‘What makes a great tutor?’ is a question that’s often playing on the minds of the London Home Tutors team. As such, it was lovely to catch up with James Baker this month and find out more about his thoughts on teaching, his approach, and how his time in the military has influenced his outlook. Keep reading to learn all about James!
Name: James Baker
‘The specialist subjects that I teach are based around the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas. It is an amazing time to be alive with all the technological advancements happening daily. Some interesting facts about me: I am a huge rugby fan – fingers crossed for the World Cup! I have also just finished travelling the Caribbean. Seeing the world, finding new cultures and meeting new and interesting people is a real passion of mine.’
You have an impressive and diverse background – a first-class honours student, PGCE holder, as well as being someone who has spent time in the Royal Air Force! How did you first become involved with tutoring?
I really started getting involved in tutoring during my first full-time teaching position within a highly selective grammar school. I saw parents and students alike becoming so stressed and anxious during the time period leading up to the entrance examinations. I decided that perhaps I could help steady the ship and relieve some of this tension by offering my services to tutor students in all areas of the entrance examinations (as I was very familiar with [the process]).
What’s your favourite age group to teach, and why?
That’s a difficult question. I honestly do not think I have a favourite age group to teach. Each age group presents different challenges, which is what I love about tutoring. One hour I could be teaching an A-level student about Simpson’s rule or vectors. The challenge for me with this age group is bringing the subjects alive – relating the theory to real-life examples so they can see the practical use of the knowledge. But then the next hour I could be teaching a nine year old basic arithmetic and using games and fun to make the subject enjoyable. The variety is amazing!
As mentioned earlier, you have spent time in the Royal Air Force. Tell us about your key learning experiences in the military – and how have these influenced your approach as a tutor?
The Royal Air Force and the military as a whole teaches you a number of life lessons that I believe have really helped me become a more rounded tutor. Within the military, it’s the little things that make the big differences: being meticulous, leaving no stone unturned, and never giving up. It’s the same with tutoring. The learning process through any subject is long and arduous with highs and lows. It’s a journey that, as a tutor, you guide your student along.
Best moments as a tutor?
Number one has to be the moment when you receive a message from a parent telling you that their daughter or son has completely surpassed their expected grades and can now go on to A levels (and potentially move onto university). When you have spent so long with one person and reassured them daily that they are going to be fine – and then they do even better than expected… it’s such an amazing feeling.
Number two is more specific and relates to when I was working with a young girl on her entrance examinations (for some of the top private girls’ schools). She was immensely intelligent and I knew she would do well. However, she lacked confidence and self belief, and for some reason she thought she was not as good as other students. Throughout our time together we worked not only on her academic studies but also her self-confidence. When she was accepted to all the secondary schools she applied for you could see the confidence shining out from her face. That was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a tutor.
Do you think every student has the chance to be successful, given the right support?
With the right support anything is achievable. The difficulty is understanding what success looks like to that student. I always think an interesting question is: ‘Is a high-flying surgeon more successful than, let’s say, a carpenter?’ Yes, the surgeon saves lives, but the carpenter creates beautiful pieces of work every day. Success is achieving your personal goals and aims – and with the right support the sky is the limit.
But it’s not all about exam results. What other important things does private tutoring offer a budding student?
Quite right, it’s not all about exam results. When I tutor I always aim to instil a love for the subject and a love for learning. As a tutor, you may only spend one or two hours a week with a student. In this time I want to bring the subject to life so that throughout the student’s life they have a constant curiosity for – and excitement about – learning. Throughout our lives, learning never truly stops: and the earlier you can get that thirst for knowledge to the student, the better.
You took part in a community outreach programme which involved giving one-to-one lessons to students who might not otherwise have been able to apply for the 11+. What inspired you to become involved in this programme and what did you take away from it?
I really wanted to make a positive impact on my community. I grew up in an area where a lot of parents are unfortunately unable to work and receive financial support from the government. This means that tutoring for their children is sometimes impossible to afford. But I knew that there were students who were gifted and talented in my area – and I believe that every student deserves the chance to fulfil their potential.
The experiences that I took away from this programme showed me that happiness is directly related to the relationships we have with people. You will get more fulfilment from helping others than any other aspect in your life.
What does a typical day look like in the world of James Baker?
Currently I am training for the London Triathlon. So every day I’m up early, taking long runs, swims and bike rides. I am also transitioning into the world of civil engineering, so around tutoring I am continuing with my own studies. Besides my tutoring, training and studies, I also have young nieces and nephews who I love to spend time with.
And finally, James, tell us: if you had to pick one book to share with a tutee, which one would it be?
It would have to be David Walliams’ new book, The Ice Monster. This is an amazing read for all ages. It is creative, funny and really grabs the reader from the first page. It follows the journey of an orphan who hears of a story about a mammoth in the North Pole. She makes it her goal to see this animal for herself and sets off on an amazing journey across the sea. It’s a must read!