Often fate plays a hand, combined with the people that we meet along the way

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17th November, 2016
  • Often fate plays a hand, combined with the people that we meet along the way

    Often fate plays a hand, combined with the people that we meet along the way

Strictly [Come Dancing] and a leap of faith got me where I am today

Often fate plays a hand, combined with the people that we meet along the way

I support higher education students who have specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, AD(H)D, etc. and also those with mental health problems, long term medical conditions or disabilities. These students are eligible for funding for specialist support through what is called Disabled Students Allowances and these allownaces fund the specialist tutoring I offer. The role incorporates teaching study skills; essentially teaching these students how to learn effectively and to develop strategies to reduce their effort and achieve their potential beyond their difficulties.

In 2012, whilst working full time at a university I had also started to work in the evenings with a friend who had qualified in supporting dyslexic adult learners at the same time as me several years before. Kerry had previously taught within the School of Nursing at another University and I was a retired midwife and that link allowed us to build up a ‘friendship’ over the years since qualifying. We did that purely by staying in touch on an annual basis discussing (over email) our thoughts on the latest Strictly Coming Dancing contestants J.

Looking back to how I started working with Kerry, she had previously completed some research into the use of Skype to support students, which demonstrated the benefits of this platform for the type of students we both specialised in supporting. These particular students were studying health related degrees – nursing, midwifery, medicine, physiotherapists, etc., and all were expected to work long hours whilst studying, work in hospital placements and to work shift patterns that made regular university support very difficult to access. Both Kerry and I wanted to acknowledge these particular difficulties and ensure that these students were not disadvantaged further just because of the course they chose to study. On the basis of her research, Kerry had become a freelance specialist tutor using Skype the year before I had my nervous breakdown. When we emailed on our annual Strictly communications my work problems came up so we decided to chat over the phone. During that one phone call Kerry said to me, “I’m waiting for you to come and work with me, you know, just let me know when you’re ready!” Very unlike me, I decided after a few days that I would take Kerry up on this offer and began working in the evenings over Skype.

In 2013, after having had difficulties with my line manager for the previous 2 years, I eventually took my line manager through a formal grievance process. The run up to that process, continuing working with that manager, a much increased workload and some personal problems together caused a nervous breakdown and I was off work for several weeks afterwards.

On recovery from the breakdown, I felt that I couldn’t go back into the same working environment and so decided to continue working in a freelance capacity on a full time rather than part time basis. I left my full time role and became freelance totally in December 2013. It was a difficult first few months building up the student base that I needed to achieve the income that I wanted (and that I needed as I was financially supporting a family with 3 young children under 7 at that time). Fortunately, Kerry had already done the groundwork with her fantastic networking skills and I was able to work under Kerry initially. I then gradually began to find my own students under my own business name of UniSkills.

I have since created a package of support for students, built my own website, and set up a Facebook page (please do like my FB page https://www.facebook.com/uniskills.support/) and Twitter account (@uniskills_). I’ve spent almost 2 years on the national executive committee for our profession and have been heavily involved in conference organization and input into our recently developed national quality assurance procedures.

Message from this: Sometimes there’s a right time to take a leap of faith. Kerry and I studied via distance learning and so had only met face-to-face twice as part of the course requirements. We had only spoken to each other a handful of times prior to her asking me to work with her. The circumstances of the nervous breakdown were the only ones which would have made me even contemplate giving up a full time post to gamble on becoming self-employed. Sometimes though a gamble like this can be the right one to take.

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