Tutoring other students at school helped me develop valuable training skills

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I must admit my primary motivation in applying to be a tutor for the Academic Skills Center at the Fashion Institute of Technology was purely financial.

As an international student studying fashion merchandising in New York, the only jobs I could accept were on school property. At $15 an hour this was one of the highest paying choices available.

However, it taught me much more than I anticipated and I still carry those lessons with me. One of my students was struggling with a textiles course. He had a learning disability and although I had worked with learning disabled students before, this was a challenge unlike any other.

We would go through the textbook chapter by chapter, breaking down concepts to simper and simpler levels, and compiling notes for him to study from. Yet week after week he bombed quizzes, coming back more and more frustrated.

I, too, got frustrated with him. I thought he didn’t care and he thought I couldn’t teach. We were not getting anywhere.

Finally, one day, I decided to try a new approach. Since textiles required such a visual understanding of subject matter, I started illustrating things by diagram, a huge challenge for me since I lack even a scrap of artistic ability.

My unpractised fingers sketched out amateur images of weaves, fibre shapes and clumsy loops to depict different forms of knits. There was an immediate shift in his response. I could see the glimmer of understanding in his eyes for the first time since we had started working together.

Before we knew it, his grades jumped up from D-levels to high passing grades. I realized he had trouble with reading and words and this was why he struggled with learning the material.  The reason we had spent so many sessions in vain was that it never occurred to me that my student might absorb subject matter in a different way than I did.

This, among other things, was a valuable lesson for me. It helped me develop patience and listening skills crucial in training. It helped me understand how the ways people learn can be so drastically different from my own challenges. It is important to remain cognisant of this.

As a result, my skills in training newer associates became apparent. While working at Winners, I often had new trainees shadow with me. I would help them trouble shoot and learn problem-solving skills. If one method of instruction didn’t work, I tried a new one, trying a whole range of explanations until something clicked.

Although now I am an intern once more in my new career path, there are always opportunities to educate and help those around me. These skills, once honed, stay sharp and versatile and can empower you in a variety of situations in the future.

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About the author

Mira Saraf studied psychology and English at McGill University. When she graduated, she wanted to pursue journalism but somehow ended up working in Montreal's garment industry. From there, she moved to New York to attend FIT. She worked there for a year before moving back to Toronto to work for Winners. Two and a half years in she took over a year off to pursue writing education and a career in freelance writing. She has since returned to the industry and now works for Loblaw/Joe Fresh. She continues to write on a part time basis.