I was an insufferable goody two-shoes at primary school. I worked incredibly hard, was keen to be liked and I always offered to help out on open days. I was monumentally proud of my school and I loved my teachers (especially Mrs Schumpski, who used to come to my ballet recitals or choir performances in the guise of ‘Mummy Schumpski’, when my own parents were working).
Moving into secondary school I grew into a moody teenager as I dated boys who played in bands and grew my fringe out into that classic “emo-sweep” that covered one eye. I lost some love for school in the run up to exams. I became very anxious and still remind myself to this day that ‘if I can get through GCSEs I can get through bloody anything’. Studying for A levels was so refreshing. I loved having the choice and freedom to only focus my attention on things that I was really interested in.
Throughout my school life, I never had any doubt that I would go to University, partly because my schools never presented any alternative routes as viable options but also because despite the stress, I did genuinely love learning. I spent the next three years studying History of Art which included a semester abroad in Prague. This semester was monumental and it made me truly comprehend and value the importance of communication. My university sent me to Prague in full confidence that I would be able to study HoA in English. After a day of sitting in lectures in Czech completely unable to understand a bloody word and incapable of communicating the problem to my lecturers because my ability to speak Czech didn’t extend much further than ‘dvě piva prosím’. I borrowed a copy of ‘Harry Potter’ in Czech sat down with my beginners Czech textbook and embarked on becoming fluent (God loves a trier). I sent many emails to my university who were frankly useless and eventually managed to make friends with a lecturer who spoke English who let me enrol on his modules. Despite the academic mess of this semester, I had the most incredible experience of my life. That feeling of desperate frustration at not being able to communicate also really stuck with me and I remind myself of it whenever I meet a student who is a new arrival to the country.
I finished university with no plan as to what I wanted to do next. The graduate programs in my inbox just felt superficial and I had no desire to apply for any of them. For the first time, my life didn’t have a clear trajectory. It was terrifying. It was exciting.
I came home, worked silly hours in a pub over the summer to pay off my overdraft and somewhere, somehow I stumbled across an ad for a Teaching Assistant in a new school. Without really thinking twice about it, I applied for the position. Then I was invited to an interview where I had to teach ‘complex sentences’ to a small group of year 7s. I spent hours preparing for this five minute lesson. I truly surprised myself at how much I wanted this job. I received an offer on the same day and I couldn’t wait to get started in September.
I learnt more from being a Teaching Assistant than my whole education so far and I would strongly recommend to anyone considering a career in teaching to be a TA first. I was incredibly fortunate to be working in a very supportive, dynamic growing school with a Head Teacher who encouraged us all to take responsibility and gave us the autonomy to make decisions that were genuinely grounded in putting our students first. After a couple of weeks, I went marching into the Head Teacher’s office to complain that I didn’t feel enough was being done to support our new EAL arrivals. He agreed and tasked me with taking this on. The unwavering trust he put in me has stuck with me and without a doubt propelled me into feeling like this is a career I could actually find my feet in and effect change. If anyone reading this blog is in a position of leadership, the best piece of advice I can give as someone being led, is to trust your staff wholeheartedly and then trust them some more.
At this time, I also started using Twitter after discovering #twittered because my God trying to find ways to best help EAL students is ridiculously hard! (Hugely grateful to @kamilaofprague @beth_southern @lingosia and @bifieldjonathan).
Over the year, I realised I really wanted to learn more about how best to teach my EAL students. Looking back, I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t want to admit this to myself. I was adamant that I wanted more ‘life-experience’ (whatever that is) before becoming a teacher. I decided I wanted to do some sort of TEFL course and after a lot of research decided that completing a CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) would be a good starting point. My boyfriend was studying in Italy and I discovered a school close to his university that offered the CELTA. I was incredibly reluctant to leave my TA role at a school I loved so much, but I felt that this was the next step I needed to take, for the sake of bettering myself for my students.
I was incredibly fortunate to be offered a job in the school I completed my CELTA in (both experiences I could write extensively about but I will save that for another day!). During my time there, I learnt numerous strategies for supporting EAL learners but I was also immeasurably stressed. I missed my old school. I was really well supported in Sicily, but the scrutiny was unbearable, I didn’t feel trusted in the same way I had as a TA. TEFL is not the picnic in the park it is presented to be, it is a fantastic experience and one I have no regrets about doing, but ultimately I couldn’t stay there for more than one year. I stayed in contact with my old school and after visiting in February and being offered a position as an EAL teacher for September, I knew for certain that I wanted to go back.
I have worked as an UQT teacher since September. I have been lucky enough to teach two year 7 classes, a year 8 class, EAL interventions across the whole school and I have a year 7 tutor group. I’ve fed my imposter syndrome on a large diet of EdResearch books and conferences, learning walks and now a SKE as I have been accepted onto a Teach First program that I can’t wait to begin in June. I am now without any doubt that this is the career I want to be in.