My pathway into higher education was an unconventional one. I left secondary school with some qualifications and immediately entered the world of work. By the age of 22 I was married with two children. No longer content with my day job as an administrative assistant, I completed an Access to Social Work course and a degree in Social Policy and Criminology at Swansea University.
I graduated with the highest degree classification award and was awarded a scholarship to complete a MSc in Social Research and a PhD in Gerontology. Alongside my postgraduate study, I was employed as a social policy lecturer.
You may be wondering why this story is about the benefits and success of my failures, given I have achieved a great deal. However, despite my achievements, it is often my failures that I draw upon as an educator.
For example, when I started college, I had never written an essay and I failed my first assessment because I had not been taught basic academic writing skills. It was assumed I already had them. At the start of term, students are often overwhelmed and have a real fear of the unknown, especially relating to their assignments. I am always reminded of myself in that situation, so I show my students my first essay (marks and feedback included) and I use my experience to demonstrate the importance of self- reflection.
Students often respond well to this and the academic writing lessons that follow. They take note, as it is encouraging to see examples of a lecturer starting at the beginning, and they are inspired to believe they have just as much potential.
Another example relates to my career progression. I had been unsuccessful when applying for my first PhD and then when applying for a permanent lecturing position. In the same week a student asked me a simple question about local politics, and I did not know the answer. Although this happens (I do not claim to know everything), this sequence of events affected my self-confidence.
I started researching local politics and this sparked a new interest for me academically and personally. Within a year I was co-opted onto my local Town Council and was later elected county councillor for the City and County of Swansea. When a further PhD opportunity arose, I was able to demonstrate first-hand experience in creating policy and was awarded a three-year scholarship. I use this personal experience to show students that we all experience setbacks but the important thing is to recognise where there is opportunity, even in failure.
I find students are particularly engaged when I draw on my own experiences, especially when I make them a part of the decision-making process by asking them to find me solutions to real casework examples. I try to use my dual roles as a politician and lecturer, and my experience as a student, to connect with my class at every opportunity.
I use personal experience to show students that we all experience setbacks but the important thing is to recognise there is opportunity in failure.