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  • Sarah Raad

Tutors

The only real failure is the failure to reach Heaven…

Christ the Teacher Icon

For the last twenty years I have run a tutoring school in one form or another. Before that, I tutored my friends and family members by helping them with their work whenever they needed a hand.


Perhaps this is because my mother was a teacher, and I inherited the “teaching gene”. Or perhaps it is because I am an eldest child with seven younger siblings, and I got used to people asking me what I remembered from when I was their age and in their class. Or perhaps it is because God gifted me with the ability to break down complexities into quite simple explanations. Or perhaps it is because I am naturally competitive, and it gives me great satisfaction for my “team to win”.


You see, for me, tutoring is a way for me to fuse onto my student’s “team” and support them and cheer them on …


For whatever reason, I have been working with (mostly) young people and their parents for half of my life…


Of course, though my work is rewarding, it comes with its own set of challenges. After all, nobody would do this job for as long as I have been doing it unless they absolutely LOVED it!


I mean, I could earn far more money in my previous career than I do as a tutor – so it is not money that drives me. The working hours are horrendous – I start my work in the afternoon when everyone else is getting themselves set up for dinner and the nice slow wind down to bed, and I continue long into the night. And the stress – do not get me started on the stress – just trying to accommodate the logistics of student and tutor timetables (which change every term and sometimes more than once a term as people take up extracurricular activities and their families adjust schedules) has surely shaved whole years off my life…


And yet, I still hang in here.


Why?


I like to help people. And I like to help them to pass. I like to see people experience the satisfaction of achievement. I do not like to see people fail. To improve is to me one of the most important things in the world!


I like to think that one day, far into the future, those students who I have taught today might be having a terrible day – because we all do – and when that happens, they will look back fondly on that time when they worked so hard that they passed their science quiz, aced a speech in English or scored an A in calculus and think to themselves – how easy life was back then…


Perhaps I delude myself, and five minutes after they leave the room, I am forgotten and all the wisdom that I have tried to share with the knowledge that I teach has been rinsed out of their minds like foam off a bar of soap. But I like to think of it anyway…


Because we all fail in life. Life defeats us over and over and over again. I am a prime example… Almost every single day of my life I say to myself, today I am only going to speak in a calm and controlled low-toned voice when I address my children, even when they are actively ignoring me. Almost every single day I try the calmness, and almost every single day, I end up shrieking at them like a banshee – to their complete disregard and the ongoing horror of my poor neighbours.


I. Fail. Daily.


In my mind, there is an intrinsic difference between a teacher and a tutor….


A teacher is required to convey knowledge so that students will learn, a teacher provides a student with their education.


A tutor merely builds on that.


A tutor is someone who cheers from the sidelines, bringing forward all the most important parts of that knowledge conveyed by the teacher and reminding the student that they can reproduce those important points for their teacher’s consumption. One way that this is done is to model the required response. This does not mean that we cheat and do the work for the student. Rather, it means that we explicitly and very clearly demonstrate to the student how WE would attempt the response and then, after they have proof that it can be done, we ask the student to try to do it themselves…


In this way a tutor – a good tutor – fuses with their student so that the student understands that they have a support to lean on when the times are tough, and they have someone to rely on when they are confused or overwhelmed. In other words, it is my job to give the student HOPE.

I was reflecting on this over the last week while I was working away with a student or ten, and it occurred to me that there are similarities in this analogy of the tutor and our understanding of God.

Obviously, I will qualify the next part of this text by clarifying that I in no way equate myself with God simply because I am a tutor – that would be insanity… But, as I do in most things, I do see connections to God in this too.


Saint Cyril of Alexandria said, “As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.”


This is the fusion – a far more important one than that of a tutor and their student – in the relationship we have with Christ.


One morning during a cold Spanish winter in 1917, when he was a very young child, Saint Josemaria saw footprints of bare feet in the snow ahead of him. He was intrigued and followed those footprints. Following the trail, he stumbled upon the Carmelite friar who was walking barefoot. This changed his life! That stranger was his tutor. He showed the saint that the task could be done…


Saint Josemaria later wrote that when he saw that man barefoot in the snow, he thought to himself, “What about me? Am I not going to be able to offer Him anything?”


He was taught a truth by that tutor who he never knew… God was His teacher. God gave him faith and knowledge, but the tutor – that unknown Carmelite friar – guided him on the practical application of that knowledge from God his teacher, by explicitly demonstrating it in his own life.


And the education he received in that moment of fusion that engendered such understanding in his breast, changed his whole life… For Saint Josemaria, that moment in the early morning snow was the time he passed his science quiz, aced his speech in English or scored an A in calculus… But it was so much more.


It was the moment that changed his life.


Because, although I teach students how to pass exams so that they will not fail them, the only real failure that we should be concerned with, is the failure to reach Heaven...


After all, that is the only test that really counts…


For with prayers, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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