When I was asked to be a tutor at my high school’s math tutoring centre, my gut told me to say no. Admittedly, saying that I was not the most patient of people would be a euphemism–I lacked patience even for myself; in high school, I got frustrated very easily if I did not get things right away. I shuddered to think what would happen if my tutee did not understand a concept after hearing my explanation, resulting in me losing my cool, for I sure did not possess the composure to reiterate the same idea over and over. However, I was reluctant to let down my teacher by saying no. As a result, I found myself at the tutoring centre after school, feeling almost sorry for whoever was going to get paired up with me.
When the session began, I realized that the most challenging part was not at all what I had expected. In fact, it was not the law of cosine, or factorials, that required my constant repetition–my tutee was very quick to grasp mathematical concepts once she sat down to study; what she struggled with most was believing she could comprehend the subject. She lacked confidence in her abilities and claimed she had never succeeded in exceling in the subject. My mission had then become to encourage her and helping her adopt a positive mindset. I broke down each math problem into easy steps and guided her through them all. I reassured her that mathematics was like any other subject–that perfection and familiarity just came with constant practice. I wrote the title to our notes in extravagant calligraphy and used a unique font when summarizing key points so that the entire process resembled more of a penmanship contest as opposed to a daunting math lesson. Slowly, time went by; I saw the cloud of fear in her eyes clear away.
As often as I noticed the changes in my tutee, I also began to see changes in myself. Just like how I encouraged my tutee to believe that she could succeed in something she had never been good at, I started to push myself to venture into areas that I was sure I would fail. I signed up for a Business program offered by my high school, which I enjoyed immensely, and had contributed massively to my choosing to study commerce at university. I participated in a computer science contest, which I failed miserably but had nonetheless taught me the basics of programming in the process of preparing for it. I applied for positions that I was sure I was unqualified for and successfully got some of them. Throughout these triumphs and failures, I realized I had become less reluctant to try.
Perhaps this is the beauty of tutoring someone else–we see how we would react when confronted by our own fears. When we help another person take down their walls, we subconsciously remind ourselves that the walls we have built up are not invincible either if we just pluck up the courage to break through them.