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Let me fly: my experiences of education

I keep thinking about ‘blogging’. Firstly, I think “what on earth is a ‘blog!’” Then I read a few and begin to think I get it…  Then I start to write one and get confused once again! So here I go again, I am going to give this a go and see what happens.

Why trust me?

When I was 4 years old I started my journey into formal education. I have no idea how I learnt to read or write, nor can I recall learning to count – but what I do recall is my first teacher (Mrs. Landsbury). She was kind, warm, gentle and gave the most amazing hugs when I felt sad. I guess as I reflect back, this was my first opportunity for experiential learning – I experienced what it was to feel like I mattered to someone who was outside of my family, to feel that they cared about me.  I remained in Mrs. Landsbury’s class for 3 years. She set me off and allowed me to fly.

My Junior and secondary school experiences could not have been more extreme.  I found it challenging, I found it hard, I didn’t feel ‘academic’ enough to achieve the grades that others expected of me.  Long gone were the days of feeling cared for, or bothered about. Instead I was moaned at for ‘not getting it’ in the Maths lesson, for ‘misspelling it’ in the English lesson, and for ‘not concentrating’ when I was bored in the History lesson. I shut off. I believed them when they said, “…you might want to consider working with children – after all you will never be academic.”

So, like the ‘good girl’ that I was I took the advice I was offered and enrolled on the NNEB at my local Further Education College. I was good at this. I loved the placements, I loved the children, I loved the learning – but it was always tinged with being second best to that of the role of the teacher, something that I thought I would never achieve due to me ‘not being academic!’

So where am I going with all of this? Well what I have learnt, when I look back and reflect on my experience, is that there are some key aspects to learning for me that have been crucial.

It starts with this: I have to believe that those around me are interested in me, care about me, and want to help me to succeed.

Secondly, I have to be interested in and want to learn about the subjects that I am being introduced to. Finally, I have to believe that my best effort really is my best effort.  A trusted colleague once advised me that you can be an academic in anything – it is just about finding your specialism.  These wise words stay with me.

I no longer work full time with young children, now I am the lead for adult learning in our Centre which involves working with adults who are training to work with young children.  I hold ‘academic’ qualifications up to Masters level and have very recently achieved QTLS. I needed people who believed in me. I needed people who supported me (even if they thought I was way out of my depth). I needed people to push me out of my depth, and I needed people who could share my disappointments and raise a glass to my success. As I type this I realise that this is exactly what my job description should say as the main roles and responsibilities.

Malcolm Knowles advises us that the key to adult learners is to help them to deepen their understanding and knowledge about something that they are interested in or motivated to learn more about – students on our courses are all interested in young children and are motivated to learn in order to do an even better job.

My role as a tutor affords me the opportunity to push students a little so they can achieve more than they ever knew they were capable of.

My role as course leader means I need boxes of tissues to mop up the tears of frustration, or the tears of relief when marks are awarded.  Most importantly, it is to be there on graduation days when our students come through the doors of our auditorium in gowns and caps, with their families and loved ones looking on, and share in the celebrations of their success.  Many of our students were also told, “why not work with children, you don’t need to be academic for that” and here they are standing in front of me, first class honors, distinctions, commendations, passes – all words to signify success. All words that throw into question the view that working with young children is for those who will never succeed at anything else!

So back I go to Mrs. Landsbury. If I can be the teacher who inspires, who motivates and who pushes someone to go beyond what they ever thought they were capable of, that is one thing.  If I can be the teacher who is interested, who cares, and who gives a warm hug when a student is sad, then I hope that will be enough for people to say – “ah that’s why I love studying here. I learn, I feel cared about, I feel nurtured and I feel challenged. My tutors know me, they understand me.” And in the words of Margaret Carr and her colleagues, they let me fly…

Written by Jo Benford, Assistant Head of Centre
Lead tutor for the Foundation Degree in Integrated Working with Children and their Families in the Early Years and lead tutor on the EYITT course.