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Teachers Talk Teaching

Scott Sibson 7th April 2020
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A great way to find out more about a career in teaching is to hear from already qualified teachers. Only they can share their personal highlights, along with the challenges and surprises that emerge working with young people each day.

We spoke to teachers from across Scotland and asked them to share their thoughts on teaching: what advice would they give to prospective teachers? What is their favourite part of the job?

Natalie Finlayson is a Biology teacher in Edinburgh. She believes that one of the most important things to demonstrate in the classroom is enthusiasm. “When the pupils see how passionate you are then they start to care too.” Discover more of what Natalie had to say here.

Chemistry teacher, Stuart McDonald, thinks the best thing about being a teacher are those ‘lightbulb moments’. “When a kid understands something thoroughly you can tell. That’s a day you go home happy.” See more of Stuart’s thoughts on teaching here.

The TesWorld YouTube channel has footage of teachers from across the UK talking candidly about their job. Funny and honest, it’s a great place to go for the real scoop on being a teacher.

You can find more insights from teachers working in Scotland here, and click here for information on becoming a teacher in Scotland.

Making a change… Our journey into teaching

Scott Sibson 25th April 2019
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Not everyone starts out as a teacher, but whether a change of career stems from the need for improved job satisfaction, a job where you’re able to shape children’s futures through education or the flexibility, teaching is an option at any stage. Here, three teachers share their journeys and how they apply their previous work experience to their current role.

Liz Dighton, Computing Teacher, Boroughmuir High School

I had a very fulfilling and successful career in the IT industry, but after having children I wanted a new challenge and a job that allowed me to be at home and spend more time with my family.

Young people are huge consumers of technology and use it extensively, however they do not know much about it, which is where computing science comes in. Having worked as a consultant for technology companies in the UK and around the world, I’m able to bring my experience of how computer systems are developed and how the industry works into the classroom. This helps to bring the theoretical aspects to life and provide examples of how this theory can be applied in practice.

I love finding new ways to introduce pupils to the joys of computing and programming and enthuse them about the future career possibilities. I want to inspire the next generation of IT professionals as there is a shortage of supply in Scotland, but lots of jobs.

David Buchanan – Maths teacher, Airdrie Academy

I started working as project manager in the private banking sector, making use of my numerical and problem-solving skills. After a short while I decided I wanted to follow my passion for teaching (and numbers) by making my way into the maths classroom.

Prior to changing career, I had given it a lot of thought and spent time speaking to current teachers, so I was confident that teaching would be a career suited to my character and personality. I felt that coming from industry gave me a certain advantage.

I already had experience of a work environment and, although I’m now working with young people, a lot of the skills I had developed previously were transferrable. Dealing with pressure situations and thinking on your feet are important in whatever job you are undertaking.

Helen Murray – Science teacher, Grange Academy, Kilmarnock

Back in 2013, I decided to switch career from being a scientist in an environmental monitoring laboratory to become a Chemistry teacher. Whilst I was happy in my previous job, teaching was always at the back of my mind as I felt I had so much more to offer. I missed interacting with people, which I noticed massively when I took on the role of a laboratory demonstrator when completing my PhD. It was then I knew teaching would be right for me.

Science, maths and technology are working more collaboratively, enabling pupils to see the bigger picture. It’s education that’s allowing the children to receive more of a ‘real life’ experience. Teaching is a much more rewarding experience and the biggest change has been job satisfaction; it is so fulfilling to celebrate your pupils’ achievements, even the very smallest of victories. It took me a while to adjust to the routine and structure, but every day is different and that’s my favourite part of the job.

Learning from experience…

Scott Sibson 25th April 2019
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Many new teachers embark on their careers with the ambition of making a difference to the lives of their pupils. But for many, what they quickly realised is how this career enables them to continue their own education and personal development. Here, three probationer teachers share what they have learned since they qualified.

Meredith Robinson, Probationary Teacher at Buckstone Primary School in Edinburgh

“In this job, every day is different and demanding. It keeps it interesting, but it also made me appreciate I still, and always will, have a lot to learn to keep inspiring passion in my pupils.”

Meredith joined the teaching profession with hopes of giving others the great school experience she had enjoyed herself, but soon found the job to give so much more: “There is a lot to take in during the first year as you find your feet, but I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve adapted to my new surroundings and new challenges. I’ve found there to be a great sense of community in the teaching profession – my colleagues are extremely supportive, as ultimately, we are all working towards being the best we can be for our pupils and our wider community. That makes even the most challenging days so rewarding and worthwhile.”

Sarah Dawson, Primary Teacher, Dyce Primary School, Aberdeen

“My plan to become a teacher went off track for a few years as I wanted to gain some life experience, I was working for Aberdeen University promoting the PGDE course and I thought “It’s time for me to do this!” I took on various placements in a school whilst working full time and quickly realised this was my calling. I knew this is the job I was meant to do.

From time spent volunteering and working in casual teaching positions to gain experience, I knew what to expect from teaching my first lesson, but I was unprepared for the sheer buzz I got from doing it. My first day flew by and I couldn’t believe the range of activities and lessons available to teach the children. Although it is an intense job, my love and passion for being a teacher has not changed.”

Nicola Kierny, Drama Teacher, Williamwood High School, Glasgow

“I’ve been surprised in my role by how much I’ve learned from the pupils and how teaching has pushed me to become a better version of myself. I’ve had wonderful lessons and difficult lessons all within the same day, and that forces you to be at the top of your game. It can be incredibly hard work, but the pupils keep you going – if you try for them they will always try back for you.

One common theme that was recognised by each of these new teachers, is that by putting their all into the profession they’ve not only helped their pupils to learn and develop, but they’ve seen themselves grow in equal measure. “All whilst”, Nicola concluded, “doing a job which makes you feel amazed, proud and honoured every single day.”

Personal and team growth

Scott Sibson 8th February 2019
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Anne Graham, Headteacher at Lochdar Primary School/Sgoil an Iochdair and Daliburgh Primary School/Sgoil Bhaile a’ Mhanaich shares her experiences of personal and team growth:

Teaching has always played an integral role in my life, and I’ve been fortunate to have had a range of teachers who believed in me, motivated me and inspired me. I wanted a career where my education was never going to stop and, in teaching, you’re always learning, especially from your pupils.

Becoming a leader has enabled me to extend my influence and to apply, at whole school level, the values and priorities I have honed throughout my career. As a head you can influence how the team operates and it is an honour to have the opportunity to support a school to develop in a way that permeates your own vision and values.
I worked my way from a probationary teacher to class teacher, to acting Deputy Head at Condorrat Primary School, where I was given the opportunity to develop my skills in leading, managing and providing strategic direction to colleagues. Teaching has enhanced my leadership qualities significantly; each year has brought new classes and colleagues who continually inspire my commitment to education. My dedication to implementing change and motivating staff and pupils has resulted in a leadership post in a second school, so I currently am Headteacher of both Sgoil Bhaile a’ Mhanaich and Sgoil an Iochdair.

As a headteacher you need an understanding of what makes people tick and by getting the team dynamics right, everything else follows quite naturally.

Leading remote schools and forging community relationships

Scott Sibson 8th February 2019
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Maureen MacDonald, Headteacher, Port Ellen Primary School and Bowmore Primary School shares her experience of leading remote schools and forging community relationships:

Living on an island, it is crucial to forge positive relationships with community groups to help drive improvement and increase the opportunities available to children. To enhance learning opportunities, we work with various businesses and organisations in Islay to benefit children at all ages.

I’ve been involved in creating new policies, implementing changes and working with both school teams to drive improvements forward. By developing partnerships with local services such as health visitors, school nurses and social carers, we’re able to work collaborate effectively to achieve the best possible outcomes for children, young people and families.

We implemented ‘Endeavour’, an initiative in which we asked students to work independently to develop their skills in a specific area. One student worked in a lobster business and another chose lambing, both inextricably linked to island life. Working with these local businesses helped the children develop attributes including team work, resilience, perseverance and critical analysis.

A key achievement within the community was starting a joint school Gaelic choir, which has competed at local and national level and gained much success, raising the profile of both schools. Our Gaelic Medium Education is continuously improving, and we were finalists in the Scottish Education Awards for Gaelic in 2018. We also have a strong, supportive and active parent council.

Initiatives such as these have vastly improved our relationships with local businesses and ensure we contribute in our own way to the wider community.

Teach in Scotland events coming soon

Scott Sibson 5th February 2019
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Teaching is a unique career with high levels of job satisfaction. It’s full of variety, stimulation and constant challenge. Sharing your passion with young people can change the course of their lives – and yours.

If you think teaching might be the career for you but want to know more, come along to one of our events where you can speak to us face-to-face. There, we can tell you more about the courses you need to study, as well as the personal and financial benefits of becoming a teacher.

Speak to us face-to-face

Here’s where you can find us in Scotland over February.

Where Location on Campus When Time
Postgraduate Live, Edinburgh McEwan Hall, University of Edinburgh, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9YL 6th Feb 2019 11.30am – 3pm
University of Stirling First Step Careers Fair, Atrium within the Andrew Miller Building 7th Feb 2019 4.30pm – 6pm
University of Edinburgh King’s Buildings House Union 8th Feb 2019 10.30am – 3pm
University of Abertay Library Foyer, Abertay University, Bell St, Dundee DD1 1HG 11th Feb 2019 11am – 3pm
University of the Highlands and Islands Inverness Campus – Main Atrium 12th Feb 2019 10am – 3pm
Heriot-Watt University Bridgelink in the Hugh Nisbet Building 14th Feb 2019 10am – 2pm
University of Dundee Student Union 15th Feb 2019 10am – 4.30pm
Edinburgh Napier University Foyer, Merchiston Campus 18th Feb 2019 9.30am – 4.30pm
University of Strathclyde Technology and Innovation Centre Level 2 19th Feb 2019 2pm – 6pm
University of Glasgow Fraser Building, Level 3, entrance to the large catering space 21st Feb 2019 10am – 3pm
University of Aberdeen Library Foyer 25th Feb 2019 10am – 2.30pm
Queen Margaret University 1875 (Food Court) 26th Feb 2019 10am – 3pm
University of Edinburgh McEwan Hall, University of Edinburgh, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9YL 27th Feb 2019 12.30pm – 4pm
University of the West of Scotland Lanarkshire Campus – The Street – entrance to the Library 28th Feb 2019 10am – 2.30pm


Preparing for exams

TeachScotland 2nd April 2018
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Preparing students for exams is a significant part of teaching. However, it can be a very stressful time for both teacher and pupil, and getting the most out of the students can be tough. A few considerations can help a lot, though; turning exam preparation into a constructive and worthwhile process.

Awareness of class morale…

The first thing to consider is that as a teacher, you need to be aware of your students’ morale level. The lead-up to an exam can be a stressful situation for everyone involved, so it is important that you spend time with your pupils individually ensuring that they feel supported, valued and motivated. Regularly communicating targets and expectations for the coming weeks is a good way to keep your classes focused, and it instills a sense of independence and responsibility for their own learning. If planned well, exam preparation should challenge the students and help to boost their confidence as they become more adept at tackling the kind of questions they’ll be set in the exam.

Be organised and plan ahead…

One of the main reasons why pupils and teachers start to feel pressure is because of the time factor — not just in the exam itself, but also in the course leading up to it. Having an organised schedule which covers all the course material, with revision sessions equally spaced out, helps to avoid cramming everything into a short space of time immediately before the exam. It also allows for a greater variety of content and activities for your lessons, which not only keeps the students interested, but also helps them to retain more information. Having a clear course structure makes it easier to set goals at different stages for the individual and the class as a whole; which will aid in focusing the students and helps them to work on their weak areas. It also boosts motivation, because students can see their progression as the course continues.

Ensure clarity of exam content…

For some teachers, exam preparation entails endless revision of past papers, which does have its uses; the students will become familiar with the content of the exam, as well how to work with time constraints. In order to do well in exams, students need to have a set of relevant exam techniques that they can use to succeed. Students need to know and understand the meanings of any key command words that they will come across, such as ‘explain’ and ‘evaluate’. Spending time on this can save on a lot of marks lost due to students answering a question in the wrong way. Issuing mock exam questions as homework each week is a good way of assessing learning. Allowing students to mark each other’s papers can help them to understand what the examiner is looking for, whilst giving them time to discuss the questions in groups reinforces this and allows them to pool ideas on how they would approach certain questions.

Give the students study advice…

It is important for the teacher to help pupils make the most of any time they spend revising. Many students won’t know, or will have forgotten, how to study efficiently. Teachers can help by going over some basic advice such as making a study schedule, using flashcards, producing mind maps or taking a ten-minute break every hour. It’s important to stress that everyone’s way of learning is unique – you just need to find the approach that suits the individual!

Don’t panic!

Lastly, perhaps the most important piece of advice is simple: don’t panic! So long as you have established a solid course structure and have a pool of activities and exam techniques to share with the students, you can’t go wrong. If you are ever unsure then seek advice and guidance from your experienced colleagues, who will be more than happy to help you along the way…

My typical day at school

Scott Sibson 28th February 2018
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My typical day at school…

Starts at 8.50am with registration of my S1 class. I check in with each of them, asking how their week is going and filling them in on any relevant information that they need to know. We say the school prayer together before the 9.00am bell which sees pupils off to their first curricular class of the day.

On average, I have 22 class contact periods each week, half of them being practical lessons and the other half are theory lessons across all year groups. I usually do all of my lesson preparation before I finish for the evening so that I can avoid any unnecessary stress the following day. If preparing for practical lessons, I ensure I have all of my ingredients, kitchen equipment and recipes set out for my classes on trolleys that are easily accessible and can be moved in and out of the classroom as and when they are needed. They have 50 minute lessons here in Inverclyde, therefore effective time management is important.

I like to try new ways of doing things to ensure my practical lessons run as smoothly as possible. With regards to theory lessons, I spend a Friday afternoon doing any resource development work along with any printing/photocopying of course material that I will use the following week.

For me, organisation is the key to success and helps to balance both my work and home life as well as my study to ensure continual professional development without feeling overwhelmed.

The best part of my job…

Is making a difference to the lives of young people. The positive influence I can have on my pupils can be life changing for many of them. As a teacher, you become a role model. Your pupils look to you for advice and guidance and that fills me with a real sense of pride and fulfilment. You form relationships and grow fond of your pupils. My pupils teach me as much as I teach them. They remind me to laugh and not to take myself too seriously. Learning can be fun and that goes for the teacher too!

My most memorable moment…

The challenge – and success – of getting the pupil who dislikes you and you seem to be getting nowhere with to have that ‘lightbulb’ moment. Having them begin to understand you and your subject enabling you both to work towards a common goal is both heartwarming and rewarding.

No day in teaching is ever the same…

Ever. You are unlikely ever to be bored by a lack of diversity. For me, I flourish in a working environment where I need to expect the unexpected! Teaching is a job with built-in variety, as you develop new units, teach new topics, and work with new children each year.

My first day as a teacher

Scott Sibson 4th January 2018
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Like other firsts in my life, my first day as a teacher in my own secondary school classroom had me feeling excited and nervous in equal measure. However, I tried not to worry too much and told myself that even the most seasoned teachers feel apprehensive about meeting new students at the beginning of each school year.

For me, preparation is crucial. I spent a few days towards the end of the summer holidays decorating my classroom, developing resources and planning my first week of lessons.

Forward planning gives me a sense of confidence and, in my opinion, is the key to success.

In my local authority, we are given an in-service training and information session at the start of each new term. My first impressions were really positive and, as a former pupil of the school, it was a very welcoming experience for me. It was warming to see so many familiar faces which helped to settle the new job jitters.

On the first day of term before the start of each lesson I would take a deep breath, look around my newly decorated classroom, double-check my lesson plans, and remind myself of everything I’d done to get to where I was standing. It was time to get the year off to a successful start!

My advice for day one:

  • Arrive early to welcome your pupils with a smiling face. They too are nervous about starting a new school year and seeing a happy face can really make them feel more relaxed about their new experience.
  • Welcome pupils into your classroom, inviting them to take a seat until you establish an effective seating plan for them.
  • Have some ice breaker activities planned. For secondary school level, consider creating a class dictionary. Students can write a three-part definition of themselves that includes physical characteristics, personality traits, and favourite hobbies or interests. As the teacher you should also get involved and share some information about yourself with your pupils. This will help to make you more approachable and build rapport with your pupils.
  • Explain classroom expectations. Present the most important classroom routines in a positive way. Explain, discuss and give your pupils a chance to develop their own set of classroom rules. Remember, they won’t learn it all in a day. So, continue to emphasise and practise classroom routines for the first few weeks.
  • Deal promptly with behavioural problems, applying sanctions where necessary and following the school discipline procedures that are in place.
  • Generate interest and enthusiasm by hinting at exciting new topics you plan to cover in the coming weeks.
  • Take students on a tour of your classroom – especially useful if yours is a practical subject! Explain what is in all the cabinets and drawers. Show them what is accessible and what is off limits.
  • Lastly, be yourself! Let your passion and enthusiasm for your subject shine through. You must be fully committed to making a difference to the lives of young people. Don’t be afraid to try new things to promote pupil learning and improve pupil experience.

If your first day activities involve all of your students in ways that allow them to be successful, you’ll be sure to make a good first impression. You will be seen as a caring, organised leader who is focused on creating a stimulating and cooperative environment.

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