On the necessity of private lessons

fed2I  have a nephew, beloved nephew, who is the sheer example of the generation of the teenagers of these times. His life mostly focuses on football, both as main topic of conversation and activity as he is a full-time footballer, shoes, some girls and of course, social media. He is very “social” indeed, in fact, you can find him on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Ask and I don’t know what else. He enjoys a constant symbiosis with his smart phone, from which he doesn’t wish to be separated for more than few minutes as he feels the world that matters is there. Unfortunately there is a parallel world that every now and then knocks on his door in a less alluring form, a nightmare in fact: his school report.

fed1So, when  last year, Federico, this is his name, brought his first term report card, his parents were shocked to learn that only physical education stood out among the poorness of his grades. In order to avoid the ghost of a possible failure, an army of teachers was recruited and I was selected among them. I was really happy to help. We decided that Federico could come to meet me  only on Saturday afternoon, as he had already planned all the lessons with the other teachers and there were still the three-time a week football training sessions and the Sunday match to take into consideration, of course.

I made all my best to make of that afternoon a very pleasant time. I wanted him to be happy to come and he was, actually. I often made him come for lunch, my husband is an excellent cook, or if he couldn’t, he always found a tray with cakes or pastries waiting for him. Sometimes after the lessons, we even brought him to a shopping centre to buy him something as a reward, you know, we wanted to thank him for keeping us company on Saturday afternoons, when you have really nothing better to do. fed3

The first lesson always seems  a success. Always. The student displays a certain interest and praises you for your passion, clarity which go far beyond what the teacher does at school. Always. For a while you are flattered and your self-esteem dramatically increases till the next session arrives. We had studied the Tudors, the Act of Supremacy etc., so when I checked what Federico had understood, I had some random facts and a lot of nonsense back. Just to give you an example, it took a few minutes to convince him that Henry VII couldn’t be but the father of Henry VIII, as seven comes first. He was surprised.

Then I remembered. I remembered me a long time before, while I was taking Latin private lessons, when I was at high school. I hated Latin, I just couldn’t see the point why I should study Latin, which I regarded only a dead, useless language.Those hours bored me to death: “Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi…” , that nightmarish lullaby still echoes in my mind. I learnt only what I needed to pull through and soon after I forgot everything. Strange indeed, when I went to university I chose to study German as a foreign language and well, even if the grammar, the structures resembled so much those of Latin, it didn’t find it so detestable after all, but rather did love it. I loved it so much that I started to take into consideration the studying of Latin again. So one day I found myself searching my old Latin grammar book, which I had safely placed in a remote corner of the shelf. It wasn’t that bad after all. fed4

At the end of school year Federico succeeded in filling his gaps in the majority of the subjects (English included, in case you want to know) , but he had to give Maths and Physics in the September session of exams, which he passed. However, his mother had noticed that when it was almost the end of the school year, Federico seemed to have made some progress in both Maths and Physics, despite she had decided not to waste her money in further lessons. Well, once alone and without anybody to support him, he had naturally started to organize his work, and his grades had actually improved, not enough to pass the year sparing the exams in September, but there were good sign of amelioration and for free.

Private lessons are hardly ever useful. Parents must understand that their children learn a lot from their mistakes, particularly if they are let alone to face them. They learn to be responsible for their actions and autonomous. Remember, their failure is not your failure and everything may turn into a great chance of growing. Let them grow. Therefore, you may imagine my reaction, when a mother, at a parent teacher conference, displaying a certain apprehension, wanted to have my opinion about some private lessons for his son, who had not manifested any real problem till then. I smiled. I took her hands and warmly said: “Go shopping!” She was speechless and I added: ” Get the money you wanted to spend on these lessons, buy yourself something nice and have fun!” She thanked me, the last time I saw her.


27 thoughts on “On the necessity of private lessons

  1. I think I should like to come to your house on Saturday afternoons for lunch, and whatever you might be teaching. You present an interesting perspective Stefy. I had always thought private tutoring to be an asset.

  2. Yes! As a teacher I’ve also seen that it’s often the children whose parents are the most protective when it comes to failure who end up struggling at school. Failure is where I’ve learnt the most in life, that’s for sure. Great post :).

  3. Do you think this is a gender specific thing? I had both a boy and a girl. The daughter was so organized I wondered if she was really our child. She kept her verb conjugations at her bedside so she could review them the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning. My son only cared for hockey and political science. He probably would still be in high school were it not for tutors and even that help was only absorbed by a sort of process of osmosis.

    • I do. I have always noticed how girls are much more organized and disciplined, but it is not a characteristic of their DNA, but rather the way we bring them up, that is all.

  4. What they miss out on at school they will pick up as life goes on. Unless you want to be a scientist or similar. 🙂 I finished school short of my 14th birthday, didn’t even get to set foot in high school. I think not going stunted my social development more than anything.

    • I understand and admire you for this, but nowadays far too many young adults of about 20 seem to be completely umprepared to face future. They live their super pampered lives , hence as soon as they meet their first obstacle, they just give in.

      • I guess going to war gave me some insight into life’s obstacles and put them into perspective early.

  5. I couldn’t understand Latin at all at boarding school. It seemed like a foreign language to me ! And now I am in Spain where Spanish is derived partly from latin. Oh boy ! Shoot me Stefy 😉 ❤

    • And English people are pretty famous all over the world for their natural aptitude for learning foreign languages, aren’t they Ralph? However, me gusta muchissimo español y España. Como hablas español? Abrazos y besos. Stefy. 🙂

  6. A nicely provocative post, Stefy! The key to progress in anything is motivation, and that has to come from the student. Private lessons can be inspirational, but in themselves they are no guarantee of student success.

    • You are right Chris, if the student cannot find a motivation in what he does, just like my nephew, any support becomes useless soon. Life will be his best teacher.

  7. Hahaha great post, and fine advice too. I also had Latin as a subject, and agreed heartily with you, though found that despite my indifference to…I was actually very good at it. The Latin teacher pushed me again and again to take it further after school, but to what end? I recall being annoyed that I should be so good at something so useless! *Laughs*. These days I have a huge fondness for Latin terms and words, but I still think I made the right decision to leave it behind.

    – Sonmi upon the Cloud

    • It is very diffucult to understand the reason why one should study Latin at such a young age, and the point is that if we do not understant or do not love the things we do, all that time spent on books is almost ever useless.

  8. well I just wrote about teens in my last comment here – and voila – I now read this – and hear hear e-tinkerbell – I agree

    “Parents must understand that their children learn a lot from their mistakes, particularly if they are let alone to face them.”

    and let them grow-

    you are a gift of a teacher and as cheesy as this sounds – thanks for investing in kids – 🙂 I can’t go back to thank my teachers and I wish I could – but whew – the differences they make – especially with the wisdom like this ❤ ❤

  9. I think private lessons are not a waste of time, they are very helpful sometimes indeed. However, in my opinion, they are just an easy way. Anyone could reinforce his personal knowledge by himself, but it is more difficult and demanding. And even if someone could not do it by his own, there would be certainly friends happy to help.
    Btw thanks for reminding me I have to to study for Thursday that part of Virgilio’s Bucoliche

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