Routes into teaching…

A while back I started a guest blogger Wednesday session and this week it’s the turn of my wonderful friend Kathryn who’s sharing her route into teaching! I am so proud of her and can’t  wait for you guys to read her route into teaching – it is so different to my own! 

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Quite some time ago, Steph shared her teaching story. It had never been in doubt that she was made to be a teacher – having seen her in the classroom, I cannot imagine any place she would fit in more. Though her route has been less conventional, her passion for teaching hasn’t ever wavered. That is where Steph and I differ. No one ever thought I was made to be a teacher and all my life’s pursuits hadn’t really been with that goal in mind – which is hard to believe now I’m doing it!

I’m going to take you back first to my own school days, in Primary specifically. I adored school; reading books, mental maths tests, writing diary entries as a WWII evacuee… My parents often tell me how much of a terror I was before school. Reportedly, I never slept and required constant attention to keep my mind occupied. They agreed that school sorted that – I had an outlet for my energies: learning.
My first real memory of maths lessons was mental maths tests with Mrs Kennedy every morning after break in Year 3. I remember wanting to rush back from break to do them, but mostly I remember that the kid next to me had the same initials as me. That meant both of us had to write our FULL NAMES on the top of the paper – horrifying (if you’re reading Kristian then you’ll remember that pain!) Not the best first impression, I’ll admit, but I have to assume my love started here. I continued to love it throughout school and I ended up taking a Level 6 paper in Year 6.
I had a brief foray into humanities in Secondary school. I love history – at 7 I bought a book detailing the history of British Kings and Queens and at 11 I did a mini project (not even as homework *geek*) on the Romans in the summer holidays. After a Summer School learning about Law, I realised that wordy subjects weren’t for me, so at 6th Form I took Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry, and History. Despite my love of it, the day I dropped History to get a timetable primarily made up of Maths was one of the best days EVER. I was even helping out in Maths lessons lower down in the school because I was enjoying it so much. My A Level teachers were phenomenal, in all my courses. My maths teachers specifically had an unashamed passion for their subjects that they were even more willing to share as the topics got more complex and interlinked. They spent time sitting with me one to one, discussing methods and patterns and even recommending mathematical books. A few of my A Level class also went with our Core Maths teacher (Mr B) to a lecture at Liverpool University by Marcus du Sautoy (Mathematical celebrity alert!) – while we were chatting at his book signing after, Dr B introduced me as one of his most promising students!

My path was set to be mathematical, including studying it at University, but I hadn’t yet decided what I wanted to do after that. Cue the inspiration for my future – Dad was self-employed at the time and asked his accountant if I should consider an accounting future. He told my dad I should look into ‘the most mathematical of mathematical jobs’: Actuarial Science. We put in a lot of research, and the subject matter seemed an interesting application of my degree, with a whopping wage to boot. I applied for summer internships in 2011 which saw me in York for a few months, even extending my stay by 2 weeks because I loved it so much. This was followed up by a place on the interview day for the Graduate Scheme in October – I landed an Actuarial job by Christmas 2011.

Entering the working world is daunting for anyone I think, but it seemed even more so with a move even further from home and into a high-pressure profession with yet more exams to pass to become qualified. I wasn’t alone though – I made some fantastic friends at this job and we got through the first few months by banding very closely together. However, while everyone else started to get on their feet and into a groove, I started to feel a little at sea. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the job, but once the initial thrill of working and being paid had faded, I realised I wasn’t doing maths like I thought I would be. I was working with economics and finance more than the subject I loved – that was in the background, in a spreadsheet someone else had already made. I struggled through my first placement on the scheme, hoping that a new department would mean less economics and more maths. Sadly, it didn’t and I felt worse and worse where I was. I was dealing with figures on spreadsheets that didn’t feel real to me, and struggling to put them together with economic theory and real life.
I began volunteering for the council on their ‘Right to Read’ scheme, which saw professionals from the local area using volunteering hours provided by their employers to read with Primary School children. This became the highlight of my week – not only was I outside of the office, I was helping to ignite a passion of my own in a younger generation (I also like books, A LOT). They were wonderful kids – so smiley and happy to see me once a week, and we had some marvellous conversations about books! I toyed with the idea of teaching, even signing up to the Get Into Teaching site. I got put off by many people when I mentioned it, as I’d be giving up a ridiculously well paid and highly regarded profession… and “who knows if it will even be any better?” So I struggled on.

This is the not so nice part of my story. This is the part I don’t often talk about because talking about mental illness is a huge taboo… I have some terrible anxiety issues, and have struggled with them on and off since Secondary School. But this job took that to the next level and I became incredibly ill. I went to work on auto-pilot for a while, to an extent that the work I did at Half Year didn’t register with me at all – when I got asked to do it again at Year End I had no idea what I was doing because I literally did not remember doing it. In 2015 I began having panic attacks and my anxiety was at the highest level it had ever been – I was signed off work for 6 weeks. I was still getting the Get Into Teaching promotional material and I used this time off to get some school experience and decide if I really wanted to do it. I went to observe secondary maths teaching in the next town – as much as I loved the time with the little ones I knew I couldn’t deal with it every day – I commend those of you that do! I loved it – teachers invited me to help them out in the classroom and I felt at home. Talking about the subject I love and helping others to understand it just clicked – it was everything I was missing in the job I was in. I decided to apply for a PGCE.

My PGCE was a fantastic experience. I did a School Direct scheme, as being locked away at University again seemed too much after being in the working world for 3 years. My main placement was at a gorgeous school, with a wonderful maths department and the best mentor I could have asked for. I hope I am friends with those people forever – they helped me in so many ways, and taught me so much about being an excellent teacher in such a short space of time…. AND they introduced me to Teacher Twitter, where I have made even more wonderful friends. I can’t fault either the Red Kite Alliance or University of York for their support through the year.
I was lucky enough to get a job before Christmas on my PGCE and I am now an NQT teaching Maths at Secondary School! I can wholeheartedly say that my career change was the best decision I have ever made – it was scary in so many ways, but I am infinitely happier as a teacher than I ever was as an actuary. It’s hard to believe now that I ever did anything else, or thought that I should. I love dealing with people and I love maths. I get to be a total maths geek all day and get paid for it. It’s a match made in heaven really… But even more than that I’ve discovered a love for teaching and pedagogy. I love finding new ways to think about topics that I used to think were mundane and my colleagues are the exact same. I feel like I’m perfectly placed.
I also love the kids I work with – OK, some don’t do their homework on time and talk over me a lot, but they are such wonderful kids with sparkling personalities. They can be sassy and funny, but also generous and caring. We can be arguing about the best Avenger one minute or singing ‘The Circle Song’, then discussing world politics the next. Even though my Year 12s just make fun of my ‘glistening eyes’ as I tell them another history of maths story, I hope that I am helping them to realise the beauty of mathematics through my passion for it. The fact I get to share any of that with them is a gift. Plus, sometimes students remember that you love birthday cake and bring you a slice for a snack…

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