I miss school very much. At times, I wish I can just go back to school and simplify life to one dimension: work on graduation!
I have a soft spot for education partially because I have also been a tutor. In fact, besides writing, the only other job I have ever done part-time was being a tutor. I take my tuition stints as privileges, and always try to make lessons more fun than cram school.
As a tutor, I particularly enjoyed “stretch exercises”. In the old days before I picked up the “Try Harder” maxim, I was known as the tutor that individualised recipes for every student. Recipes included setting a Mathematics paper with no arithmetic problem in there to wean a student off a graphic calculator and attempting to design a game to “gamify” a Chemistry quiz. But perhaps one of the more fun recipes included trying to show arts students how to think quantitatively. Out came the utterly contrived examples that appeared on H2 Math papers, and in came some fairly realistic simulations, such as population chaos (logistics equation) and why Singapore Pools remains such a profitable enterprise with their astronomical house advantage.
Ever since my first full-time job, however, I have never felt the joy of working week in, week out just to spark joy for students, until recently where I had to dust my linear regression material just to try to teach high school statistics all over again.
Funny enough, when I was a student, I took some of these chapters for granted as being procedural; the H2 mathematics syllabus during my time made linear regression a procedural exercise anyway; have some x and y, linearise it, do a least-square regression, compute r^2, and then translate it back to determine what power law two variables seem to follow, and then perform an interpolation. I remembered just taking this chapter as “technique”, and now I had to show how “technique” isn’t so procedural in real-life.
I think my natural joyous reaction to being able to guide arises from the fact that I naturally tend to like to watch progress. That means, however, tutors often put students through hoops of questions to make them think and try harder. We will almost never answer, “What model should we use” with “use the y = mx + c model”. We almost always reply with a question, ” What models do you think could fit for this data set and why?” The resultant joy comes when the student feels a sense of accomplishment for successfully completing a problem without being fed the answer. The tutor also feels a sense of joy at having being a good navigator without giving away the plot.
Let me also take some time to indulge in an old saying that, the teacher has completed his or her objective when “the student beats the teacher”. There are reasons why this sparks joy. I shall approach this from the emotional angle first. The emotional angle is simple: satisfaction that a job was done so well that the teacher’s capabilities have all been passed down to the student. At this point, it makes sense to add a layer of depth to this argument; younger people, with their differences in experiences and skills, have a higher chance of synthesising new knowledge that the older people just cannot see or cannot imagine. In other words, this is joy from progress. Perhaps this is why my colleagues did not find me excessively fatigued after a cyber discovery camp with young, bubbly talents, but will find me fatigued whilst setting some “boring, administrative tasks”.
Perhaps it is only fair to take a more nuanced stance on teaching and joy. Teaching does not occur only in a formal context of master and apprentice, professor and student, or tutor and tutee. There are, in fact, many different avenues where informal instruction occur. These include mentorship of interns, coaching and many other methods. It may perhaps have been a bit of a stretch to claim I have never felt the joy when I was being a full-time tutor, in that case.
Perhaps, deep down, I simply enjoy the process of progress; progress sparks joy, and hence a positive correlation between the amount of teaching I can reasonably do (in whatever medium you can think of) and how much joy there is. And I still miss school!