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Meet the Tutors: Deborah Steele – “I know what it’s like to juggle study and life”

Graphic card: Photograph of Dr Deborah Steele alongside the text "Meet the Tutors - Dr Deborah Steele, School of Health, Wellbeing & Social Care

Dr Deborah Steele is impressive. Not only is she a tutor (we call them Associate Lecturers at the OU) in nursing and healthcare, but she is also the first in her family to get a degree, which like many of our students, she did whilst working two part-time jobs and raising four children alone.

Now in ‘retirement’, Deborah continues to teach students in our School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, passing on the invaluable experience she gained in her career as a nurse and health visitor. Deborah’s students recently showed their appreciation by nominating her for a 2022 WELS Tutor Award, for which she was highly commended.

Deborah kindly took time out of her busy schedule to tell her story.

“I always liked learning and was one of those children who enjoyed doing homework. I’d been working as a nurse when the opportunity came up to study a Health Visitor degree at the University of Wolverhampton. The introduction of ‘Project 2000’ meant nurses were qualifying with degrees and, as a senior nurse, I wanted to keep up. I’m from a working-class background and didn’t know anyone who’d been to university, but I recognised the opportunity and went for it.

“I know what it’s like to juggle studying with other commitments”

“I had to complete several access modules, all within about eight weeks, to get on the degree course. It was a frantic time. I was training full-time as a health visitor, doing my degree and working two part-time jobs – plus, I was a single mum to four children. When I look back, I don’t know how I did it.

“Hard work may be challenging in the short term, but the results last a lifetime”

“Although those years were difficult, they ultimately made my life easier because now I can still do the thing I love, which is teaching. My own experience means that I can be quite firm with my students sometimes because I know you’ve got to really push yourself to prioritise your study time. Degrees don’t come for nothing. To make the big decision of doing a university course – particularly when you don’t know anyone who’s done it – also needs to come with the decision to succeed.

“A degree was just the beginning for me”

“Starting Higher Education was like taking the top off a fizzy-pop bottle: I just gushed out! I’ve gone onto complete three Masters degrees and a PhD. That’s why I joined the OU specifically because I wanted to give other people like me the chance to achieve the same. I grew up watching OU programmes on BBC Two and it had always been a goal of mine to work there.

“I’ve been both a student and a tutor at the OU”

“I did one of my Masters degrees with the OU and found there were lots of advantages to studying here. The obvious one is that it fits around your lifestyle. The quality of the courses is very high, as well as the module materials. The OU library is also the best I’ve experienced anywhere. For anyone concerned that it may get lonely, there are lots of ways to connect, whether that’s reaching out to fellow students, getting involved in the forums or contacting your tutors.

“I consider myself a learner as well as a teacher”

“I treat students as equals and as adults. Nobody knows everything, so to pretend otherwise is a recipe for disaster. Students often say to me, ‘I’m really sorry for asking this, but…’ and it turns out to be a great question that I’d not thought of before. Those conversations help improve a student’s understanding as well as my own, and I take that forward in my teaching.

“I like being approachable and often chat to students on the phone or by text. Being highly commended in the Tutor Awards was really lovely. It shows I must be doing something right. 

“My research style is a perfect marriage with my subject area”

“I use narrative inquiry in my research and teaching, which means listening to people’s experiences and stories. It comes naturally because as a nurse that was what I did – I listened to patients, carers and family members. Although the learning process is predominantly for me, I’ve found participants often make discoveries too. It may be an experience they’d not thought about for a long time or even articulated out loud, so they reflect on it in a new way.

“There are no rules to retirement”

“I officially retired for a short while, but people kept saying to me, ‘It’s such a waste of all that knowledge’. They were right. I initially took on one module… now I’ve got eight. Continuing to teach is only made possible by staying relevant and up to date. I hope to do it for a long time yet.

“I’ve also rediscovered art and mostly paint and draw. I like watercolour the best, but I also use chalks or do Batik, which uses hot wax and paints. Finding time is difficult as I need to be in the right headspace – which normally means getting all my marking done!”

Find out more about nursing and social care studies at the OU.

Find out more about becoming an Associate Lecturer with the OU.

See all current Associate Lecturer vacancies at the OU.

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