The year was 2008. Six young men approached my desk to complete their paperwork for a Neet (not in education, employment or training) course at a college in the North East. As I entered their data into the system, it was not just their lives that were beginning afresh. Six months later, I was opening the door on my new career in teaching, feelings of positivity mixed with trepidation about the future, just like the young men who handed me their forms that day.
Since then, I’ve met countless people making their own new beginnings. Further education is filled with people starting journeys at every turn, and it’s not just the learners.
After the North East, there came a spell working in Reading and, this month, a long-anticipated return to my home county of Yorkshire with a new role in a new college. My plan is to listen, take risks and make time for decision-making.
Beginning this new period in my life has led me to contemplate what messages might be useful for those who, like me, are starting afresh in 2016.
1 Find a mentor…
…who has time to meet with you. Ensure that your mentor’s timetable allows for them to meet you at least once a fortnight for quality time. Avoid those who, despite their best intentions, can only manage a brief exchange of words when they happen to bump into you. Whether your college has arranged a mentor for you or not, you must search for your own; shopping around for the best mentor you can get is advisable.
I’ll be seeking brutal honesty, challenge and support in equal measure, generosity and whatever level of optimism I can get my hands on. As my first mentor in FE told me, I’m doing well as long as I don’t get a chair thrown at me.
2 Saying hello…
…can be enough to brighten anyone’s day, however briefly. And as the new person, it will help you to feel part of the college from Day 1. Forming connections is made even easier by replacing emails with spoken words: pick up the phone or venture beyond your corridor for a real-life conversation. Trust the words of a pro here: college environments are like rabbit warrens, but arm yourself with a map, a compass and a bag of breadcrumbs and, trust me, you’ll make it.
The top people to meet in any college are the estates staff: they know everyone and everything and are incredibly generous when you need a favour. Excuse the generalisation here, but this has rung true in all the colleges I’ve worked in.
…for help, advice, suggestions and ideas from others. None of us is the oracle of all things, least of all when we start in a organisation. Mistakes will be made, but even more will be made in place of the questions that we chose not to ask. Perhaps more importantly, take the time to really listen. Try not to cloud someone’s answers to your queries with what you think you know already, as it is these early conversations that can give you the most reliable sense of the context that now surrounds you.
4 Don’t forget…
…the reason you’re starting afresh, whether it was for a better work-life balance, greater support, more challenge or all of the above. If you forget this reason, then you’ll be lost. Any start has to be made. It’s not earned by simply being in a new place. Sticking to early starts and late finishes won’t help you to achieve a better work-life balance. You won’t receive greater support unless you ask for it and surround yourself with the people who can provide it. You’re unlikely to experience more challenge in your job unless you’re brave and say yes to the things that are more difficult. Your new beginning is in your hands.
…the moments that you feel that you should, however small the victory. Remembering where the seventh-floor boardroom is; seeing a face and recalling the name; successfully working the photocopier. In a new job where there are daily failures and a bombardment of things to learn, any success should be enjoyed.
6 Be patient…
…with yourself. Your new beginning won’t feel comfortable in a matter of days, weeks or even months. The challenge of the new is all that lies ahead. But then, you wouldn’t feel like you were in FE without it.
And because no one can really say things better than Roald Dahl, I’ll finish with a quote from Danny the Champion of the World: “I will not pretend I wasn’t petrified. I was. But mixed in with the awful fear was a glorious feeling of excitement. Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn’t be exciting if they didn’t.”
Hannah Tyreman is a learning improvement and development manager at the Sheffield College @hannahtyreman