FEATURE: Tutors as ‘coaches’ - an experience of adult education
We’ve all got one - a hobby we enjoy but ‘never find the time’ to pursue, or a childhood talent which slipped away with the pressures of adult life.
However, there is a way to reclaim time for your long-lost or burgeoning skill.
Leisure learning classes are a great way of rediscovering an old hobby, finding a new one or developing an existing one, under the tutilage of experts who attend the classes for the same reason as their pupils - because they want to.
West Suffolk College offers a vast array of these sessions, during the day and evening to suit work schedules, from holiday French to cake decorating and pottery to creative writing.
Aimed at adults, these classes run alongside the college’s adult education classes, which aim to improve basic skills such as English, Maths and foreign languages.
David Ruddy, who took over as head of adult education and leisure learning at West Suffolk College in February this year, believes there to be no difference between the two sections of his job title.
“‘Adult education’ and ‘leisure learning’ are the same thing. In different parts of the country it is called different things, with the main difference being for leisure learning people are willing to pay,” he said.
“Any leisure learning course could be a step towards what you want to do, whther it is leisure learning or an educational course. Everything has to be transitional.
“Over the years that resource here has been honed. The feedback we get about our leisure learning tutors is just phenomenal. They make the best tutors for that kind of learning because they love doing it themselves, and what better way of doing it?
“They are not teaching people, they are coaching them. They are helping people to understand what they are capable of.
“It is about trying to get the best out of you and help you to realise it yourself, about removing the barriers and seeing what you can do.”
Mr Ruddy is trying to place greater emphasis on involving the community in the college’s operation, particularly in terms of its adult courses.
Haverhill, Stowmarket, Sudbury, Thetford and Mildenhall have all been earmarked as locations for expanding services.
“A lot of the services people want and need are already out there, they just don’t know how to get them or the services themselves don’t know where to go next,” he said.
“I want to ensure the community is at the heart of everything we do and that the community understands it has its own role to play in driving itself and the people within it.
“Our centres understand what is going on in their community which makes them stronger for themselves and the people they serve. They understand the economics of what is going on in that particular area.”
With a major planned overhaul of college’s website will come a new online resource where potential students can tell staff what courses they would like to see offered, to make the prospectus more ‘demand-led’.
With people ‘going crazy’ for the college’s adult English, Maths and English as a second or other language (ESOL) courses, Mr Ruddy is keen to expand the provision of these across the county.
He also wants to improve the college’s links to local Job Centres, with a project underway to provide courses to job-seekers combining education with work experience.
“Those who are further away from the labour market have limited options and the Job Centres want to work with anyone who can help,” he said.
The college also runs ‘traineeships’ for 16 to 24-year-olds, which Mr Ruddy terms ‘a stepping stone into work’.
“It teaches people the attitude of being at work. We don’t want to put people into an apprenticeship programme and set them up to fail,” he said.
This belief in a firm foundation for growing skills drives Mr Ruddy’s view of both adult education and leisure learning courses.
“I think of it as the difference between coaching and mentoring,” he explained.
“A mentor tells you what to do, while a coach gets you towards it and helps you to discover it on your own.
“Once people understand what their barriers are, they are able to break them down themselves.”
Anyone who knows me will know I’m not a natural artist, nor do I proclaim to be.
There was palpable suprise when I informed friends and family I was to undertake a term of Complete Painting and Drawing at West Suffolk College, to get inside the business of leisure learning.
Despite early reservations and a few stumbles along the way, my enjoyment of the class grew week on week.
Our tutor, Paul Seymour, has been teaching art at West Suffolk College for 12 years, maily taking adult education classes but also teaching younger students in one to one sessions.
A professional artist for around 17 years, Paul also takes classes at his studio in Flempton.
As a nervous artist, I couldn’t have asked for a more encouraging tutor. Rather than despairing at your lack of skill with a particular medium- in my handling of acrylic paints, for example - Paul works to find his students’ strengths and encourages them to flourish.
He teaches in a truly engaging way, making no secret of his ‘typical’ artistic messiness in the classroom and giving regular demonstrations which captivate his students.
“I am very keen on drawing and perspective, which is not necessarily taught in classes,” he said. “Basic drawing skills are neglected, and I feel like I can plug that gap.”
Paul began his tenure at the college teaching students how to draw cartoons, before moving into taking watercolour workshops.
“Then I came to do the adult classes, which I prefer,” he said.
“Adults have the motivation, they want to learn. I have already been through the ups and downs they are experiencing, and I feel I can share my knowledge to speed their understanding.
“That is satisfying, but what is more satisfying is getting people to draw who say they cannot draw.
“Getting people to draw through something they know is a way to get them to do what they think they cannot do and overcome a negative attitude.
“People get more enjoyment out of it than they may doing it on their own at home, and they have the chance to forge relationships with each other rather than just with me, their teacher. “They enjoy the experience with each other and get closer week by week.”
This attitude of Paul’s is prevalent in class, who encourages discussion and viewing of others’ work in class. Looking around the room week after week, people’s individual styles - and preferred mediums - become clearer.
Linda Lay, a 43-year-old pharmaceutical technician at West Suffolk Hospital, decided to take the art class after ‘a long break from drawing and painting’.
“Paul is a very good teacher, and it is a very informal setting,” she said.
“It is broken down into such easy parts, even though I have learned it before these classes have taught me so much more.
“It’s heaven to come here and do this for a couple of hours, and get away from it all.
“It is better with adults. You are all here because you want to be, you are all willing to take things in. I like the fact that we all get to know each other.”
John Saunders, 67, a former art student, said the classes provide him with valuable relaxation time.
“I went to art school in London when I was younger and carried on scribbling after that, but I didn’t finish my apprenticeship.
“I was a lorry driver, I used to drive and sketch pictures of what I saw. I found it very relaxing, it was good for stress relief.
“I first went to an art class here 10 years ago, but this is more serious now I have retired. It’s a way of relaxing and unwinding.
“The class is very friendly, and I like that.”