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Yesterday I posted a Facebook status that will no doubt get me in trouble, I said 

"If I carry on with any kind of academic/teaching based career, I am so glad I have learned always to be supportive, constructive and caring about students I work with. Because I never, ever want anyone to feel the way I have been made to feel over the years."

I stand by that status, and I'm writing a blog to elaborate. I'm also stating now, at the outset that I'm not setting out to break any 'rules'. That status while yesterday a result of something PhD related, is a cumilation of many long years in academia. It is the culmination of Undergraduate, Postgradaute, PGCE, working as a tutor, working as a support worker and working in the office. Finally yes it's about the PhD, even though I'm not allowed to talk about that directly yet. It doesn't matter, all the others give me plenty to go on. 

What actually drew out my frustration yesterday was more that I've spent the last 3 weeks working exams as a support worker. While obviously I can't go into details about what I do as a support worker, the clue is in the job title. I support students with disabilities with their studies. In exams this generally means invigilating in separate rooms, reading, scribing generally supporting students so that they have the same chance as everyone else to do well in their exams. The point being that the whole job, the whole team of people, is geared towards helping students to do the best that they can do. And surely that's the point of education?

I admit I'm the first cynic of any educational culture that 'babies' students, as my recent responses to the 'trigger warnings on academic books' debate indicate. I don't think we should wrap students in cotton wool, I don't think we should make it easy for them to pass exams or get a degree. But there's a difference between rigorous assessment that teaches them what they need, and needless confidence destroying. 

I'm lucky I think that I did my PGCE in Secondary teaching before I came to teach in HE. The way teachers are trained (and frankly the way the government expects us to teach) has it's share of issues. One thing it did teach me however was positive reinforcement, positive marking. I have had it drilled into me so much to balance negative points with positive when marking I find myself incapable of handing work back to students without some positive comments. 

That's not to say it isn't difficult sometimes.  I have really reached to find a redeeming quality in some student's work. I mean really reached. But then I take a step back and think, if they've tried and just got it horribly wrong, what good will further destroying their confidence do? of course if they've been blatantly lazy I also let that be known. But I don't get personal, and even then I find some tiny redeeming quality to make at least one positive remark on. And I repeat, it's never personal. 

I'm not a pushover in class. Again my secondary school background ensures this. I don't tolerate rudeness, at times I run a hard class. I've called out a whole class on their laziness before-when nobody has read the book for weeks or even brought the book. But I'm never nasty or confrontational to individuals. 

The lecturers I remember fall into two categories, those who were kind and those who were mean. There is no in-between. Of the mean ones I remember the lecturer who would deliberately embarrass someone who was late to the first class of term, shouting at them and throwing them out in front of 200 students, to establish he was in charge. The other, who I've recently found from people my own age at conferences still comes with a fearsome downright nasty reputation, made me cry in the first seminar for simply misunderstanding a concept. That had quite literally just been explained. I'm sorry I didn't know I was supposed to know everything before coming to your class. The good lecturers I remember are those who took the time to remember people's names (which I am so bad at and have to work so hard at) those who took time to explain. Those who recognized that students are individual people. 

I would never treat a student as if their 'failure' at an assignment was their own fault if they'd just got it genuinely wrong, genuinely misunderstood. And any teacher who is worth their title knows the difference between work that someone has simply misunderstood, and work that someone hasn't put the effort in for. I'm a worker. I'm not that naturally clever, I'm certainly not naturally gifted towards the academic. I work hard. That's the only talent I've ever had. And sometimes even if I work hard I can't quite get there on my own. Time and time again over ten years in University I've had work back, or worse comments to my face that indicate I've been lazy, that I'm stupid, how could I not know/understand. And I took it all, without complaint because I realsied I must be wrong. Becasue everyone else must know. 

I don't come from a place that understands academic life. And perhaps that's why I'll never really get a foothold, never really fit in. The ivory tower is no place for the working classes. For the normal people. When I have said to my Mum over and over again in the ten years I've been in academia 'I don't understand' her repsonse is 'surely there's someone to help you' and I have said 'No' over and over again. Because there never has been. 


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