I was asked recently to talk about my chosen career in two separate education settings, of course I was more than pleased to take part.
The first was an event called Inspirational Women at the Thomas Alleyne Academy, a comprehensive secondary school in Hertfordshire where “success is expected, achieved and celebrated”!
The Inspirational Women event paired year 9 pupils with around 50 local women in industry & business in a speed-dating style set up.
There was the usual mix of incredibly enthusiastic girls asking intelligent questions and those that wouldn’t make eye contact and yawned while I was talking (about something I thought was fantastically interesting, but obviously not!)
With one particular pair I shared how I’d started at the bottom, firstly doing some weekend work with a local Newspaper and later opening bags of post on BBC1’s Watchdog, working late into the evening to clear the studio and sometimes getting up really early to drive to pick up a director ready for a day’s filming. All of this I recounted with enthusiasm as I remembered how I’d felt taking on these small but important responsibilities – if no one picked up the director there wouldn’t have been a shoot, and if no one opened the post, there wouldn’t have been stories to follow up. But “Didn’t you feel exploited?” one of the teenagers retorted “I wouldn’t have done it, I’d have walked out, you can’t be treated like that”. The girl was one of the confident, and enthusiastic ones. Ok maybe TV production isn’t for her, but no I didn’t feel exploited. Conversely I thought it was an opportunity to show I could achieve something, even if it was only following some directions to get to the director’s house without getting lost.
The second opportunity came when I was asked to take part in Arts & Culture Week at Gothic Mede Academy, a primary school in Bedfordshire. I was to be introduced as an example of someone who actually works within the arts. So with small groups of year 4 pupils we explored the concept of Documentary and how to get information out of an interview situation. Each group got to have a go using the clapper board (much fun!) and do a Jeremy Paxman style interview with a classmate. Of course these children are much younger and perhaps cynicism will creep in with age, but just as I was beginning to reflect on whether they’d understood the concept of a career within the arts, (given that they weren’t very good at understanding the most important rule of being on a film set is to be quiet!) one of the more timid ones came up to me at the end and asked, “when will you be coming back?”
If school children are being brought up to believe that success is expected and achieved, then I hope it is clear, that success is defined by who you are and how you feel – and that every responsibility no matter how seemingly minor, is important. Because frankly if no one wants to do them the end result will be failure for everyone. The girls who thought I’d been exploited hopefully had their eyes opened to the idea that success starts small, and the quiet girl who asked when I was coming back achieved something last week, and I hope both days, despite it being a hard task inspired a least some of the children and got them thinking about documentary film!