The Journey of a Career Changer: Andrew Mkandwire, Computer Science

November 30, 2015 in Blog, School Direct, Updates

Having had a 12-year career in general management in mainly the leisure industry, I made the decision to change careers long before I decided to train to be a Computer Science teacher. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my previous work, it was not ultimately rewarding hence the decision to change career and enter teaching.

I returned to university to study Computer Forensics and Security. However it wasn’t until towards the end of my course I attended a ‘Considering Teaching’ event.  My grandparents had both been teachers, so this coupled with listening to the passionate speeches by the teachers recruiting for their alliances’ prompted me to look into the profession further.  I have always had a love for computers and want to enthuse chil;dren to what can be a complex subject. I am also highly personable, which I feel is perfect to be an effective teacher.

I did two experience days at Blue Coat initially arranged through the Department for Education’s School Experience Program. I applied through UCAS the following week, was invited to interview within three weeks, had my interview and was successful (I was informed the following morning at 0730). The whole process was so fast and smooth having been helped by being assigned a dedicated recruitment advisor by the Department for Education whose advice was invaluable.

Having secured my place on the course almost a year before it was due to commence, and whilst I was finishing my degree, there was plenty of time to think about my decision, I initially doubted my ability that I would make a good teacher, or if I could even teach. This naturally made me nervous and excited to start the course. The other trainees come from a diverse range of backgrounds; some have come straight form university with no full time work experience, others who have previously been teaching assistants, to people just like me who are changing careers. This put me at ease.

Before the new term started all the new trainees had an induction where we met our subject mentors and other school staff then from September 1st, day one, I was fully immersed into the life of the school with a staff-training day starting with a briefing from the head teacher with a review of the summer results and the coming years priorities.  I was assigned a form group and tutor, break and before school restaurant duties and informed of staff meetings and briefings to be attended.  There was a plethora of acronyms to remember, I felt stupid initially when I had to ask what some meant or had to look a few up to find out their meaning.

I’m eight weeks in already, the time has flown by. It has been a rollercoaster of a ride, full of ups and downs. You have a bad lesson – get good feedback, and act on it. This is where the word ‘resilience’ keeps cropping up, it was mentioned a lot in the induction session. I’ve had great support from professional mentor time, subject mentor time, central training sessions, CPD sessions, as well as great support from a range of well-experienced teachers. I’ve felt like a full part of the team since day one.  I have supported the department by assisting at new parents open evenings for both year seven and the sixth form.  Additionally I supported the alliance in a wider capacity by helping man a stand at a recruitment fair looking to find next years trainees.

Currently, as I write this half term has passed and today I have been to primary school where I shall be spending the whole of next week. Although I cannot wait to get back to Blue Coat to carry on teaching and practicing my skills, perfecting the art of teaching, which is in itself a specialist subject.  At the same time as I needed a break, I also wanted to continue teaching lessons as I felt I was just beginning to get good at planning my lessons and then delivering them well.  I hope the half term break does not interrupt my rhythm.

My best teaching moment so far came at the end of a Year7 lesson about Internet safety, specifically personal information, such as phone numbers, real name, passwords etc. For the plenary I asked everyone to write down 3 pieces of personal information for me, at which point they all point blank refused, thinking I wanted the actual information rather than examples.  They had all clearly taken on board what I had taught them.

The biggest changes for me having changed careers, has been getting back into a work routine of work after having 3 years out to study, this is made even more strict governed by the school bell. Getting to know all the names of the pupils has been tricky too. There will be more new names to learn in January too, when I go to my second placement school. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember some of the old ones when I return to Blue Coat after Easter.

Although I felt like a teacher since day one, I now feel like a real teacher, pupils now recognize me around school and say hello. Some have been able to pronounce my tricky surname correctly! I can hardly wait to secure an NQT position, so next year I get my own form group and set of classes that are mine and mine alone to teach exactly as I choose.


Why choose the School Direct Route?

November 23, 2014 in Blog, Updates

When I tell family members and friends that I am undertaking a School Direct course in Secondary education they often display a confused expression followed by the

question: “so, what exactly is that?”

School Direct is an innovative way of training to teach while on the job. This route appealed to me primarily because of the opportunity to be in a school from day one. I wanted to be a part of the initial excitement, optimism and buzzing energy of the hectic first couple of weeks. I wanted to learn, alongside other members of staff, about the direction of the school and their improvement priorities for the forthcoming year. I wanted to ‘do duties’, attend departmental meetings from the outset. The School Direct route allowed me to do this.

I read English Language at University and went on to complete an M.A while working as a cover supervisor, so I felt more than ready to put my teaching skills into practice and gain my PGCE in a school setting. I knew that The Northern Alliance was the perfect place to develop my passion for teaching and learning; this proactive and flexible route allowed me to fulfil this desire.

Before I started my training we had an induction day at the lead school for all the Alliance primary and secondary trainees. This was a really good opportunity to meet staff involved in the training (University and school staff), fellow trainees and current School Direct trainees who were at the end of their training. This session helped to alleviate any fears by asking questions and getting an overview of the year ahead.

I have a main placement school (Blue Coat) but will then spend 10 weeks at another school in the Alliance (Wardle) from January before returning back to Blue Coat. I also have just spent a week in a primary school  from the Alliance where I really got to understand the excellent work that takes place there and issues in terms of transition from year 6 into year 7.

From the onset of my training I was placed within the English department observing an array of key stage classes. It was never a case of being thrown in at the deep end; the observations allowed me to experience different teaching styles, valuable ways of creating an inclusive learning environment and examine a range of approaches to behaviour management. The timetabled, hourly meeting sessions with my subject mentor means that I have the opportunity to set personalised targets and devote time to reflect on the type of teacher I want to become. Last week, for instance, I wanted to begin marking and levelling pupil’s work. I asked my mentor and, because of the one-on-one sessions this was possible. My mentor responded by bringing the department’s KS3 marking scheme to the next meeting where we levelled war letters written by year 9 pupils for the war writing scheme of work. The next meeting we examined KS4 coursework and compared the two. As well as subject specific time, I also have timetabled professional mentor slots. This is a forum to share good practice with other trainees and develop a theoretical and practical understanding of pedagogy. In a frenetic environment where teachers are always on the go, a timetabled two hours of subject mentor training and one hour of professional mentor training a week is advantageous and valuable – something I have come to realise when speaking to PGCE students.

As well as having six sessions of centralised training with all of the primary and secondary Alliance trainees, we spend twelve days at Liverpool Hope University throughout the year.  It is here where we get to discuss further academic debates about pedagogy. It is invaluable to interact with other student teachers to reflect and share resources and experiences. And of course it’s always comforting to share the highs and lows with other trainees. However, in all honesty, what I thrive on is being part of the school day in, day out.

Over the course of the year, the teaching commitment gradually increases. However, due to the bespoke nature of the course, I have the control, support and flexibility to determine how I want to go about it. For instance, I have taken over all of my KS3 classes because this is where I feel most confident. Whereas, my willingness to improve my knowledge of Literature at KS4 and KS5 has meant that I have invested more time in observing and team teaching these lessons as a way to ease myself in.

It has just been eight weeks, but a wonderful and rewarding eight weeks of leading my own learning and tailoring the course for my own needs. I chose the School Direct route because I wanted to feel like a ‘real’ teacher from day one. Eight weeks in my expectations match the reality!

A sense of belonging: Reflections on my first 2 weeks on School Direct

September 12, 2014 in Blog, School Direct, Updates

The 1st of September arrived with a hybrid of emotions; I felt energised, terrified, excited and privileged all rolled into one. This was finally an opportunity for me to fulfil a life long ambition of making a real difference and becoming a secondary school teacher of English.

My school direct experience began with a whole staff Inset day. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn about the school’s improvement priorities, teaching and learning strategies and expectations for the up and coming year. Taking the School Direct route meant that I was part of the school community from day one. Alongside every other member of staff, I attended a range of  briefings that covered policies on raising attainment in the sixth form, the complex needs of particular students and changes to the school intake. I also had the chance to meet the English department, fellow trainees and my subject mentor. The school provided me with access to their Virtual Learning Environment, Eportal and email. Admittedly, my first day felt like information overload and I was exhausted, but more importantly, I developed a sense of belonging. I felt part of a supportive network of people who strive to create the best possible environment to inspire students and foster their learning. I felt honoured to play a part.

The subsequent days were spent within the English department observing a range of lessons from Key Stage 3 to A Level. This was particularly useful as I got to observe how teachers, with various different teaching styles, approached their new classes and started the first couple of lessons. My presence in the lessons from the onset meant that I could interact with the students and ask them questions. By the end of the week, the students were asking me for help as though I was their classroom teacher. The time I spent observing was a combination of frantically make notes on behaviour for learning, differentiation and the English curriculum, as well as trying to get involved in the lesson as much as I could.

Towards the middle of the week, I had my first meeting with my subject mentor. She made me feel completely at ease and expressed an interest in my educational background. We spoke about my knowledge of Linguistics and my desire to increase my understanding of the Literature side of the curriculum. We also discussed the practicalities of the school direct route in terms of observations, reviews and training. This was also a great opportunity for me to gain a sense of direction and ask any questions that were niggling away.

Upon reflection, this hectic first week has taught me so much about the real lifestyle of a teacher – and this is before the PGCE course has even begun! I am eager to learn more about what it takes to be an ‘Outstanding teacher’ and I cannot wait to deliver my first ever English lesson as a trainee… but first, a Saturday morning lie in is most certainly needed.

Update on experiences on placement

March 13, 2014 in School Direct, Updates

Here are some of the comments that our current School Direct trainees made about their recent experiences on placement in Northern Alliance partner schools.

North Chadderton (Maths)

“The whole department were happy to help and support my development. They always offered consistent and constructive feedback.”

King James’s (English)

“Constructive criticism pushed me to improve every lesson … and I was given independence to develop my teaching.”

King James’s (Science)    

“The Subject Mentor’s door was always open … He set high expectations and supported me throughout the placement.”

Marple Hall (History)     

“She was an outstanding mentor, and gave me detailed feedback on every lesson.” I appreciated “sharing resources and support from the whole department.”

St James’s (History)  

“I received great department support, and they involved me as much as they could. Always supportive, constructive and helpful.”

Wardle (English)        

“They allowed me freedom to plan a S.O.W. and supported me through the process. Everyone in the department was supportive in my development.”

Update on current school direct trainees

December 16, 2013 in School Direct, Updates

Good luck to our current School Direct trainees as you leave the Teaching School –  Blue Coat School at the weekend to take up placements in Northern Alliance partner schools. After such a successful first term’s training, we are confident that you will do well there.