“Hack, you’ll never pass this ‘A’ Level.”
That was the early assessment made of me by my English Literature teacher. By early, I mean at the end of the first week of studying the subject. It’s not as if that statement was discrete, either. It was made in front of the rest of my classmates.
My brother-in-law, who was in that same class at the time, still recounts these few seconds some thirty-eight years later. We chuckle about it now, but when it happened, it crushed me.
That episode set the tone for the next two years: enduring rather than enjoying the subject. It created a perpetual cycle. My standard of work diminished in direct correlation to the criticism directed at me week after week. I dreaded entering the classroom, withdrew from participation while in their, and put in little or no effort into required homework. I had decided that I was wasting my time.
Ultimately, I got a grade ‘E’, a scraped pass. Not that my teacher acknowledged this “success” or even made eye contact as I collected my results slip.
A couple of years before starting my ‘A’ Levels, though, I had the complete opposite experience. I had plodded through Geography for three years, getting average results. When choosing subjects for ‘O’ Levels, this was the final one I chose to fill my timetable. It was either that or Latin!
From the first class with a different teacher to those who had taught me until then, my eyes were opened to the subject in a whole new light. What a wonderful subject it turned out to be. So much so that I studied it to ‘A’ Level, and did well at it. This teacher had a passion for the subject, made it interesting and enjoyable, triggered an interest in the world around me and how it impacted on people, and always encouraged me to work hard.
So, different approaches from those two teachers.
I’m not saying I would definitely done better in English Lit with a different teacher, as I admit that I did not work hard enough, but very few classes were inspirational. There was a staidness, staleness, sedateness in them. It felt that he was going through the motions, had become stuck in a rut, and following a process without deviation.
I’m not convinced my English Lit teacher saw us as individuals, and I don’t think he was that fussed if we did well or not, so long as enough of us passed to keep him in a job. I may be completely wrong in that assertion, but that’s how it felt.
The same can be said about people in many other roles. Not everyone you come into contact with will inspire, encourage, support or care about you.
I mentioned in the “My Second Chance” section about the tremendous care I was afforded while in hospital, only to be shocked by the behaviour and attitude of one particular night shift.
But demonstrating a desire to help is not, and should not be, confined to the medical or teaching professions.
At the supermarket checkout, it’s great when the cashier makes eye contact, smiles, talks about the weather for ten seconds, offers to help pack your bags, and says “cheerio” as you leave. Makes shopping almost bearable.
When out for a meal, an attentive waiting staff can make all the difference. I only leave a tip when the service is good, no matter how tasty the meal has been.
Anytime I travel to the mainland, I use a particular hotel chain. Not just because of their decent pricing, but I have always had a positive experience at the reception desk, restaurant and the teams that maintain the bedrooms.
I know that working with the public is a tough enough job. I’ve been there, done it. Let’s be honest, not every service user (pupil, customer, patient, guest) appreciates what you do for them. Some can be downright horrible to deal with. However, that shouldn’t cloud how the next person is treated.
I was recently asked to write a short piece about my career for my work’s intranet. One thing I referenced at the start, and the end of that article, was the words of advice given to me by my first supervisor when I started working in the Civil Service: no matter who you come into contact with, they should leave with more than they arrived with, even if it is just a word of encouragement.
I don’t believe in giving people false hope, but neither would I dismiss them as bluntly as my English teacher did me. Maybe, just maybe, if I had been told “Hack, this standard of work will not get you through this subject, but if you work with me, pay attention during class, and put in the required effort I believe you can do much better,” I might have achieved more than that ‘E’.
So, if you have the opportunity to offer support to someone, whether through your job, home life, circle of friends or any other circumstances, is it really that hard to do so positively, with consideration and, yes, care?
Don’t tell people what they can’t do. Give them a reason to believe they can achieve something. It’s then down to them to prove you right.