We’re lucky to have a roster of superb tutors here at Mentor Education. This week we caught up with Karen Sandhu to learn a little about her background, teaching experiences, and passions (which include performance poetry!).
Hi, Karen! Thanks so much for joining us today. To get started, would you tell us a little bit about your hobbies or passions?
I love ideas – and I’m always striving to uncover lots of new ones, especially when it comes to art, film and literature. I’m thorough and committed to any task I do. And I’m fully prepared to leave no stone unturned when it comes to academic research. I’m obsessed with contemporary poetry, costume making, interior design. I am also a performance poet with my first collection of poems due for publication in 2021 – very excited for this!
You are one of Mentor Education’s most experienced teachers. How did you first become involved with tutoring?
I have always loved being in the classroom, teaching lots of students and engaging with all the different personalities; however, I am also very big on pastoral care which often involves lots of one-to-one support. As a result, I decided to take up tutoring to offer support to students on a one-to-one basis. As well as providing academic guidance, tutors inevitably support wellbeing and mental health, as you help your students to regain confidence in their abilities, and self-belief that with time and effort they can achieve anything they put their mind to.
You have an impressive academic background (Karen’s qualifications include a BA; MA; and a PGCE!), and are currently working on a PhD in English literature. What attracted you to English and what do you love about teaching it?
As a child I always enjoyed those moments when I allowed my mind to wander and let my imagination take hold. Everything revolved around narrative – so from the age of four, I would imagine hosting elaborate dinners for the birds in amongst the berry bushes. By the time I was eight, I was getting involved in school productions and losing myself in character, dance and song. And by the time I was 12, I started to write down my imaginings in the form of poems and short stories which I would always perform aloud – even if no one was listening. Turning 18, reading English literature at university felt completely right for me. I knew that there was so much still to read, and I wanted to be wowed and swept away by it. For me, literature has always provided a window into the past, present and future. It has helped me to make sense of society, and through it, I have been able to travel the world several times over. It is literature’s immense relatability which draws me back to the classroom everyday as we use it to examine ourselves, our histories and the communities we live in.
In addition to English, you’ve also taught creative writing and art. How has your extensive experience as a teacher influenced your approach to tutoring?
In my teaching practice accessibility sits at the very heart of everything I do. I love nothing more than spending my spare time thinking about how the curriculum and its content can be adapted so that all students can access and enjoy it. My two passions in life are art and creative writing; therefore, thinking outside of the box is something I pride myself on. In my lessons students can expect to approach literature through the lens of art, and art through the lens of drama. I am constantly drawing upon real-life scenarios and happenings to support the understanding of literature, and to ensure that my students form a connection with it. By connecting with it, they will start to care about it… and then they will notice its relevance to them. And this makes way for the very best kind of learning. Learning which is dedicated and committed to its craft.
Proudest moment as a tutor?
I have several! But one of my proudest moments is helping a student achieve a scholarship to a top UK secondary school. It involved hours of hard work as we were not only studying literature, but also classics, history and the art of public speaking. The student was from a disadvantaged background and had experienced numerous personal challenges, so I could not have been prouder when the news came in.
Do you think every student has the chance to be successful, given the right support? Are there any skills that can’t be taught?
Absolutely, yes! Every student can achieve and be successful if they have the right kind of support. Not every student is lucky enough to get this at home, so the next best thing is in the classroom. I work hard building working relationships with my students. They know that they can trust and rely on me. They know that I will always be there, ready and on time, to teach them every week. They know I expect weekly assignment submissions, and they will receive weekly feedback which celebrates their strengths whilst highlighting areas for development. They know I like to scaffold and model exam answers to guide them gently along their way. And they know I have bags of praise and lots of self-deprecating jokes, so our lessons are full of giggles, too!
But it’s not all about exam results. What other important things does private tutoring offer a budding student?
Private tutoring is extremely helpful in building self-confidence. There’s nothing more daunting than being asked direct questions about a text, and you’re the only person in the room who can answer them. You can’t rely on your classmates – it’s just you and your tutor. This is an intense situation; however, if you have a supportive and nurturing tutor you will feel encouraged to think of answers, without fear of making “mistakes” or being judged. I continually notice students developing their oratory skills through private tuition. They begin the year very shy and reluctant to give their point of view, and by the time the year is out they’re speaking loud and clear, and gesticulating wildly to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the topic.
What does a typical day look like in the world of Karen?
Ah, this is a tricky one! I’m always working on numerous creative projects, or conducting research for my PhD, or I’m in the classroom teaching. So every day is different! And I feel really lucky to be able to say that. Nevertheless, on those occasions when there is more continuity across the week, I always start the day with hearty porridge oats, and then launch into research and writing. Late afternoons are spent tutoring. And in the evenings, I can be found working on some poems – the world feels much quieter then and for me it’s the perfect time to escape into my imagination.
And, finally: what’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t get in your own way.