“Immersing my students in extra-curricular community projects, I saw how lives could be changed in the most extraordinary ways. Winning the award gave me the chance to do what I loved on an even bigger scale.”
The Award for School and Community Involvement, 2004
Currently an English teacher at Ivybridge Community College, Devon
Winning the Teaching Award was fantastic, overwhelming and completely unexpected. I didn’t want to be singled out particularly, but once it had happened, it was wonderful. In addition to giving my students lots of opportunities, it has also enabled me to work with some very inspiring people from whom I’ve learnt a great deal.
One outcome was being invited to South Africa by the British Council to celebrate ten years of freedom from apartheid. From this, I formed a partnership with several schools in Johannesburg and the Limpopo Province.
This led to several exchanges and cross-phase work on the new Outcomes-based Education in RSA. We set up a programme of CPD for Head Teachers in the Limpopo Province, and I organised a cross phase trip to all our partner schools with children from Ridgeway School (now Plympton Academy) and Yealmpstone Farm Primary. Taking ten-year olds to Soweto was an incredible experience, and certainly changed their lives. Following this, we identified a need for Teaching Assistants, so I set up a programme of TAs at one of our partner schools in Johannesburg: we trained Post 16 students after their A levels, and I also linked with Uffculme School in Cullompton at a Teaching Awards lunch and sent a few of their TAs over there in the summer holidays! (The opportunity to network was one of the best things about the award for me.) This led to the Headteacher at the school training and fundraising for his own TAs from the local community. I think it was probably the first state school in RSA to provide TAs for their students in what was a very deprived community.
I had started teaching in 1993 and won the award in 2004 and I continued to work as an English teacher after the award, but the award made me realise that my love of creating amazing extra-curricular opportunities for my students and helping communities in need was something that motivated me more than anything. By immersing my students in extra-curricular community projects, I saw how lives could be changed in the most extraordinary ways. Winning the award gave me the chance to do what I loved on an even bigger scale.
I’m still in touch with most of those students, and I also taught a lot of them English. It is the work they did for me in places like Malawi and South Africa that still resonates the most today. One of them returned to Malawi to set up an immunisation project as a medical student, and two others work for aid agencies.
Chairing the south-west panel of judges and working as a UK judge has been a privilege and the best professional development I’ve ever had! I have seen some incredible teaching and stayed in touch with some of these motivational educators who have taught me a huge amount. I’ve taken a great deal of it back into my own classroom, and I’d like to think it has made me a better teacher as a result. I’ve had an amazing career, thanks to the Teaching Awards.
THE JOB, CHANGES AND CHALLENGES
I never had any interest in teaching, my father was a teacher in inner city London, and I used to wonder how on earth he did it! But I did join the profession and although the job has changed a lot, I think I’m still the same person I always was: someone who seeks to build strong working relationships and trust, and I start from that point every time I meet a new class. Teaching is quite humbling. When I moved schools, I had to start from scratch with the students, and I found it hard. It was like being an NQT all over again. I’m still learning and adapting.
Over the years the support systems in place for students, particularly in terms of Child Protection, have become far more extensive, and of course this is welcomed.
I don’t believe we should be afraid of social media in schools. Used productively, it can be a very powerful tool. It’s the world in a student’s pocket: a terrific opportunity for learning. I have set up blogs in the past for my A level lessons, where we have shared work and I’ve set homework and provided additional notes. Twitter offers a phenomenal platform for some brilliant resources.
When one of my students got a C in English at the end of my first year in teaching. She was horrific when I met her as a shiny new teacher. She coloured her pencil case in with Tipex and wrote all over her new folder. She turned her back on me and used to enter the classroom coughing like she had tuberculosis. I had to do battle with her for a solid 4 months before she showed one iota of interest. On the day of her results, she was waiting for me at the door. She knew she’d failed the rest of her exams, but she wanted a C in English, and she got it. I won’t ever forget her.
There are lots of things I am proud of during my career including standing near the top of Mount Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains with a boy who came very close to being permanently excluded on a number of occasions and who had spent most of the year in my office. He was transformed by his expedition to Morocco, and he never looked back. I should also say he was the strongest member of the expedition team, and the best student expedition leader I’ve ever worked with. He’s in the Marines now.
And I’ve built up many notable relationships – too many to mention! There was the student who played piano at my wedding; the boy who came back to tell me about suffering from PTSD after being shot at by Taliban snipers; the boy who stopped me in town one day to tell me how studying ‘Poems from Other Cultures and Traditions’ at GCSE had turned him away from a white right-wing extremist group; the little boy who came to Africa with us aged 10 and is now a doctor; the boy whose wedding I did a reading at, and whose mother is now my daughter’s godmother(!) and many more. My oldest students are 44 now!
I’d advise new teachers not to be afraid to make mistakes and admit them: you’re doing as much learning in the classroom as the students are.
And don’t worry about kids who colour their pencil case in with Tipex and appear to despise you. They care a lot more than you might think, and you will get there eventually.
THE TEACHING PROFESSION
There are far more hoops to leap through, too much repetition of tasks too much interference and not enough trust. Whilst the research is valid, the interpretation of it is desperately flawed.
I nearly left the profession – twice! The job became very overwhelming at one point due to a desperate lack of English teachers, and I made moves to leave. I felt I’d given so much of myself that there was nothing left for anyone else, including my family. My current school employed me, I went part-time, cut my workload right back, found more time for my young family and very slowly started to fall in love with the job again. It didn’t happen immediately. Six months into my current job, I resigned and tried to leave teaching again, but the CEO persuaded me to do ‘one more year,’ and I never left! I still work every day, but I have a manageable teaching load and I give those classes 100%.
You have to love what you do, and you have to take care of your mental health. For some that means being part-time, and we need to value those teachers and accommodate them in our schools, as mine does; for others it means being full-time and working in a position where they are able to exert a lot of influence and make a big difference. Teachers need to find their niche and safeguard their happiness. It’s not always easy!