I am a Fish – How Failure Makes Me Better

I am a fish.  Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Now, I admit, like many folks, I believed that work meant you could overcome most things.  I am 40 years of age.  Telling me, I could not do something lit a fuse inside me; I would do it if only to prove you wrong.

A big part of why I am such a good tutor is that I will keep trying to find the way that works for someone.  I have spent years reading up about mindset and attitude.  I believed that if you had the right mindset, didn’t give up, and gave your all, you could and would achieve. I took that attitude into my work. 

Then this last week happened. I tried the hardest thing I have ever come across. And I sucked at it. I tried to ride a motorcycle.  At first, my instructor Marcin (from BMW, Dalkeith), my husband Ian (who was also doing his CBT) and I laughed, and humour got me through the repeated topples.  Then I got frustrated, though I quickly got out of that one as a frustrated mind cannot learn.  Then I got curious.  You see, I enjoyed riding the motorbike.  But still, I could not stay upright.

The worst moment was while standing still, straddling the bike and talking to my instructor, Marcin, I fell over.  I just toppled to the side for no reason.  That led to some proper belly laughing.  But I got back up, Marcin picked the bike up, and I tried again. 

Every time I hit the deck, I got right on up.

I have wanted a bike for more than twenty years. I wanted to do this. I believed I could do this.  I just needed to keep trying.

My technical skills progressed, but my balance did not.  You can only progress to learning properly and get out of the yard if you are upright.  Unfortunately, I was not spending enough time upright.

I didn’t want to let anyone down.  From the tutor kids who have the courage to try, try and try again to my husband.  We had dreamed of packing the camper, towing the bikes to the off-beaten track, and exploring.  I had planned with friends to go out on the bike with them.  I had even thought of using it for work, attending schools to provide outdoor learning advice and dreaming about the easy parking a motorcycle would afford (school carparks can be a nightmare!)  And my poor instructor who had the patience of a saint (and the strength of ten bears with how often he had to scoop that bike back up off the ground!).

I kept pushing on, falling off and getting right back on again. 

Marcin was fantastic.  He reassured me we could take as long as was required.  There was no pressure, and I loved riding – even if my legs were turning attractive shades of blue and purple!  He was also a great investigator, trying to determine where the trouble was coming from.  It wasn’t my seating position; that was good.  I had stopped tensing up and relaxed.  I could steer pretty well.  My clutch control was nice.  I was enjoying it.  All the basic building blocks were there.  Still, I could not stay upright.

Our breakthrough came when I missed something he said.  You see, I have a deep dark secret that I have not been comfortable sharing with people; only my immediate family and a couple of friends knew.  I have moderate hearing loss in both ears.  A private test at the tail end of last year showed I need hearing aids for both ears, and I am currently waiting for my NHS referral to come through.  So, missing what was said led me to explain to Marcin that I had hearing loss.  He was fantastic and took away much of my worry about telling people.  As he said, knowing meant he could support me more.  He was brilliant. 

I had not appreciated that hearing loss due to damage in the ear is closely linked to balance issues. I have many of the hallmarks of damage, from tinnitus to general clumsiness; I am quick to feel motion sickness and of course, the hearing loss itself.  So it could be that the damage that we know is there is causing balance issues. It is all the same areas, after all.

So, knowing there may be a physical reason why I cannot stay upright, I gave up (for now).  While I wait for my hospital referral, there isn’t a lot I can do.  But, with my husband having passed his CBT and hopefully getting his full licence by the end of next week, I am looking forward to riding pillion soon and maybe, one day, if the hospital can help, getting back and learning to ride for myself!

And as for the tutor kids, I felt I was letting them down.  In fact, I felt like a total hypocrite. I encourage them to push on despite difficulties and find strategies that work, but I have come to a dead end myself.  But this failure will make me a better tutor. It will be good for them to hear that failure can be ok.  Yeah, right now, it hurts, and I am upset.  But there is always a way forward; it just might be via a side route and that is a lesson worth learning! 

And I have my route.  This is not the end. Once I see the hospital, we will know which road I will take, either as a rider or a passenger, and I will still be able to enjoy bikes.  It may not be in the way I want.   But if the hospital can fix it, I will return to BMW Dalkeith and get more lessons from Marcin!

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.

It’s Summer!

Well, that really has been some year! I have just finished my last lesson of the academic year and… wow.

The academic year 2019-2020 is one that will not be forgotten by parents, children or teachers, or well, anyone really! At the start of the year we hadn’t heard of Covid, distance learning, blended learning or would consider a lockdown as something that could feasibly happen.

Yet now they are the norm. We are living a life we did not imagine at the start of the academic year. That change has been hard on everyone. Our children included.

I have been in the very privileged position to support children and families throughout this time. I strived to be a consistent in their lives. Popping up on their screen at the same time every week. Giving them consistency. Ensuring they knew what to expect, in a time of great uncertainty.

I pulled together some amazing teams to help support Lockdown Learning and Where the Wild Minds Grow. Pages designed to help support learning and mental health for everyone. Ensuring everyone, no matter how much they have in the bank, could access high quality support.

I spent hours upon hours on the phone to parents, whether I worked with them or not, the aim was simply to offer support to all. Ideas were shared, resources gifted, support given.

My staff team grew. We have an eclectic group of tutors which has doubled in size. However, they all have 5 things in common

🧡they are fully qualified teachers
💛they have a minimum of 5 years experience
💚 they believe in putting the fun into learning
💙 they are wonderful human beings
💜 they understand the importance of mindset

The number of families we work with grew as well. I have loved seeing how the children all progress and watch the wonder of their learning. We no longer only work with families in West Lothian. We have families all over the country, from London to Gourock, Liverpool to Glasgow. Suddenly, distance isn’t an issue.

I love my job. I love supporting the children, families and tutors. But, I would be lying if I said this year has not been hard. There has been times where I could have curled up and hid. There has been days where I didn’t know how I would get through it. There has been many tears and a few tantrums and that’s just from me!

But, together, we have all came through it. I would like to think we have came through it stronger than we were. More confident. With an added understanding of what is really important in life.

At the moment we have no real idea what the next academic year might look like. Some parents are still hoping for blended learning, others for full time schooling and a return to normality. I have no idea what it will be. But I know myself and my team will still be there to support everyone who needs it.

But, this weekend, I am having a few days off. A chance to recharge my batteries before coming back on Tuesday to provide fun summer tuition to the wonderful kids I work with. And I cannot wait!

To family and every child we have worked with this year, thank you. You have been amazing and I shall not forget any of you!

I would love to hear your wins, so please, comment and tell us! Whether they are big or small, let us celebrate with you!