Since I got involved in professional education, just over ten years ago, I can definitely say that my life has changed significantly and irrevocably. It is not surprising that education should have this effect on those that are being taught, but that such a thing should happen to the lecturers is perhaps more surprising.
I remember well the day when an acquaintance in the shipping industry called me and asked whether or not I would be interested in teaching ship sale and purchase at the Hellenic Management Centre in Piraeus, as part of their programme for the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers’ (ICS) Professional Qualification Examinations. I was intrigued, I went and met them, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Following on from this I became an assistant examiner, and then very swiftly the lead examiner. I became interested in professional education further, and the effects and benefits it brings to the students, either for those starting their careers, or those looking to broaden their horizons, or those coming ashore after years at sea, and wanting knowledge to help them to adapt to – how can I put it? – a different working environment. I also met different people from around the world and began to understand the challenges facing people who have little of what we take for granted.
I sat in on meetings, and was appointed to committees, and this led to a life changing trip to Mombasa. From this came the Daystar Book Drop Project, that continues – under a different name – to this day, sending shipping and business books around the world to branches of the ICS that need them, creating at the same time libraries where students who have no place to study properly can have a desk, and some peace and quiet to read and write, and think about the things we ask them to learn about. It is the proudest achievement of my professional life, and one that keeps rewarding me, even when I think about it. I was awarded the Ted Renshaw prize by the ICS earlier this year, partly in recognition of this, and other work I have done. It was completely unexpected, and I would say undeserved, because I have only been acting on instinct to match demand with supply. But I hope that it encourages other people to do more with what their instinct suggests them to do, if only just to see what happens. They could end up surprising not only other people, but themselves too.
Because – to misquote Gladiator – what we do in life has unexpected echoes, which keep bouncing back at odd times. At the moment I am arranging the transport of over twenty boxes of books donated from the library of the Athens University of Economics and Business. I get phone calls from people asking my opinion about which courses to study, and what courses to take. I meet people who are looking to get into the shipping industry and ask me to advise them on which route to take, and are not just sneakily looking for a job. And I get other calls from employers asking me for suitable CVs for a position that they have open. I find myself someone that I didn’t think I was, someone that people turn to for things other than my encyclopaedic knowledge of wine bars in Athens, or for the buying or selling of ships.
And I give my time as freely as I can. This is nothing about ‘giving back’ which I feel is a very pompous way of saying “now I am successful, I can patronise you thoroughly.” It is simply because I can, and experience has shown that the rewards are worth it. I have been invited to talk at universities, as well as lead masterclasses at BIMCO, and appear as a speaker or panellist at conferences and webinars. This helps raise the profile of my company, and increases the influence of our network to places where shipbrokers would not normally reach.
And the rewards of education to me, as a teacher, tutor, lecturer and broker are even more. Although it is extremely gratifying to see my students succeed, get distinctions and win prizes, it is not the reason I do it. And whenever people thank me for my part in their success, I always remind me it is them that have passed the exam and done the work, not me. Taking exams remains a horror for me, and I can appreciate the hard work that they put into it, which is far more than any effort I make in actually teaching them. In any case passing exams requires a certain skill that some excel in, and others don’t, but this skill does not always translate well into the workplace.
The rewards of education for me, at least, as the one inflicting it rather than being on the receiving end of it, are not immediate and pop up at different times and different places. It is walking into a company and seeing a former student who is surprised but nonetheless happy to see me, and I am happy to see them. Likewise bumping into former students at receptions or conferences, where they are keen to share their news, and their gossip (very important). Hearing of former students being promoted, or seeing their new position on LinkedIn is great too.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that I had any part in their success, or that I ‘created’ who they are. Neither do I expect thanks, or pay back, or worse. It just makes me happy seeing people I know succeed, and hope that I did nothing to hinder their success. If I have helped, then even better.
My view of education anyway is sharing knowledge, not dictating what it should be, and what people should know. In a fast-moving market like shipping, anything else is impossible. I think that the best teachers are not those that know more than everyone else, but are those that can facilitate the sharing of knowledge. Good teachers should also know, and respect, the limits of their own knowledge.
After all the ICS is offering membership to those professionals that wish to join by way of examination. They expect candidates not just to know their stuff, and understand it, but also have the ability to communicate that understanding in a concise manner under pressure of time. Pretty much like working in the shipping industry then. The best contracts are negotiated in this way: reaching mutual agreement through an understanding of – and fighting for their positions on – the issues, which are then written up in a manner which is as clear and unambiguous as follows. The very best teachers – in our field at least – are those that can inspire and encourage their students to go through this process themselves.
But one of the most rewarding things for me is the further recruitment of lecturers to our merry band here. Former students of mine have become popular and enthusiastic lecturers. Even more, lecturers that I have recruited one way or the other are now in turn recruiting others to join, having benefitted so much themselves. I am very proud of the quality and breadth of knowledge and teaching skill the ICS Greek branch now has.
For those of you reading who are tempted, whether or not you know me, whether or not you are in Greece or elsewhere, why not give it a go? It is liberating, it is fun, it is challenging, it makes you think, it takes you out of your comfort zone, it gives you a sense of pride of knowing things that other people want to know about, and it gives you an opportunity to meet people in a different forum than the work place. It’s not for everyone, but it is something that has changed my life for the better, and I commend it to you.
If you want to do it just let me know and I will point you in the right direction. It would be my pleasure. If you don’t, then fair enough. And on the flip side, if you want to be educated, and learn more, then why not broaden your horizons? It is never too late, and you never know, it could change your life too. Either way, my strong belief is that education in itself is a life changing thing, and we should do our best to be open minded to accept new knowledge, and share it once we have it. Having a qualification on your CV is a wonderful thing, but using knowledge to take your life in different directions, either as a teacher or a student, is something that cannot be measured in grades or money. At best it is disruptive and energising. Take it from me, it really is one of the most rewarding things that you can ever do, in ways that you will never expect or dream of. It may even make you a better person, even to yourself. And that must be worthwhile, surely?