Alumni, Community, People

Virtual tutoring volunteers support 400 students

June 23, 2020

Kira Innes (left) and Aarathi Shenoy.

The Faculty of Education has wrapped up its virtual tutoring service. The decision to close coincides with the Ontario public education system winding down for another school year.

Overall, the service has been successful.

In just three months of operation, the Teacher Education Office received just over 1,000 requests for tutors from across the province. Seventy-seven volunteers supported 400 students.

“We weren’t sure if we would receive enough tutoring requests for all of the tutors who had volunteered,” said Katelyn Mentone, Bachelor of Education Program Coordinator. “Within two weeks of starting, our request form was full and we had to update our collection system. We didn’t expect this level of need.”

Teacher candidates, occasional teachers from the Thames Valley District School Board, retired teachers, undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff participated in the service.

Aarathi Shenoy and Kira Innes were two teacher candidates who volunteered their time and expertise.

Shenoy tutored seven students in French. Using technology, such as GoogleMeet and FaceTime, Shenoy connected with her students across Southwestern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area – from Scarborough to Chatham. Not only were her students geographically diverse but Shenoy’s classroom was also culturally and linguistically diverse as well.

“I really fell in love with my virtual classroom and its own routines,” said Shenoy. “The kids’ enthusiasm was amazing, I couldn’t really have done this without those kids, and the parents were wonderfully encouraging too.”

Innes also had a heavy tutorial workload. She tutored six students – four consistently and two occasionally – on subjects, such as mathematics, English, geography, business, as well as writing and reading comprehension. She volunteered because – as a teacher candidate – she couldn’t complete her in-person placements due to the pandemic.

“I also lost my job at a tutoring centre due to decrease in demand,” said Innes. “However, I still wanted to do something meaningful with my time and I thought there’s nothing more meaningful than helping students.”

Moving the classroom from an in-person experience to a virtual one has been a transforming event for both students. Shenoy believes the Bachelor of Education Class of 2020 will be the transition generation for the education system because COVID-19 will eventually change teaching.

“I believe future teachers may look back at us and ask, ‘Really, students and teachers sat in a real classroom with desks and chairs?’”

For Innes, she experienced a personal transition. Throughout the pandemic, she learned how to adapt to changing circumstances as she seamlessly switched from topic to topic based on student interest and she also taught students in subjects where she didn’t have a lot of experience.

“I love working with students and even just through video meetings it was still good to have some interaction,” said Innes. “I also knew that many students were having more difficulties due to distanced learning and I enjoyed being able to assist those students at no cost to their families.”

While the Class of 2020 have graduated and they are getting ready to start their teaching careers, Shenoy and Innes feel their virtual tutoring experience will help them as they enter the teaching profession. Both teacher candidates feel their experiences have made them more comfortable with online platforms. Innes said online education has helped her communications skills because she had to provide clear and easy to understand instructions to her students, especially when they were completing work outside of the classroom.

Shenoy also used technology to apply new skills in an online teaching environment, such as videos, games and tests.

“This being a French classroom, I also incorporated a bit of French culture, TV5Monde videos, French songs, a postcard from Paris and a French poem for Grade 8 and 9 students,” she said.

While the virtual tutoring services have wrapped up, Mentone said the Teacher Education Office is continuing to accept email requests for tutors. They will be posted to the job board or volunteer board for teacher candidates. They will also work with community partners to prioritize the most vulnerable students in the community.