A Day as an Assistant Tutor

At 2.30p.m., I refill my water bottle and pack some biscuits or other snacks into my bag. Sometimes I bring a book along. I change into a suitable attire - usually collared blouses with jeans or pants, and I go to the living room and wait for my transport to arrive.

Around 3p.m. I leave for work in the driver's car and follow him around fetching some other kids before I reach my workplace. There's a flight of stairs leading up to the second floor. Some kids have trouble walking up properly with their heavy schoolbags and at times when I deem necessary, I help them.

We put our shoes at the bottom of the second flight of stairs leading up to the third floor, which is so far, not used. I then go into the air-conditioned room and set my bag down under a table where other assistant tutors put theirs as well and finally enter the classroom.

I put my bottle on the bookshelf and look around at the kids already present there. Most of them would be talking, some even arguing. "Take out your spelling books and read," I would tell them, otherwise prompting them about their homework.

There are rows of blue tables with white plastic chairs, each table seating two students. We assistant tutors - there are three of us so far, including me, and the other two are both a year younger than me - can sit anywhere we like if there's space for us.

I usually walk around the classroom, keeping an eye on the students' discipline. If they start making too much noise I would scold them, or give them a warning. The students have three chances  before their names are written on the whiteboard for a caning.

3.30pm, and the 7 and 8 years old students go for their tuition classes, leaving me with a few 9-year-olds. There are very few students at this point, so the assistant tutors would normally guide one student each with their homework from school. Two particular students from this batch would easily argue and they have to be seated separately.

Around 4 to 4.30 pm, the 11-year-olds would arrive along with around 5 of the 10 year-olds. They are a noisy batch, this one. They would not bring their homework sometimes and a few students wont bring their spelling book at all to start with. The 10-year-olds are usually rude and would make fun or laugh at my remarks or ignore me when I tell them to get into the class. But I get by. I'm stricter with these students.

Come 5pm, 10 and 11 year olds too enter their classes and I'm back with the 7 and 8 years olds. Sometimes the 12-year-olds would join us, but most of the time the class would be quite full so they enter a classroom at the back of the corridor. At times the 'class monitor' would bring me a stack of books or exercise papers to mark later. Between 5 to 6.30p.m., it's all about keeping the students quiet and making sure that they complete their homework before getting home.

They would ask about how to solve Maths questions, how to write a sentence, or quite simply and most of the time - they just ask for answers to questions they don't even understand. Patience, patience. The other two assistant tutors would help more on homework while I help on the discipline part, because most of their questions would be related to the Chinese subject which is something I'm very very weak at.

When 6.30pm comes, there's less students to watch for and I would normally start marking the spellings and spreadsheets. T
he 10-year-olds leave for their classes. Sometimes a parent would call to ask for a tutor, and at times they just call to ask their children to go downstairs. "Is his/her homework done? If so I would like to fetch him/her back home, can you tell him/her to come downstairs?"

A small number or 11-year-olds would stay till 7 or 8p.m, and when there's less than three students remaining, we would move out to the counter area and switch off the appliances in the classroom earlier to save energy.

By this time, the remaining people would start talking to each other and make jokes and stuff. From time to time one of us would be asked to supervise another classroom while the tutor takes a phone call. At 8pm, the 10-year-olds too are done with their lessons and I leave for home with the batch.

Then it's all back to the late-night life.

Nicki Sim

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