All due respect

11th December 2015 at 00:00

Like every mother, I have a birth anecdote. Two weeks past his due date, my son wasn’t shifting. He likes his home comforts – he’d probably still be in there now if he had access to an Xbox. Labour was induced, but he wasn’t having it. This led to 72 hours in a delivery suite for his dad and me.

We got to know just about every midwife at the hospital and we loved these capable angels. The days were dragging on, then, without warning, everything became urgent. Suddenly, doctors materialised and I was wheeled off for an emergency caesarean. It was around then that a secondary drama began to unfold.

I had long since surrendered any notion of control over how my baby would emerge. But the midwife was very clear about her preferred route, believing that the doctor was making the wrong decision and communicating this in a passive-aggressive manner. We watched our gentle goddess morph into a hard-faced gorgon as she was overruled by the doctor, who had no idea how carelessly he had undermined her.

This battle of wills, with only one side noticing that it existed, continued into the operating theatre. At this point, my face was behind a small green curtain to protect me from the view of my torso being sawn in half while the doctor rummaged around like he was at a car boot sale. I was off my nut on every drug the hospital had to offer, so I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. But during the most profound, terrifying, wonderful experience that can ever happen to a human, you can still pick up on a certain tension.

A recent conversation with a group of educational support professionals brought it all back. They discussed the amazing skills of some lecturers they worked with. They shared how empowering it was to be asked for input and to have respect shown for their particular expertise. They also talked about lecturers who rudely disregarded their worth, making them feel superfluous instead of valued.

Most support staff I’ve worked with have been a highly appreciated resource that I’ve relied on for help and guidance. However, I have also known a few who chatted on their phones in lessons, joked about students within earshot and ignored my classroom rules. But I must take some of the responsibility for when it hasn’t worked well.

Like so many potentially delicate relationships, especially where there’s a perceived difference in status, it’s all about clear communication. In retrospect, I expected that a partnership would emerge, instead of actively facilitating its existence. I should have asked each colleague to grab a quick coffee at the beginning of our time together so we could collaborate in developing our unique balance. But I didn’t do that. And like that dismissive doctor, I didn’t know that such a strength of feeling among support staff even existed.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands. @MrsSarahSimons

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