I teach journalism at Goldsmiths College (surely a line that should be in a Pulp song) and term starts this coming week. The teaching is mainly classroom based and practical and I enjoy it a lot, especially seeing students' work improve over the course.
But what I am most proud of is the few occasions over the six years I have done the job where I feel I have really made a difference to someone's life, not by teaching interviewing skills or sending an assignment back until the apostrophes are in the right place, but by being encouraging about a job interview or a competition entry or an internship so that they decide to go for it. Where this results in success the course of their lives can be changed, and where it doesn't it often gives them the enthusiasm and fire in the belly needed to apply for other things which then changes the course of their lives.
So many students I meet seem to have never been told they have as much chance as anyone else, that they have to be in it to win it, that they'll miss 100 percent of the shots they don't take, and all the other cliches which mean the same thing. While they have already done well getting into a competitive university and onto a competitive course, me saying this about jobs and work related opportunities is sometimes the first time they have heard it.
I remember having dinner in my mid twenties with a man who was older than me and enjoying success with his journalism and books. How was it I was so confident, he asked me. Much of that confidence is a facade of course - isn't that the case for everyone? - but I realised that the confidence I do have is from my parents and grandparents (and now my husband), and to some extent teachers, consistently encouraging me, saying well done and showing an interest in things I was applying to do.
A baby and a student are different in many ways of course. But playing with my baby just before term starts has caused me to reflect a little on the similarities. Because every day with the baby is about encouraging her to achieve what it is she can already do - this jigsaw, that peepo, this rollover, that waving - and pushing her to achieve more - hand clapping, crawling, chewing etc. Some of these, crawling for example, other babies can do already. But encouragement is not about saying 'they can do it so why can't you', it's about saying 'work hard and one day you'll be able to do that too.' And though the goals are different, the method, despite the 18 years or so age gap, is exactly the same.