Leaving teaching was probably one of the hardest decisions I ever made. I wondered if I would ever find another role where I got to have such meaningful encounters with teenagers and be privileged enough to be a guiding force in their lives. But I craved a change and I wanted a new opportunity to make a difference.
And that’s exactly what my role as a University Access Officer for The Access Project has given me. Working in Holte Secondary School, Birmingham, I get to work with an amazing cohort of students aged 14-18. Students who are passionate about going to university; overcoming barriers they face and setting themselves up for the brightest possible futures. Students who have jumped at the opportunity for support and are determined that their under-represented background will not hold them back when applying to a top university.
I am privileged to be their confidante in one to ones. Here I get to explore their aspirations; allay their fears and concerns; and empower them to make their own educated choices about Higher Education. As part of my role in the school I also deliver a variety of student workshops. Whether it be tackling revision plans; exploring university options; discussing student finances or tackling the dreaded UCAS personal statements, there is always something for us to get our teeth stuck into.
Furthermore, I get to liaise with the volunteer tutors that we pair with each student with and be the key point of contact. It is so satisfying seeing students, who were once scared and uncertain about their ability to be independent and attend tuition, going to weekly sessions; making progress and flourishing in a one to one setting. The learning they take from these sessions is imperative but, just as important, are the soft skills they glean in independence, motivation, time management and communication. These are the skills we know universities are looking for in every applicant.
This year I am excited to begin volunteering as a tutor too, knowing that I can tap into my passion for English and Literature, but also aware of how this will benefit me in my UAO role too. There can be nothing more beneficial in working with tutors, than knowing exactly what it feels like to be one yourself.
So, if I could go back in time, and speak to myself when I was at that crossroads with leaving teaching, I would say “Go for it. What is there to lose?” With a charity like The Access Project, the opportunity to educate, inform and work collaboratively with aspirational young people is at the heart of everything we do. Every interaction makes a difference and I know that we are improving students’ lives and look forward to continuing to do so.