Thursday, May 27, 2010

Visiting Tutor

Well, that's the peculiar job title for the work that I do at a boarding house for teenage children of British military personnel. The visiting part of the title might refer to the fact that I don't reside there, just stay overnight when I am on duty. The tutoring bit involves neither teaching nor tutoring as such, since I basically supervise the boarders, in particular the boys. (As a male member of staff I am not allowed in the girls' wing at all.)

There are clear rules about the most important issue, which is their "Health and Safety". Every time they leave the building they have to sign out in a book by the entrance, both time and destination, and then sign back in again on their return. Staff must at all times have a record of every boarder's whereabouts. That's our responsibility.

Then there are meal times, roll call, prep (two hours' homework) and bedtime to adhere to. We all eat the same food, although some boarders tend to buy and eat rubbish from the nearby supermarket. On weekend mornings it is possible to order one's own full English breakfast, which I only eat in the boarding house. At roll call after dinner there is also the daily opportunity to share information. I think I still hold the record for the fastest roll call, reading out roughly 60 names and getting answers.

Then comes one of the, sometimes, stressful periods, prep. For two hours boarders are expected to stay in their individual rooms and study, unless they have signed up to use the computer room. You can easily imagine that some of them come up with all sorts of reasons to leave their room; toilet visit, asking a friend about something, borrow something from somebody, get help from somebody, to print something off in the computer room, which all has to go through me as a VT. They should always ask permission before they go anywhere else. Since I have two floors to keep an eye on, the really "good boys" find me first. Mostly I am stationed on the lower floor where the younger ones are (14-15 yr old), since some of them are among "the more mobile" ones. As soon as they stick their heads out, I am there with a face saying "And where are you going?" But I have to admit that I am a sucker for a clever answer. As long as they sound believable I like to give them the benefit of the doubt, until the day they let me down that is. My idea is to teach them to be open, honest and truthful.

Bedtime is the other somewhat stressful and energy-sapping event, which tests your patience and composure. Any parent will understand easily, just multiply by 35! No, not all of them are tricky to usher into their own rooms, but you have to develop your own style and set your tolerance levels. As any good teacher will know, it never works shouting at them, because that's a sure sign you have lost. Some kids like to wind you up as well, so don't fall into that trap, that's all I can say.

Before they can settle they need to have some bedtime entertainment, no not me reading a bedtime story, but they watch videos, films, listen to music, play video games on their expensive little machines (some still actually read books!). So there is a heck of a lot of swapping, borrowing and negotiating regarding these items before calm is restored. Imagine having 35 of those dog leads that are extendable. One by one you have to pull them in.

The younger ones obviously go to bed first, so the whole procedure has its own repetitive nature, but in the end you get them there, into their own rooms. More than once (every night really) have boarders hidden in another boarder's room, behind the desk, in the wardrobe etc. Normally you gently talk them out, but if they are really silly and stupid they will be gated the following night.

I mentioned "Health and Safety" earlier and that is something I, as a Visiting Tutor, need to keep in mind always. I must for instance keep the door open at all times when I need to speak to a boarder, I cannot close the door behind me and be on my own with a single boy. I never close the door even if there is more than one boarder in the room. I always leave a dragging foot to prop the door open, which otherwise would shut automatically. It is about my safety as well, not leaving myself vulnerable to any kind of suspicion. Even though I have worked in this boarding house for six years, I still have to be vetted and checked upon for criminal activities on a regular basis. I am subject the the most rigorous checks available. And so it should be.

When it comes to the girls I am even more conscious of the demand for absolutely correct behaviour on my part, in particular since some of the older girls really are young women.

I realise that what I have written so far possibly might sound as if the work was not enjoyable, but it often is. As always when you work with young people, and in this case in a role somewhere between a parent, a teacher and an adult friend, you have all those positive moments when you are just another person to whom they can connect. You can share a joke, have an interesting conversation and sometimes give them some of your "collected wisdom", just be there.

So, after a long duty it is time even for the VT to go to bed, something which one boarder thought I never did because I was always there when he popped out of his room, but I have never ever slept particularly well in that room. It could depend upon the fact that I am on duty while asleep, but it just might have something to do with the sad old military bed that I have to sleep in. Good night!

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LadyFi said...

Fascinating insight into your work!

I went to boarding school and hated it.. but I realize now that it probably wasn't easy for the teachers either.

Expats Again said...

I enjoyed learning about your job and your many duties. In many ways, I've shared some of your responsiblities having taught high school and GED preparation at a state prison. Not saying a boarding school is prison, lol, only that safety was tantamount.

Zuzana said...

Very interesting post! How extraordinary that you volunteer for this job.;)
The image in the end (of bed springs?) is great.;)
My Irishman is also a volunteer for a similar helping organization.
I admire everyone who gives their free time to help others.

oreneta said...

Sounds like something that is better to do part time rather than every single day. Cool though in its own way.

swenglishexpat said...

LadyFi - Well, I wouldn't like to be a boarder myself!

Expats Again - When some of them whinge they compare it to a prison. Little do they know!

Zuzana - I am afraid I am not a saint, I do get paid.

Oreneta - Every day would kill me, definitely.

Limningedge said...

I was in boarding school from age nine to fifteen; so I figure I have either used or at least heard all those "reasons" too!

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swenglishexpat said...

Limningedge - Kids will be kids. Teenagers' prime task is to challenge the adult world, and ours is to tease them!