Teaching was something I had always wanted to pursue. My love for science grew during my A-Levels where I realised Chemistry sparked my interest concerning the composition, structure and properties of matter as well as all the changes and discoveries that come with it during chemical reactions. Studying chemistry as a degree allowed me to explore it even further, the stimulating practical training, analytical and mathematical elements to it broadened my perception of chemistry. I decided to manifest this love into something that would be a continuous source of reward- teaching Chemistry to young people.
Becoming a teacher has never been an easy journey. One of the most challenging phases was while I was studying for my Chemistry PGCE qualification at King’s College London. This combined the theory and practice of education which is why we spent 60 days at King’s and 120 days in school placements. The course is research-led where I developed my knowledge of how pupils learn; how assessment can improve teaching and learning; how to plan lessons, and how to make most of the labs and the outdoors to teach effectively. The school placements were where I put my teaching skills into practice – for the very first time. My PGCE has been the year where I made the most progress than any other academic year. During the school placements, so much improvement and growth is needed from you and needs to be evident in such short time which is continuously recorded and criticised. This allows you to appreciate and realise just how much you are progressing as a teacher. I was pretty confident with the content and actual teaching but the one thing I was worried about during my PGCE was poor student behaviour. This is a very big issue when it comes to teaching which is cited as the main reason for teachers leaving the profession and the low retention rates.
I was placed at two contrasting schools – an outstanding mixed secondary school where the behaviour was good, and a very tough all-boys secondary school, where the behaviour was a nightmare. Teaching bottoms sets with challenging behaviour was difficult at first, but as I progressed I realised as long as the work is accessible to each and every student in the class and expectations are set in an engaging environment, these hurdles can be overcome. Initially, I had no idea what being strict entailed – I thought being nice and smiling would be enough. However, it soon became clear that this comes after; set out your rules, be stern but fair, make sure every single student can attempt something with ease.
After my PGCE year I couldn’t believe where I was now as a teacher compared to the trainee I was before. I couldn’t wait to transfer all my skills in a new school and start afresh as my own teacher with a self-developed individual teaching style. I was so eager to put all my fresh ideas into practice!
I am now completing my nqt year (newly qualified teacher), at a girls’ secondary school where I teach all years from year 7 to year 11. Again, this school is very challenging in regards to behaviour but after my PGCE experience I am able incorporate everything that I had learnt and deliver as the teacher I always wanted to be.
Initially, new classes test you; they see how far they can push you but after fighting those first lesson battles I can now say my classes are how I expect them to be. Developing a relationship with students is vital in order for them to feel appreciated and that they have a purpose in turning up to my science lessons. Making lessons personal and engaging allowed me to gain students admiration for the subject such as teaching biology – genetics -sharing pictures of my family and I, whilst the students list the environmental and inherited characteristics. In chemistry – using sweets, drama and dance to teach bonding, equations etc. And in physics – bringing in skateboards, taking students outside discussing forces and friction etc.
Of course, there are always pros and cons to every job. The amount of attitude I have received from students and parents too! The amount of phone calls and detentions I have made are countless but the difference you are making to these young people’s lives outweighs everything and is super rewarding. When a badly behaved child says they enjoy your lessons and learn a lot it makes it all worth it. When a child that is meant to be externally excluded still makes sure she has come to collect work from you, it is worth it. When you’re told only a couple of students may turn up to the fun science club you have just started but so many turn up that you have to end up turning them away, the dedication from the students makes it worth it.
And that bittersweet feeling when your students terrorise a supply teacher the first time you’re absent and would only settle down when they’re threatened that I would be told – that’s when I knew I had made my mark as their teacher and have gained their respect!
Science is one of the most difficult subjects for students to grasp and can be difficult to teach. Eventually, when you teach like a natural, engage and motivate students, and have gained their admiration and interest in such a tough subject – mission accomplished!
Farheen Ashraf BSc PGCE