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Helpfully unhelpful: The pathology of being too supportive
When I first arrived in London, I needed to find my way across the city to the now former site of the Home Office at St Anne’s Gate. I didn’t have a clue about how to get there so I asked a member of staff at St Pancras railway station. He helpfully pointed me in the direction of the London Underground. I was swept along by a torrent of people, all going about their business with a purpose, I however, didn’t have a clue where I was going. Finding sanctuary in a quiet eddy and desperately looking around I spotted a member of staff across the concourse. Fighting against the current I scrambled to where the member of staff was and implored upon them to rescue me. Thankfully the underground staff had all been briefed, not specifically about me, I should hasten to add, but about how by being super helpful they could increase customer satisfaction, reduce complaints and attract even more customers. And having explained my dilemma, I was very helpfully led through the ticket barriers, now struggling to hold back the surge, and down the escalator to the platform below. I was told to get on the next train and to get off at St James’ Park. Having arrived at my destination I became confused as to which exit to use and once again found a very helpful staff member who led me part way to the exit, where I spilled out into the sunlight a matter of yards away from my destination.
The following week I once again plunged into the torrent and confident that I knew which underground line to take I allowed myself to be swept along to the barriers and through, and then panic. Which platform and am I sure that was the right line? Once again, a beacon of hope shone across the dark morass, a member of underground staff. Once again, I was led to the platform in a super helpful way and got on the first train. But this time I didn’t arrive at my destination for some, I have to say, traumatic hours. The problem was the first train was not the train to catch, it was the second that I needed; I will most definitely have to complain about that member of staff being unhelpful.
This pattern of visits to London and assistance rendered by sometimes grumpy but always super helpful members of underground staff continued for some weeks. Often, I would stay in London for a week at a time before returning home outside of the metropolis at the weekend. During my stays I visited numerous police stations as part of my work and every time I used the underground, I sought out a helpful member of staff to assist me. Sometimes, if they rather unhelpfully simply pointed me in the right direction, I would set off and then return to them explaining that I didn’t understand their instructions. Armed with more information I would again purposefully set off and then duly return until the succumbed and rather reluctantly but helpfully led me to the correct platform.
Then in a fortnight, two things happened. Firstly, the underground staff went on strike and on arriving at the gates of St James’ Park underground station I found the gates closed. There were a couple of members of staff there, but they weren’t very helpful. ‘What should I’ do I asked, ‘Dunno’, was the reply. Now that was not very helpful, complaint forthcoming I feel. I didn’t make my appointments that day and the following day had to use taxis to get around. Much easier to use taxis you might say, yes but not really justifiable in terms of cost, my boss told me when I suggested I would forego using the underground altogether. After three days the underground opened up again but for some reason there were no staff around to ask for help. I became increasingly anxious and found myself avoiding the underground, using taxis at my own expense, and walking long distances. I was exhausted I can tell you.
The next week I ventured into the underground again, I couldn’t avoid it forever. I found a member of staff and duly asked them, in an almost ritualistic fashion, how to get across London to another underground station near yet another police station. Instead of pointing me in the right direction, which we all know by now is a rather fruitless, time wasting and unhelpful exercise, or super helpfully taking me to the correct platform, they took me to a rather large underground map on the wall. ‘This is where we are’, the very nice lady said, ‘and this is where you want to be’, she added. She then continued to explain how to use the map, how to follow the signs dotted around the stations, how to look for the signs before entering the platforms so as to work out which platform to be on and how to ensure I get on the correct train. I was nervous following her instructions as I made my way to the platform, but I got to my destination and I made my own way back, with help of the wall map of course. From that point onwards, I made my way around London on the underground with increased confidence, I wouldn’t say with consummate ease, but confidently. I made mistakes but because I knew how to read the map, I was able to rectify them and if I couldn’t I knew that I could ask. Of course, now that I drive, I use maps, I would probably have been pestering police officers and random members of the public otherwise and we know how the rare the sight of the former are on our streets. Anyway, I don’t think they’ve had the ‘super helpful’ briefing. Lately though I’ve been using my satnav, and sometimes getting into a right pickle. It seems you can’t beat good old-fashioned map reading.
What’s the point of this nonsensical tale? Well the clue is in the title. As educators we need to consider the purpose of what we are doing and how this will add value to students’ learning and knowledge. We can give students the answers to the essay questions, how to structure a particular essay, what arguments to include, what books and journal articles to read. We can supply them with reading lists that contain links to the books and journal articles, we can coach them to such an extent that their journey is in fact our journey, just as my journey to the underground platform was the staff member’s journey. We can repeat this many times over so that students are capable of completing that essay, but like me on my journey through the underground, they will need the same coaching for every piece of assessment and whilst they may complete each journey as I did, they have learnt very little and become increasingly disempowered and crippled by our helpfulness and their increasing reliance on it. Our jobs as educators is not to provide answers but to equip students with the tools to find the answers themselves. That process requires a willingness to learn, to discover and to take risks. Super helpfulness should not be an organisational strategy to ensure each part of the journey is easily manoeuvred and completed, it should be about ensuring that people can complete any journey independently and confidently. Sometimes by appearing to be super helpful we are simply being very unhelpful and disempowering people at the same time.
“My Favourite Things”: samc0812
My favourite TV show - My favourite current show is Friday Night Dinner. My all-time favourite has to be Breaking Bad, I’ve watched from beginning to end three times! My favourite place to go - Definitely has to be the beach, I always find being by the sea calming. My favourite place in the world is Thailand. I’ve never met such happy, friendly people. Thai street food is amazing and it’s a beautiful peaceful part of the world My favourite city - London. I have so many memories of day trips, nights out and experiences in London. Every time I probably don’t spend as much time there as I would like actually considering how easily it’s reached from where I live My favourite thing to do in my free time - Bake. You can’t beat a home-made cake. I’ve been baking a lot lately, my children are fed up of cake! My favourite athlete/sports personality - I’m not a huge sports fan but I have a lot of respect for Usain Bolt. I watched a documentary about his life once, his commitment to training and resilience was incredible My favourite actor - Morgan Freeman. He always seems to choose roles well that suit him. I don’t think I’ve seen any film’s he’s been in that I haven’t enjoyed My favourite author – I don’t think I could choose. It’s not very often I read books by the same author for myself. I do with my children though, my favourite children’s author is probably A.A. Milne or Roald Dahl because they’re classics which never grow old My favourite drink - Chocolate milkshake… I’m not sure I’ve ever grown out of drinking chocolate milk! My favourite food - Cheeseburgers. My friends call me a connoisseur of cheeseburgers because I eat them so much. Everyone I know asks me before trying out a new burger restaurant My favourite place to eat - My mum and dads house. My mum makes an amazing roast dinner. There’s nothing better than a family meal, even if I do normally end up washing up at the end I like people who - are open minded, honest and empathetic. I don’t see any reason to be anyone other than yourself. I also think the best way to learn and grow as a person is to remain open minded. As for as being empathetic, I think people show this in many different ways, sometimes it’s less obvious. I like to believe most people have some good in there somewhere I don’t like it when people - are closed minded and argumentative. I think there’s a fine line between intelligent debate and opinionated argument My favourite book - Since I was a teenager my favourite book has always been Junk by Melvin Burgess My favourite book character - Raoul Duke in Fear and loathing in Las Vegas. I find it interesting the way the character is a representation of the way the author views his life. Hunter S. Thompson was an interesting enough character without needing a fictional version My favourite film - Interstellar. Space fascinates me. I like to ponder over the possibilities of time travel. I love that physicist Nolan Thorne was hired to make the explanation of a black hole accurate My favourite poem - Warning by Jenny Joseph. I read it on my wedding day. It was actually the priest who suggested it, I think he saw I was a little bit of a wild, independent woman! My favourite artist/band - I’ve been going to raves since I was 16 so most of my favourite artists are small and less well-known DJ’s. My husband Dj’s as well, so many of them I met through him, and are now good friends of mine. I don’t think I could pick just one My favourite song - This a tough one, I like so many genres of music. I guess if I had to choose one, it would be “The way you look tonight” by Tony Bennet because it was my wedding dance song and it always makes me think of my grandparents My favourite art - My favourite type of art is portraits. I watched a documentary with artist Grayson Perry and he described how portraits are an interpretation of how the artist see’s that person. I like to look at portraits and imagine what I think that person is like My favourite person from history - It would have to be Albert Hoffman. My area of research is mostly based in psychedelic medicines and drug policy. Albert Hoffman is the scientist who discovered LSD. He’s quite well-known for accidentally administering himself the first documented dose of LSD and riding his bicycle home. He was one of the first people to recognise the potential pharma psychological benefits of hallucinogens, I like to think one day modern science will make a strong enough case to revolutionise psychiatric care with substances like LSD. Although Hoffman discovered LSD in 1943 we still don’t fully understand the full complexities of how it works on the mind
“My Favourite Things”: Haley
My favourite TV show - Peep Show. I recently binge watched Noughts + Crosses which I thought was brilliant My favourite place to go -I am one of eight siblings so going to see any of my brothers and sisters (and their families) is always great My favourite city -I prefer going to rural places rather than cities. I loved going to the Amazon Rainforest, Kruger National Park and being stalked by whales in Puerto Madryn. My favourite cities are Rio De Janiero, Cuzco, New York, San Francisco, Athens, Lisbon and London to name a few. I also live in Birmingham and love it here; I think it’s underrated as a city. I really enjoy going to music or food and drink events and being surrounded by friendly Brummies My favourite thing to do in my free time - walk my dog, meet up with friends...have a nap. I am also obsessed with reading at the moment My favourite athlete/sports personality - I’m not a sports person. Although, as procrastinating options were dwindling whilst I was doing my Master’s degree, I suddenly became fan of football. Apparently, the team I like the most (Liverpool) is the arch enemy team of my boyfriend's beloved Man United. I also like Wolves and Tottenham but liking three teams makes me a deviant in the footballing world My favourite actor - Steve Carell. Especially him as Brick in Anchorman and as Michael Scott in The Office My favourite author - still undecided with this one. Obviously, since childhood I have been eternally grateful for J.K Rowling for creating the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My favourite drink - Tea My favourite food -Potatoes. Saag Paneer Balti with chips and a cheese naan bread My favourite place to eat - anywhere as long as its with good company I like people who - are empathetic, kind and encouraging of others I don’t like it when people - think and act as though they are better to others My favourite book - currently it's Milkman by Anna Burns My favourite book character - Yossarian from Catch 22. He’s hilarious- I love his nerve and his anti-war sentiments. My favourite film -I should be put off by the racist and misogynistic undertones within the Lord of the Rings films (and books) but I can’t help but enjoy the long adventure that Frodo and his friends embark upon. For a quick answer… Bohemian Rhapsody! My favourite poem - I need to read more poems as I don't know of many. I do like poems by Margaret Atwood and John Cooper Clarke. My favourite artist/band - I am sad enough to have a ‘Criminology Playlist’. It includes songs by Johnny Cash, Rage Against the Machine, Kano, Kate Bush, The Specials and Stormzy amongst others. My favourite song - I love music that helps me to relax after a busy day at work. I love What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, Pink Floyd’s live at Pompeii set, Radiohead and Hans Zimmer’s version of Bloom, Benjamin Clementine’s Nemesis and many more… My favourite art -I was mesmerised by Picasso’s Les Meninas collection in the Picasso Museum. Banksy’s work is brilliant too My favourite person from history - Those who contributed towards getting more rights/help for others. Only if they did this in a non-violent way, of course
“My Favourite Things”: Shân
My favourite TV show - I’m excited for series 4 of The Good Fight about to start, spin off from The Good Wife. I felt like someone in my family had died at the end of the Good Wife series 7, and I couldn’t tell anyone because it seemed pathetic. The Wire was probably the greatest telly series I ever watched, but much too sad to watch again. I loved The Bridge, but it is also too sad and scary to rewatch
My favourite place to go - I run down the tow path from Hampton Court to Kingston Bridge, and it always makes me happy
My favourite city - London. Or Oxford.
My favourite thing to do in my free time - knitting and watching action films, or cooking and listening to audio books or R4. I totally switch off, and am totally happy
My favourite athlete/sports personality - Kath Grainger, awesome oarswoman, kind, and a tall woman superhero.
My favourite actor – at the risk of revealing myself as very shallow, Sandra Bullock
My favourite author - can I have a Playwright? Shakespeare. My husband and I are working through multiple productions of every play. It’s like he was born 500 years into the future and time travelled backwards
My favourite drink - I love coffee
My favourite food - homemade popcorn, in front of the telly, with my children
My favourite place to eat -The Trout, Godstow. Location for Phillip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, it overlooks the river where I rowed as a half blue, and is a walk across Port Meadows away from Oxford’s dreaming spires.
I like people who -are respectful to people who may not seem very important. That includes children
I don’t like it when people - patronise me
My favourite book - Middlemarch, George Eliot, it gets better on every reading. Any of the Earthsea books = let’s say The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin, which I read first as an adult to my children, and is profoundly true and moving
My favourite book character - Sparrowhawk in Le Guin’s Earthsea books, my favourite literary leader, along with Cromwell, in Mantell’s trilogy. George Eliot’s Gwendolen Harleth, who survives what life throws at her, and walks away whole at the end of a book not named after her. Can I have a play character? Isabella from Measure for Measure. “Did I tell this, who would believe me?” Very #MeToo
My favourite film -Some Like it Hot. Not a single dud scene, not a dud line
My favourite poem -“God’s Grandeur”, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The last two lines are a fine example in English of the Welsh verse form Cynghanedd, a kind of syllable patterning. “Because the Holy Ghost over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” B…b/W..d..b..d..w..w…b..w..b..w
My favourite artist/band - Runrig maybe. I first heard their songs when I was a PGT and then PGR student at Strathclyde in Glasgow. Next time I heard them was 25 years later when my Scottish husband and I courted each other. Or Eurythmics. I love Annie Lennox’s voice
My favourite piece of music - Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major. The second movement was the theme of Out of Africa, and now I think I love the 1st movement as much
My favourite art - Bridget Riley – explosions of shape and light channelled into structure and simplicity
My favourite person from history - I don’t know if it counts as history, but my College Principal, Baroness Daphne Park, was a spy in WW2, which was pretty impressive
“My Favourite Things”: Paula
My favourite TV show - I am not really one for television, but I recently stumbled upon a 1960's series, called The Human Jungle, lots of criminological and psychological insight, which I adore. I also absolutely loved Gentleman Jack (broadcast on BBC1 last summer) My favourite place to go - Wherever I go the first thing I look for are art galleries, so I would have to say Tate Modern. Always something new and thought provoking, alongside the familiar and oft visited treasures My favourite city - I love cities and my favourite, above all others, is the place I was born, London. The vibrancy, the people, the places, the atmosphere....need I say more? My favourite thing to do in my free time - Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read...... My favourite athlete/sports personality - This is tricky, sport isn't really my thing. However, I do have a secret penchant for boxing, which isn't brilliant for someone who identifies as pacifist, so I'll focus on feminism and pick Nicola Adams My favourite actor - (Getting easier) Dirk Bogarde My favourite author - (Too easy) Agatha Christie My favourite drink - Day or night? If the former, tea.... My favourite food - Chocolate, always My favourite place to eat - So many to choose from, but provided I am surrounded by people I love, with good food and drink, I'm happy I like people who - read! I don’t like it when people - claim to be gender/colour blind....sorry mate, check your privilege My favourite book - (oooh very, very tricky) Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own primarily because of the profound effect it had and continues to have on my understanding My favourite book character - (Easy, peasy) Hercule Poirot My favourite film - (Despite my inner feminist screaming nooooooooo) The original Alfie with its wonderful swinging sixties' vibe My favourite poem - (Decisions, decisions, so many wonderful poems to choose from) I'll plump for Hollie McNish's Mathematics My favourite artist/band - The Beatles My favourite song - (Given the previous answer) it has to be Dear Prudence My favourite art - I love art, but hands down Picasso's Guernica is my favourite piece. To stand in front of that huge painting and consider the horror of war is profound My favourite person from history - The pacifist, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, a beautiful example of the necessity to be confident in your own ethics and principles