From the vault - AMES Volunteer reminisces

In 2000, AMES home tutor Juliet Tootell wrote about her experiences as a volunteer 

Joining the Home Tutor Scheme is an intensely rewarding experience. It’s also full of surprises. 

Like any adventure embarked upon, one sets off with a great sense of anticipation and excitement, and some trepidation. The reality is never quite what one had envisaged. 

Human interactions, being what they are, one runs the gamut of emotions from laughter, joy and wonder, to bewilderment, frustration and sorrow; but never, ever boredom! It’s a sobering and enriching experience. 

During the preparatory course which preceded the allocation of our students by AMES Victoria, a training video was shown depicting a home tutor meeting her student for the first time. 

She arrived at her student’s home with a lovely posy of flowers from her own garden and greeted the young woman somewhat tentatively, but warmly. They sat at a comfortable table and the tutor proceeded with a quiet, instructive lesson. 

Taking heed, I too brought my own prize blooms to my first student’s flat, along with carefully chosen pens and papers, heart and head brimful of goodwill and my newfound knowledge – only to discover her sitting cross-legged on the floor burning briquettes in an earthenware bowl, boiling traditional coffee of her country of origin. Smoke filled the room, emitting a heady perfume of burning sandalwood. Wow! This was interesting. 

I joined her on the floor and enjoyed the first of many ginger and sugar flavoured delicious cups of coffee. Later, became clear that no lesson would begin before partaking of this ritual. That took care of at least half one half hour. Lessons extended to one and a half hours, then two. 

Gradually, over time, other family members arrived under the refugee program and English instruction extended to a search for bedding and cooking utensils, to explaining the myriad of services available in this country, and to sorting out difficulties which arose within various bureaucracies. 

My second student, a woman of keen intelligence and good humour, had a family of six children, and while the older ones attended school during lessons, the younger ones became an integral part of each week’s visit. They might be content to sit quietly on a lap, or, as children will, to demand the attention they felt was their due. Flexibility is ‘Rule Number One’ for home tutors! 

I soon realised that there is a limit to the amount of time and energy one can contribute to one’s students and that independence for them is actually the main priority of the scheme. 

Maintaining a balance between the desire to help, or please, and the provision of a professional service, is something which I have had to consciously practise. 

It is also easy to fall prey to self-gratification, to bask in the glow of one’s own sanctimoniousness! Self-reliance for the student, and respect for the dignity, must always remain the teacher’s focus. 

After my limited experience as a home tutor, I would like to thank all those with whom I have come in contact, from the dedicated staff of AMES Victoria, to my fellow tutors, and especially the wonderful families who have put their trust in me and welcomed me so wholeheartedly into their homes. I feel immensely privileged. 

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