Every so often, you come across perfectly ordinary people who do very extra-ordinary things against the odds.
During the mid-1990s I trained teachers at a London university that had pioneered so-called ‘Access’ courses to degree level learning. We positively targeted people who had no formal educational qualifications but who had one thing above all – a burning desire to learn.
It was obvious, even at interview stage, that some of these people – mostly women it has to be said – were going to make wonderful teachers. They had bags of experience – often with their own children; they had imagination, creativity, personal skills, stamina and resilience. Then when they started the teacher-training course, they had commitment and passion.
Some of the best people I ever trained as teachers had started without a GSCE to their name. Many of them went on to be brilliant teachers, and now I come across some of them as accomplished and successful head teachers.
My experience with those people not only inspired me but reminded me again and again of the wonderfully transformative power that education has, not just for the individuals involved, but for their families and for our society.
Now please, just take a couple of minutes to read Janine’s story…
I never had a burning desire to be a teacher, in fact, when I was 15 I undertook two weeks of work experience in a nursery unit of a local primary school in Northampton, and in my Record of Achievement (that I still have) I wrote: ‘having had this experience I know I will never work with children’. It’s funny how things change.
I left school aged sixteen with minimal GCSE’s to work in an office. I had my daughter aged eighteen and became a single parent on benefits. I did not want to be on benefits forever so spent the time between when she was born and when she started school attending college part time to improve my GCSE’s. I still had no desire to be a teacher at this point, I just wanted to get a job – any job – and come off benefits.
In 2000 my daughter started primary school. The school asked for parents to volunteer listening to children read etc. My Mum encouraged me to volunteer, saying it would get me out of the house and gain me experience that would look good on a CV. So I began volunteering one morning a week – listening to readers – this progressed to a couple of mornings.
Then they began having swimming lessons in the on-site outdoor pool and I would go in the pool with the children. Then they discovered a volunteer in the school that would go in the pool, so I was asked by other teachers to help with their classes, and I ended up spending each afternoon as well as most mornings during the summer volunteering.
In June, I was told of a job at the school. It involved working at lunchtimes with some of the more difficult children by providing them with activities. This meant I was able to carry on volunteering as well. I got the job and began in September 2001, at the same time I began a part time course at college – a City & Guilds in Learning Support – as I had found that I really enjoyed working with and helping the children.
I also thought that by doing this course I might be able to get a job in the future at the school as a teaching assistant and that by having a qualification I would stand out above others. This was all voluntary and luckily the school allowed me to use my volunteer time there to collect the evidence needed to pass the course.
I wanted to become a teaching assistant as I really enjoyed working with the children, and being a single parent who doesn’t drive meant that I would have all the holidays off to be with my daughter. School hours also meant I could take her to and from school too.
Luckily I got a job at my daughter’s school and worked there in various guises ranging from Lunchtime Supervisor, Classroom Assistant, Learning Support Assistant, Cover Supervisor and Unqualified Teacher.
After a few years as a TA I did an NVQ 3 in Teaching Assistant. I still had no ambition to be a teacher. I didn’t think I would ever go to university, I thought I was quite happy to be a TA and just wanted to be the best I could be and decided to continue to study.
I then looked into becoming a Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) and went to the University of Northampton to listen to a talk about it. The talk also included information about the 2 year Foundation Degree in Learning and Teaching (FDLT). I was still under the impression that a TA “is all I would ever be” – as this is what one of the head teachers I had worked for told me.
The thought of me – a single mum – going to university amazed me. I knew it would be hard work but the thought of showing my daughter that there is a better life out there spurred me on. I undertook the course and then did the following one – a twelve-month course to complete the BA Hons in Learning and Teaching (BALT).
At the same time I had to study for my Maths and Science GCSE’s as I needed them to proceed with the courses and I felt that having the Maths GCSE would help me in the future whatever job I had. It was around this time that I became a cover supervisor, mainly covering classes when the class teacher was on PPA time.
I loved the freedom of teaching and the experience of it but mostly I just enjoyed seeing the children learn and progress, knowing that I had a hand in it. Following the completion of the BALT course I decided to wait until after my daughter did her GCSE’s before I would pursue the next step because if I went on to undertake another stressful course at the same time, we might kill each other!
But after my daughter finished her GCSE, I decided to do the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), as I wanted to be able to continue to support and inspire her. I waited until last year before applying. Following a grueling interview process where I questioned my sanity, I luckily got a much-coveted place on the course. This leads me back to where I am now – about to start my third term on the GTP course.
Finally, I do now have that ambition to be a teacher. Deep down, I think I probably always did, but in the beginning when I left school I just didn’t consider it to be a possibility.
I guess the long and the short of what motivated me to become a teacher – apart from my love of teaching and learning – was my daughter, and the need to inspire and provide her with a better life.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in February 2014.