Spotlight On… Sharon Markless (nee Freedman)

Sharon Markless (nee Freedman)I started at WGS in 1961 and the next seven years shaped my early career path. Miss Anderson, an inspirational History teacher I can still picture, was a role model. It is no accident that I studied History at Leeds University. Her early death was a sad loss. It was Miss Boucher, my English teacher for many years, who first floated the idea that I might teach. She was met with incredulity from my mother who did not believe that I had the necessary patience. (Why do people think that teaching is about patience when it requires so many other skills not to mention creativity and passion?). The idea took root and I took a PGCE course at Manchester University in 1971.

I knew from the first day of teaching practice that teaching would always be important to me. However, learning at WGS was not all about shaping a career. Miss Morris shared a love of Latin literature; Miss Finney ensured that our French accents were as authentic as possible; Mrs. Crossland enabled me to look fairly fashionable at university as I was able to ‘sew my own'. It is also hard to forget Miss Verity, the gold leaf electroscope experiments and the Van de Graf generator – probably unimpressive to today's science students but far in advance of my friends' experiences at the time.

My first job was teaching History and Politics at Loreto Convent Grammar School in Altrincham, Cheshire. It was great! However, five years later I needed more of an intellectual challenge and studied for a Masters in Education at Manchester University. When I finished the degree there was a shortage of jobs and I had to spread my net more widely. I got a job teaching in Further Education in London, where I have lived ever since. FE teaching was challenging but very rewarding due to the wide range of students.

Five years later and again I was ready to move on. What has happened since then is a testament to the unpredictability of life and career. I moved into research, getting a job at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), not because I wanted to be a researcher but because in FE I had developed an interest in how students learn to find and use information. I ended up doing research, writing and developing information skills initiatives in local authorities.

My writing led to work for the Ministry of Education in Malaysia and in Finland. Six years on I needed to get back to teaching and in 1990 moved into higher education, training history teachers! I kept getting requests to do research and training in the library and information field and so in 1994 I decided to get the best of both worlds: part-time teaching in H.E. and part time consultancy and research into information literacy and libraries.

My hybrid existence continues to the present day. I now work part time in a wonderful team at King's College London, teaching fellow academics about pedagogic research, teaching and learning, and professionalism. The rest of my time is spent in research and development on libraries and information literacy. This work has taken me to Portugal, Hong Kong, Scandinavia, Japan and South Africa. It has also led to a position as an international impact consultant for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Libraries Programme which provides free public access to on-line information in emerging countries such as Botswana, Vietnam and Ukraine.

As I supposedly near retirement I am getting busier; taking on new challenges. The history teacher of 1972 could not have foreseen the scope and range of my current roles. WGS inspired me to always carry on learning, an approach which has helped me to change course, to take risks and to remain open to new ideas. David, my partner of 18 years, is my co-writer and co-researcher – a situation that leads to discussions about workshops, research proposals, and conference papers in the most unlikely situations…and I always have someone to carry my bags when an interesting overseas trip is proffered.