house to house.  After around 18months of this, I got my first office.  This was a huge commitment.  But, families came to me, and our reputation grew.  I took on some tutors as I couldn’t keep up with the waiting list. 

As we grew, word of mouth grew, and again, so did that waiting list.  Then suddenly, Covid hit.  Before then, we had been 100% face to face.  This was no longer an option.  A couple of weeks before lockdown started, we hastily transitioned to online only.  It was a big adjustment.  It cost the team time to learn how to work the technology and money to ensure they had the technology and resources to deliver the best lessons possible. 

We always saw the importance of mindset, but now mindset and emotional work were vital to support the children and families through the turbulent weeks and months ahead.  I offered up hours of free calls every week to help low-income families or those financially impacted by Covid.  These calls allowed me to share ideas, resources, and listen.  People needed to be listened to.  I created an avalanche of free resources to support parents throughout the UK and beyond.  I started not one but two Facebook groups to provide support. 

Lockdown Learning was a group for parents who could ask questions, and teachers would answer them for free.  Where we could share high-quality resources, we could provide reassurance.  At its height, we had around 2,000 people on it.

Then we had a smaller, more intimate group of around 500 people.  This was Where the Wild Minds Grow.  I pulled in two primary teachers I know. One is excellent with mindfulness, and the other creates beautiful meditations. We created a safe space where families could get free support.

I supported my existing tutor families, checked in with previous families, assisted our tutors, and offered assistance calls to parents. Behind the scenes, I was moving house, becoming a carer for my father in law. He has dementia and Parkinsons.  I suffered repeated tooth infections and ended up with severe food poisoning.  Life was a struggle, but those children and their families needed consistency and support.

So, I pitched up every day and helped everyone I could because that is what we do.  We support others. 

We got through the year.

The team grew stronger, and each tutor turned from being someone who worked for me to a friend, someone I truly cared about.  The relationship with each tutor family changed as well.  It deepened as I got to know the parents in a new way. I was supporting them, listening to them, being there for them and their child.

Around 15 months after it all started, I got the most unexpected phone calls.  It was the Prestige Awards.  A tutor family had entered me as Lothian’s Tutoring Service of the Year.  I felt honoured and humbled.  Someone took time out of their day to do that for us.  The judges had undertaken their assessment and found that I merited the Scottish Tutoring Service of the Year.  To say I was astounded is an understatement.  But, I know my team, and I truly deserve this accolade.  We earned it.

I may not be the stereotypical teacher or tutor, but I am good at what I do—the best, in fact.