Prove the angle subtended at the circumference by a semicircle is a right angle. Remember this? I didn’t. Yet I’d unwittingly signed up to tutor someone else in how to do it, and worried that my degree in architecture wasn’t going to get us very far.

When I first met Serpil, my unsuspecting tutee, I was terrified. Not of her, but of histograms and trigonometry (and the aforementioned circle theorems) that I’d only remembered were part of the GCSE Maths syllabus after applying for The Access Project. Needless to say, our first session was a little rocky (entirely my fault). But after lamenting together over why Charlie had so many buttons in his bag, and whether it was actually important that he knew the ratio between the red ones and the blue ones, I knew we’d at least have fun, and that the Maths would – hopefully – get easier.

It didn’t. But fortunately, I got better, and by extension, I hope she did too. From that first session onwards, I did a lot of preparation: hunting down old exam questions, rereading textbooks, and finding myself lost in internet forums filled with Maths teachers and other circle theorem aficionados. Each week, I’d spend an evening revitalising my Maths brain by preparing all the questions for the next session, and a lunchtime sneakily printing them off at work. By the time her exams came around, we both knew the exact ratio of Charlie’s buttons (though never why he needed so many in the first place) and could tackle any circle theorem question Edexcel threw at us.

“When my tutee said I was ‘good at explaining things’, I almost cried into my Diet Coke.”

This was all so much easier because of my wonderful tutee. Every week we met in the coffee shop next to my office, and we’d drink Diet Coke whilst I guided her through the GCSE Maths I’d jolted back into my brain during the week. She was determined and meticulous, and was very kind whenever I messed up. I spent the weeks of her exams buried in articles about the horrors of GCSEs, and was amazed at her collectedness as she went from one to the next.

Meanwhile, my brain was being tested in ways it hadn’t in years, not just because of the complicated Maths (this process made me genuinely amazed at the abilities of my 15-year-old self), but deducing how best to explain the material to someone who thought totally differently to me. When my tutee said I was ‘good at explaining things’, I almost cried into my Diet Coke. It was great to push myself beyond my comfort zone, to practice skills I didn’t use in my day job, and to actively see the impact I was having as we met each week.

When she finished her exams, I hastily emailed The Access Project saying I was ready do it all over again. At least this time, I know what I’ve signed up for.

By Ali Whiting

Sign up to tutor here!