Quote of the Week 2: Observing character

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J.K. Rowling is someone I’d love to have a ‘coffee’ with sometime, because so often the messages she writes and speaks are the ones I struggle to articulate. She’s just one of those women that I don’t actually know, but look up to as a role model. I think one of the best things about the Harry Potter series are the lessons from the development and interaction of the characters as they grow up and go through life. This piece of advice from Sirius to Ron is a little gem of wisdom and one that sadly, not many people in our culture take seriously enough.

This time last year, I was the manager of an organisation. A small charity, but I was the person in charge. I had become very used to being in that role, and when you’ve been a manager and the responsibility lies with you it’s hard to shake off. I naturally like to be prepared, assess risk, ensure people are looked after and problem solve. I like to encourage people. I also always felt that I should never ask someone to do a job I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself.

The second half of last year was spent unemployed and looking for work after I was made redundant when our charity closed. I struggled to find work, and in October/November started applying for Christmas temp roles in the city centre. I ended up with two temp jobs, and this week finished up at both. It was strange to be at the other end of the chain of command, and it made me realise how important that quote is.

Both workplaces had friendly staff, but the way they finished were very different. On my last day in one, the manager just said goodbye and I walked out the door after staying an extra half hour as another member of staff hadn’t turned up for their shift. On my last day at the other job, the manager took each temp staff finishing aside in turn down to her office, she guided us through end of contract forms, informed us how we would get our P45 forms, final pay and asked us how we’d found working there. She thanked each of us for our help, and every one of us got a thank you card signed by the four managers.

I know which job I felt more appreciated and encouraged by. In this case it wasn’t that I got treated like crap, but I really felt the difference. I came home from one feeling deflated. I came home from the other feeling sad but of value.

I’ve seen cases of this as a youth worker too. I remember the moment I made a decision to turn my whole career path around. I was in my third year of university studying Geography planning to become a Geography teacher and working part-time with a local community education project. I was in a high school, and I watched a teacher screaming at pupils as he came down the corridor before they’d even done anything wrong. The clincher was when one day a group of rambunctious teenage boys came bolting over to our wee workshop stall and asked us for the pens and info cards we would always give away. They turned around gleeful at their wares (many kids liked to collect the cards and pens which came in different colours) and the teacher bawled at them for stealing the pens and took them off them. He then came up to me and told me that he had told them off for stealing our pens. I was angry ” we give them away, and they know that. They took them and thanked us for them. They weren’t stealing“. The teacher was silent for a moment and said “oh well. they won’t be bothering you again” and walked away. I was fuming. A few of the boys could see him talking to me, and the teacher didn’t even go up and apologise to them for his mistake. What was worse is his idea that the boys not coming to talk to the youth advice workers was a good thing!

I worried that I’d become one of those teachers whose power went to their head and became bossy and shut people down without listening first or apologising for making a mistake ‘because I’m the teacher’. I went to my boss and told him about the incident. He shook his head and told me how many times he’d seen that kind of behaviour from teachers.

That was the moment I chose Community Education over School education. I wanted to help people learn as my equal, not as my inferiors.

We should all want to treat people as our equals rather than our inferiors.

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