I have been a teacher for more years than I care to count so there is very little that fazes me. When I was asked though to write this newspaper column I felt terrified.
It wasn’t the intellectual challenge either. I am used to working with complex concepts and to problem solve. Maybe that was it – I was falling into the typical scientist stereotype. I was becoming it. I told myself to get a grip, yet the thought of having to write an essay from scratch filled me with horror. I would rather look at a thousand spreadsheets than pour my heart out in prose. A blank page waiting to be filled with my ‘wise’ words remained just like that – blank.
Maybe it’s because I was put off as a kid, or maybe it’s because ‘playing’ up to the stereotypical image of a scientist, I haven’t put in enough hours of practice to get decent at it, but I knew I needed some help.
Luckily I work in a Further Education college, and here our ethos is to help each other. So I sat down with a member of our Communication team to figure out exactly how to get my thoughts across.
Our motto at West Suffolk College is that no-one gets left behind – that means we cater for everyone from the most academic students to those who need a helping hand to get their lives back on track.
I thought about this as I watched two of our former students win national recognition at the Prince’s Trust Awards.
One of the winners, Samantha Lindley, was on a downward spiral before she joined the Prince’s Trust course at West Suffolk College. Cold, hungry and alone at Christmas, she felt like a failure and had no-one to turn to.
But after joining the course, which focuses on giving young people the skills and confidence they need to get a job or re-enter education, she has turned her life around. She is now studying English Literature at the University of Westminster.
That’s when I realised my challenge in one area is just like those of any of our students. No-one comes to college with a perfect ability in every area, but we aim to nurture our students and support them so that their special talents can flourish.
Of course, many of our outstanding students have not had to overcome such personal difficulties. What was obvious though, everyone has an area that needs nurturing. An area that if we focus on and nurture it will help them overcome more obstacles and then who knows what the limit will be.
One person who springs to mind is our former student Han Lei.
He was an extremely talented mathematician but English was not his first language and at the start of the course he struggled. In spite of this he obtained a Triple Distinction Star in his Level 3 Applied Science Extended Diploma and went on to study BA Honours in Maths at the University of Essex.
Encouraged by what our students had to overcome and surrounded by supporting colleagues, I bit the bullet. This is going to be a long journey, but I don’t mind, I am not alone.
-- Nikos Savvas is principal at West Suffolk College