Friday, 7 October 2016

A fond farewell

Every time a new term starts, I find myself wondering what the hell happened to the supposed weeks inbetween?  We leap from teaching, to marking, to assessment boards to enrolments - and after all that, BANG!  Back in the classroom!  At which point we often start wishing there had been at least some time to prepare our classes...

But things have been rather different this time.  About a three months ago I was (admittedly to my own surprise) considered worthy enough to be offered an incredibly exciting job with the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and the University of East London.  The regular whirlwind of activity over the Summer then, is having something of a more terminal period: Teaching, marking, assessment boards, enrolments and BANG! I'm walking out of Newham College for the last time!

It is now almost exactly 10 years since I joined Newham College.  The plan then was, at heart, very simple: The residents of Newham Borough represented a vast population of people with limited resources.  They also represented significantly a demographic of people who had often been told (by society, by educators, by family or even by themselves) that they could never get a degree.  That they weren't smart enough. That they weren't white enough, or that their 'received pronunciation' left a lot to be desired.

The plan was to prove this all wrong.

The years since that meeting have been rather a slog, but I think we have proved that a thousand times over. I only have to think of the number of times I have felt myself utterly humbled by the astonishing ability of students rejected by more traditional Universities.  The number of times I have clapped and cheered as students who were once convinced of their own inadequacy, have walked onto a graduation platform to receive their first-class honours.  The number of times I have shaken my head in disbelief at students fighting through obstacle after obstacle (financial desperation, eviction, bereavement, disabilities, language), and remembered what an easy ride I have had in comparison.

Yes, it has been a slog.  There were times when I felt a great weight of responsibility on my shoulders, and when the pressure to deliver was (in the literal sense of the word) awful.  Working in this sector has often tried my patience, tested my limits and told on my health.

But blimey charlie, it has been worth it.

It is sad for me, to be leaving a place I feel so invested in.  But here's the thing: NUC doesn't need me, and will manage perfectly well without me.  Believe it or not in the early years (when we were so utterly dependent on a very few people) this was not always the case - a sign perhaps of how desperate we were.  But NUC has grown beyond recognition from those early days.  It has outgrown me, and outgrown any single person.  And this is better than good: It is amazing.

I am sad to be leaving - but I know that I am leaving a place which has the stability and the infrastructure to keep going, to keep improving and to move beyond all the limited and modest early ambitions.  I know that the pantheon of students achieving amazing things, often in the face of extraordinary challenges, will continue to grow.

Goodbye NUC. It has been an absolute honour and a privilege.