If completing a degree was easy, then everyone would have one. It is hard work, but that makes the graduation day all the more enjoyable. When you are standing on the stage under the bright lights, your degree in your hand, with your friends and family cheering you on… Nothing beats that feeling. For many of our students, it is one of the happiest days of their lives. Many students do not just complete their degree for themselves but for their family too. Maybe they are the first person in their family to complete a degree. The simple message is never ever give up. You will achieve your dreams in the end if you keep going and never give up.
This was the message in my head as I faced the many hardships and adversities of my first degree. My first year at university was a real disaster – I failed five out of the ten modules in my first year. I feel like I have a blackbelt in resits and failure. My degree was in Design Technology, and I was always in the workshop designing and making things like a mad scientist. The mistake I made is a very common one at university – I did not follow the assignment briefs and I did not answer the questions posed to me. This was many years ago, and we did not have such things as academic skills tutors or support in place to help students. Things are very different today in universities. There are so many resources in place to help students such as coaches, student support, personal tutors, and (of course) academic skills tutors. You really should make the most of the support on offer to you as a student. If I had help and support, then things might have been different, and I would have achieved higher grades.
The result for me was a third-class degree qualification. I had mixed emotions at the time – I was relieved to have avoided failing, but scraping the lowest passing grade possible didn’t exactly feel great. Looking back on it now, I can see that my humble Third was actually the best thing that ever happened to me. It drove me harder to achieve a lot more. I was very determined to achieve more and do better.
It’s clear to me now that I did not have any academic skills in my first degree. I hated essays with a passion and never quite got the hang of them in three years of undergraduate study. At my old school, if you were well-read then you had been out in the sun too long. If you were misbehaving in my school, the punishment was always to write an essay. Hence my dislike for doing essays. I will never forget the day my English teacher came into out woodwork class and asked the teacher for some wood and a tenon saw. The woodwork teacher was so happy and enthusiastic and asked what the English teacher planned on making – a chair? A table? A shelf? The English teacher said very calmly that a child was misbehaving in his class and as a punishment he was asking the child to cut wood. The stunned woodwork teacher was speechless. The English teacher said, “well, whenever children misbehave in your woodwork class you always ask them to write an essay as a punishment”. Since then, I have learned a lot about academic skills and grammar, and I like writing essays now. But I have never forgotten this eye-opening exchange between two of my old teachers.
I completed my teacher training in Liverpool, at a secondary school that had a very bad reputation for violence and misbehaviour. It has been levelled now and is no longer in existence. The head teacher took an instant dislike to me as he thought I was green and clueless. Reflecting back on that period, I can see that he was right, but what I wanted was help, support and guidance. They threw me in at the deep end teaching a class of 30 students who were all aged 16. I was only two years older than the students, and they had no respect for me. I felt as though I’d been thrown to the lions. I was very proud of the fact that I did last 3 years of placement at that school, but it was clear that it wasn’t right for me. I made the correct decision to not complete my full year of teacher training placement. I still wanted to be a teacher but in another direction. I could have easily given up, but instead I chose to pursue a different path – I decided to start Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in Hong Kong and Japan.
My experience in Japan teaching 60 hours per week and working for 4 different teaching companies gave me a wealth of teaching experience that I could only have dreamt of during my degree in Liverpool. My confidence grew, and I soon started training new teachers in Tokyo. When I returned to the UK to complete my PGCE teacher training qualification at Bolton University, I felt a lot more confident and empowered to complete my course. When it came time for the essays, this time I did follow the assignment briefs. I answered the questions in full and asked for help when I needed it. I had learned from my mistakes.
To summarise my advice, never ever give up. Read your assignments brief very carefully and make sure you answer the questions. Ask for help if you need it and take advantage of any support on offer. Develop your academic skills and enjoy your assignments. I have learned a lot from my mistakes, and I hope that you have learned from my mistakes too. So keep going, and do not give up.Reflective Writing