Mad Scientist, Authoritarian and Circus Trainer


As school breaks up today I am just finishing my fourth year of teaching physics to students aged between 11 and 16 at a school in the South West of England. My career has been quite successful so far, judging by the many titles I have gained during these 4 years: deputy head of science, head of physics and co-ordinator of key stage 3 science (lower school years 7 to 9), special educational needs representative, staff governor, staff IT trainer, and maybe most important of all, disco and BBQ organiser.

Prior to becoming a teacher, I earned a B.Sc. in marine studies at the University of Plymouth, in which I focused mainly on physical oceanography. On completing my degree, I found that a career in this field would be harder to find than I was at first led to believe, and I was left with no option but to gain employment elsewhere. Having a good degree and wanting to earn some money in a challenging environment, I became a bailiff for a while. Although it was a well-paid and, shall we say, interesting job, I eventually decided to retrain and seek employment elsewhere.

I chose to study for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education ( PGCE), as the nation-wide shortage of teachers meant there was a realistic chance of gaining employment. Although I had never previously considered being a teacher, it appealed to me as a professional career with a clear pay structure, good working conditions, and job security. I also saw this job as an opportunity to use the knowledge I had gained at university and to further my own academic achievement. And indeed, physical oceanography now provides me with great examples for my teaching objectives. For example, the science of surfing demonstrates hydrodynamics in a fun and interesting way, and the science of skateboarding does the same for Newton's Law's of Motion and Einstein's Principle of the Conservation of Energy.

Being a keen surfer and living in Plymouth, the University College of St. Mark and St. John ( Marjon) was an obvious choice. I was further encouraged by Marjon's experience in teacher training and its excellent facilities. It was during this year of training that I realised I had found what I wanted from a career.

During the course much time is spent in schools and colleges, which presents an opportunity not only to practise what is taught in the PGCE but also to gain firsthand knowledge of the day-to-day running of a school. During teaching practise a mentor is assigned to the student, and the excellent support and advice I received were invaluable.

The remainder of the course is spent attending lectures and seminars and taking educational trips showing the wider role of schools. Being a teacher is not just about teaching. Schools and colleges have an obligation to children to help them progress to the best of their ability, be it in academic success or moral, spiritual, or health awareness. The course was rewarding, for it made us realise that to become successful, teachers first need to understand how children learn. Also, at the end of the course I had secured employment at Southway College, where I had been doing some teaching practise.

Passing on your knowledge certainly isn't easy. I have already learnt that in order to be a good teacher, I also have to keep learning a lot myself. Communicating ideas and concepts to children in such a way that they leave the classroom having progressed is what the Government pays me for. If I want to do my job well, I must constantly reflect upon my teaching, as the learner and the teacher must progress together. One of the best moments in teaching is when a student grasps a difficult concept. Watching the penny drop and the expression of newly found enthusiasm on a previously confused face provides me with the satisfaction of doing a good job.

But teaching is also about managing children so that behavioural expectations are met. On occasions I have thought that I must be mad to endure the way I am treated by certain students. But I have learnt that to overcome challenging behaviour it is necessary to first determine the reasons behind it. It is crucial to help this child not only for his or her sake, or even mine, but also to prevent the remainder of the class from being disturbed from learning.

When you spend most of your working day with little contact with other adults, it is easier to see a child as an individual with emotions and a mind of their own. An important part of the job for me is to make sure that the students feel that I am someone they can count upon. I don't have any children of my own, but going to college each day I feel I have a responsibility to each child there. Everyone who works at school, be it a dinner lady or a supply teacher, has the opportunity to positively influence the children. At Southway College there is a strong feeling of unity, which makes me feel very proud to be part of the team.

Another facet of teaching is the variety of tasks with which you are presented. If I were to write down the roles I have played already as a teacher, I would include counsellor, mad scientist, sports coach, authoritarian, administrator, and circus trainer, to name just a few. As a teacher the opportunities are endless.

I feel it is very important to encourage equal opportunities in science, and for the last 2 years I have implemented single-sex classes for year 9 students, which has contributed to a dramatic improvement in exam results. I have also organised female science and technology taster days, and I recently entered a female science team in a perpetual motion challenge day at the University of Plymouth in which the team finished as runners-up.

I am often asked what I do, and when I reply with a great deal of satisfaction that I'm a teacher, the most common remark is "I don't know how you can manage; when I was at school I used to cause all sorts of trouble." But although all of us have at some point been to school, it is impossible to know what it is like being a teacher without having experience both in front of and behind the desk. For me, standing in front of the class having 30 children looking up at me doing my stuff is the most enjoyable part of teaching, and it allows me to express myself in an imaginative and fun way.

As a teacher, it is my responsibility to get children enthusiastic so that they reach their full potential. Being a teacher is all about giving to children. But the more you give as a teacher, the more you receive, so that teaching becomes rewarding not only to the children but also to the teacher.

At the end of this summer holiday, my fiancée and I are flying to Australia to spend time surfing with family and friends. After a month we will move on to New Zealand, where I intend to find a good job teaching science in a secondary school situated close to a good surf spot. This has been my dream for many years, and it is by becoming a teacher that I am finally there.

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