How To Be a Role Model
In the following article, we have tutor leader 2019 Javier Heng (below, far left) impart valuable wisdom from his years with Heartware Tuition Programme, and reflect upon how it has shaped him.
What made you sign up for the Heartware Tuition Programme?
In my first year, I wanted to learn tutoring skills while doing good for the community. Heartware seemed like the perfect place to start and I signed up without expecting too much. Subsequently, on top of experiencing enjoyable moments with my tutees, I realised that I was able to make real long-term impact for people since it was a year-long commitment. I decided to join again as a tutor leader during my second year. Throughout the experience, I realised that I enjoyed being put in the position of a nurturer. This helped me be less worried about my own problems and was a rewarding way to spend my time.
What are your main roles as a tutor leader?
Being a tutor leader is being a servant leader who leads by example. I had the responsibility to encourage tutors and check on their progress. By delegating tasks to tutors, I aimed to get them to try out a variety of tasks, to push them of out their comfort zone so that they could gain valuable experience. Being a tutor leader also means being accountable for the operations behind lessons. It could range from monotonous administrative matters e.g. taking attendance and monthly reports to operational matters e.g. planning life skills lessons. As much as possible I tried to design lessons based on feedback, so that everyone could have a say.
What are the challenges you faced as a tutor leader and how do you overcome them?
Being a tutor leader, I have to take into account how both tutors and tutees respond to any activity I plan. This was something I didn’t take into account when I planned some of the initial lessons, which led to pretty poor outcomes.
In the beginning, I had been overly informative in my lessons, not taking into account how energetic tutees could be, which made the lesson dull and unproductive as the tutees eventually got restless. Subsequently, I grasped that being aware of my audience and keeping them interested in what I was speaking was more important than covering as much facts as possible, which led to be changing to a more activity-based and self-reflective style of teaching instead. This approach worked out much better overall in keeping the tutees engaged. This is not an exhaustive list of challenges I faced, but really there is lots to learn as you go through as a tutor leader given the responsibility of being a servant leader, and having to do more on field and even prep off field. It is of utmost importance to put others in consideration first, and to ultimately give everyone great time!
How do you juggle your role as a tutor and tutor leader?
Juggling the roles of tutor and tutor leader is not as bad as it seems. Managing both sides requires many of the same skills.
Take communication for example, be relatable and approachable to everyone. For primary school children, think like a kid; What would you like? What would you hate to see? By keeping this in mind as well as my end goal of being approachable, I shape the way I interact with them to make their experiences positive.
Similarly, while I have to treat tutors more professionally, I make sure to put in the same considerations. Checking on how they are doing, encouraging them if needed, and most importantly making friends with the other tutors as much as possible will make being in a leader’s position easier.
I think the other most important thing is to not be too overbearing. Remember that the other tutors are human beings too, not robots which have to follow your every command to a tee. Delegating tasks and leaving tutors to work on them autonomously can lead to more authentic and better outcomes for both tutors and tutees, especially since every tutor is different and has something valuable to bring to the table.
Hence, the importance of trust and cooperation between a tutor leader and tutors will allow one to juggle both the duties of a tutor and a tutor leader better, by simply not putting all the work on yourself.
What is the most rewarding part of being a tutor leader?
It is rewarding to be in a position to be able to help other people out, whether it be tutee or tutor. I feel that being a tutor leader has given me an opportunity to be more involved with and provide guidance to my fellow tutors, while still being an educator to the tutees.
By doing so, I feel like my reward comes in a non-tangible impact through enriching everyone’s volunteer experience and to have a hand in the larger part of volunteer service, to connect with others and have fun.
What are some words you would like to dedicate to your fellow tutors?
Simply great work! You guys have done amazing in being a role model, an inspiration, a support and most of all an educator for these children. Your dedication to spend time to help these children goes a long way.
What are some words you would like to dedicate to your tutees?
Thumbs up to you guys for committing to coming every week, I have seen you grow and improve over time! Don’t forget to keep being yourself, even if your major exams are coming up; it’s what make you guys so amazing.
What are your most memorable moments as a tutor leader?
My most memorable moments are when I see both tutors and tutees getting along well after warming up to each other.
How is your volunteering experience with Heartware Network?
Heartware was imperative in teaching me skills that I don’t usually get to learn or practise through their highly informative training session. The training session was made better by their skilful and engaging training crew, who made sure that we would receive the necessary skills through fun and interactive activities. I also learned more about how certain groups in Singapore may not have equal opportunities. Interacting with the tutees has made the situation more real to me. Even though most of them seemed to be lively children, they were unable to do as well as their peers due to their unfortunate circumstances. Heartware has given me the chance to reflect on how lucky most of us are.
How has Heartware helped you to grow and develop?
It was really hands-on. Being on-site initially was both terrifying and exciting at the same time, since it was a mostly student-run system at each school. Over time, it got better and I started to improve my teaching methods to better fit my tutee. I also appreciated Heartware’s efforts in accommodating our school/home locations and schedules to ensure our volunteer service does not overshadow our current commitments.
It was a humbling experience. I felt that my own inadequacies were put to the test. I started off with no prior experience in interacting with children especially in a professional setting. I struggled quite a bit dealing with their rowdiness and finding effective ways to break down concepts into digestible pieces. This encouraged me to do more research on how to improve my teaching methods rather than being stagnant.
Heartware’s training helped me realise the difference between teaching and being knowledgeable. The training refreshed our knowledge of the PSLE syllabus. It also taught us how to deal with various situations which might happen along the way. For instance, what do we do if we accidentally mention something sensitive to our tutee, or how do we handle tutee with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
Heartware also gave us lots of freedom to explore and test our teaching methods. Being held in a personal setting, most tutors can afford to try out untested grounds, such as using games to teach math, or creating more memorable mnemonics, or even bringing insects to class (which I did). This allowed me to express a more creative stance when planning and executing lessons, and as a person who likes experimenting, I find this made lessons more fun.
On top of that, it supported one of my tutees in developing his interest for learning. I feel as tutors we have the responsibility to make our tutees receptive to learning, regardless of what topic it is. During my sessions with my tutees, I usually link my lessons to his interests and even go beyond the syllabus to make sure he is still engaged in learning. I gave advice and help to tutors given my senior experience as a tutor. I made an effort to be more supportive to my other tutors, to check on how they are doing as well as any help they might need.
What have you gained from volunteering at Heartware?
I’ve made awesome friends that I probably would not have known if it weren’t for this programme. Even though the programme has ended, we still keep in contact. Being a tutor leader meant serving alongside my tutors so I did as much as I could to help them out if needed, while letting them explore themselves. I gained better teaching skills and also more patience with kiddos and their flamboyant personalities and energy.