‘I enjoyed the cut and thrust of being a lawyer, but teaching fills my heart’ | The Sun

AFTER a decade-long career as a solicitor at a top law firm, Sulbia Khanam-Quddus is now a lecturer in further education, teaching learners and apprentice paralegals at Oldham College.

Further education (FE) refers to all formal learning for those aged over 16 that isn’t part of an undergraduate or graduate degree, including students studying T Levels and adult learners looking to enhance their careers, do something different or pick up a new passion.

Here Sulbia explains why she loves to pass on her skills to the next generation…

“Recently I was out shopping when I became aware of a young man trailing me up and down the aisles. I was a bit confused – did he think I was a shoplifter?

“Suddenly he stopped in front of me and said: ‘Sulbia, I was your student and you changed my life. Thank you for believing in me.’

“Turned out he was doing a law degree – inspired by my classes at Oldham College. I was over the moon.

“And that’s the difference between the decade I spent working as a litigator for a global legal practice and the past ten years teaching law at a further education college.

“I enjoyed the cut and thrust of being a lawyer, but teaching fills my heart.

The gift of confidence

“At primary school I was teased by my classmates for always coming top in spelling. They called me a geek!

“My teacher told me, ‘Sulbia, don’t listen to them. Work hard and you can achieve anything you want.’

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“It gave me confidence, and that’s the greatest gift of all. So now my goal is to give my students self-belief, like my teacher gave me.

“For example, I love debating – and as a student I entered a national mock trial competition against colleges from around the country. Making my voice heard was thrilling.

“I aim to give my students the same opportunities to express themselves.

“I visited the Supreme Court with my students. Afterwards I said to my learners, a diverse group: ‘If you want to see more people like you on that panel, change it.’

For the love of learning

“Law first captivated me at sixth form college. Then I enrolled on a law degree and, at the end of my second year, won a two-week placement with Eversheds [now Eversheds Sutherland], a global law firm.

“On my first day, in my new suit, I felt daunted in the glass office with views across Manchester and all these important people dashing around.

“But every task I was given – photocopying or research – I completed with a smile.

“It paid off. At the end of my placement, Eversheds offered me a training contract after my degree. Now I stress to my students how important work placements are.

“‘From the minute you walk into reception, you’re on!’ I tell them. ‘Let people see you can do things to 100 per cent.’

Grand designs

“I loved working at Eversheds. As a trainee in commercial property, I drew up leases and assignments for the Great Ancoats development, now one of the most fashionable parts of Manchester.

“‘I was part of that,’ I tell my students. ‘Law is like a jigsaw: your work might be a small piece, but without it the whole puzzle would never be completed.’

“I also worked on the Shipman Inquiry, the government report produced in the wake of Harold Shipman’s conviction for murdering 15 patients.

“It was important, emotional work and some of the family members I interviewed were in tears.

“So I train my students in empathetic interviewing, and writing witness statements that follow the legal formats but also capture people’s statements truthfully, with compassion.

Taking stock

“When I was made redundant after ten years with Eversheds, I thought about my work-life balance.

“There were jobs available with other big law firms in Manchester, but I had two little ones by then. Did I want to carry on leaving for work at 6am and returning at 8pm, too tired to read them a bedtime story?

“Then I was offered some part-time teaching in the law department at my former sixth-form college – one day a week.

“I loved being instrumental in these young people’s lives at such a pivotal age, sharing my passion for law and my knowledge that with hard work the sky’s the limit.

“Soon I was teaching, alongside studying for a PGCE – specialising in FE.

“I’m still that geeky swot so I loved learning the theories behind teaching. I’d learn something one evening and apply it in class the next day.

Dream role

“I’ve worked as a further education lecturer at Oldham College for the past decade – the time really has flown because I love my job.

“I was thrilled that the college has secured funding to build a mock courtroom to give students real experience of what it’s like to practise law.

“In our last mock trial we developed a script for a criminal case, then we went to Oldham Magistrates Court and learners performed their roles in an actual courtroom, while other schools watched and a real judge sat.

“As well as teaching modules in criminal, contract and tort law, I also use the skills I’ve gained to teach modules in International Business and Law and Business.

“I especially enjoy teaching the paralegal apprentices who have made the decision not to go down the university route. Instead they’re combining full-time employment with, on Thursdays, studying towards a qualification with us at Oldham College.

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“I’m a reassuring presence for them as they are thrust into the world of work. I can help with problems that have arisen during the week, chatting through their strategies on cases they’ve researched, for example.

“Sometimes they’re struggling to navigate office politics and I’m there as a listener, coach, mentor and friend – so many roles that combine to make teaching in FE the best and most important job in the world.”

You don’t need prior teaching experience to share your skills in further education – you can study for your qualifications while on the job. You just need real world experience and a desire to pass on that knowledge to the next generation of workers in your field – you can teach in subjects such as health and social care, digital and IT, engineering, manufacturing or law. You can even teach part-time or on an ad hoc basis while continuing in your existing career.

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