I saved myself from drowning in the sea of FE politics

27th April 2018 at 00:00
Feeling undervalued and being used as a pawn in the college SLT’s power-play, Sarah Simons suddenly decided to take control of her own destiny – and it transformed her career

I was on a beach in Mexico when I received an email that changed my FE career.

I started teaching nearly 10 years ago. After decades of flying by the seat of my freelance pants in screenwriting and acting, I was sick of the feast or famine. I was ambitious but I wanted stability and what I hoped would be career rewards in direct proportion to the effort I put in.

I got my first sessional lecturer job at a huge college a few months into my Diploma in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector (DTLLS) course. I had no idea what I was doing but got wonderful support, and I loved the place. I was loyal and grateful to the organisation.

I signed up to every CPD session and, with no college budget, travelled to as many conferences and courses as I could afford. In those days there were no FE conferences aimed at anyone except leadership, few practitioner networks and little inter-college collaboration. So, after gathering some Twitter pals together, UKFEchat was born.

'Rude, exploitative and amateur'

I was still a sessional lecturer and only three years into my career, but was invited by the college’s new principal to spend (unpaid) time with him as a “critical friend”. I quickly found myself a pawn in the power-play of a soon-to-be-fractured senior leadership team. There was an entrepreneurial celebration event planned. The college and the city’s big players were invited (including my husband, a local business leader), but not me. It felt like a middle finger. Luckily we had a holiday planned; much-needed respite from the sea of FE politics I found myself drowning in.

On that beach, I made a rookie mistake. I checked my email: a short message from a member of SLT with an invitation to the big do, not for me, but for me to forward to an influential business leader I knew. It was stated that I must make an email introduction and ask my fancy mate to reply directly to that SLT member. I was gobsmacked. It was rude, exploitative and amateur. I thought, “I don’t want this.” So I resigned. And I worked out what I wanted my working week to look like. I wanted to teach, learn and write. To choose the teaching and hours I worked. To spend half the week working at home and earn enough to pay the bills.

Most importantly, I wanted to have a voice in the conversation – I was sick of being invisible because I had no interest in climbing the corporate ladder.

The rest of the holiday was brilliant. A weight was lifted. Yes, I was back to the freelancing life, but this time, I thought, it would be different. And happily, it is.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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