Why and how did you become a lecturer in carpentry and joinery?
After GCSEs I took an NVQ level 3 apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery and attended Durham New College when not on site. I then started work mainly on new build construction of executive homes through to standard run-of-mill-housing. I could be producing roof trusses one week and then doing a first fix (everything that goes on before plastering stage), progressing on to doors, skirting boards and so on, or undertaking specific work like installing fire doors. But after 21 years with the same employer I’d got as far as I could. I didn’t fancy a management role; I’d become a bit stale and needed a change and more job satisfaction. Even as an apprentice, I’d always enjoyed the learning and teaching side in college far more than on-site working, so the idea of teaching was not new.
When I applied to Hartlepool College I wasn’t qualified so didn’t expect to get the job but just learn more about the requirements. But I was told as long as I took an NVQ assessor’s course followed by a certificate of education, I was in. So three days after leaving the industry in 2017, I found myself teaching! In fact, I got made up to lecturer as soon as I’d gained my cert ed. It helped that I’d taught and trained apprentices from the college before as part of my industry job.
How challenging was the transition to teaching?
I’d still had a vision of blackboards and overhead projectors and was shocked to find all classrooms kitted out with digital projectors, computers and whiteboards. Though I knew about technology, I’d still not heard of PowerPoint! So in the first few months I’d lock myself in a classroom after lessons to try out all the kit, put my PowerPoint presentations together, and work things out by trial and error.
Also, my writing had deteriorated since school so I had to improve! You tend to forget the paperwork side of things over time when you are always on-site, doing practical work.
What’s your main role?
I started as an instructor assessor based in the workshop but almost straightaway ended up in a classroom teaching. I teach apprentices from age 16 and raw full-time NVQ students who are in college three days a week; many start from scratch in their first six weeks - they might never have walked round a B&Q store or seen a sectionalised piece of timber.
In the first (level 1) year of a three-year course we cover general site health and safety and principles of construction (brickwork, concrete foundation, and construction all round) plus key elements of joinery, using and maintaining hand tools, power tools and various timbers, and timber technology.
We work on hand-eye coordination and getting used to using very precise measurements, producing neat work, and mastering tenon and dovetail joints (frame-making). Year 2 (level 2) is more site/industry-related and covers the sort of jobs that will earn you money, such as how to hang a door and similar tasks. Year 3 (level 3) expands on tasks learnt in the previous year, eg you’ve learnt how to hang one door and construct a straight roof, so now you have to hang a double door and build a hip roof with a dormer, etc, plus of course more advanced theory sessions.
What’s a typical day?
I’m on a computer by 7am most days to ensure everything goes smoothly. On Mondays I work exclusively with apprentices, doing their reviews and on-site assessments. Tuesday comprises online level 1 theory sessions, when I work from home using the Microsoft Teams platform, and Wednesday level 2 theory and practical sessions, including a final lesson on students’ portfolios of evidence: they write up how and what NVQ tasks they have completed on-site which I and their employer then sign off to say they are operationally competent. On Thursday I take a maintenance course group for theory and practical, and on Fridays it’s practical sessions with my level 1 full-time NVQ students (10 in college and 10 online).
How have you coped with Covid?
We hadn’t met our students face to face until they turned up for their first teaching session this year. All were interviewed and enrolled online but we emphasised during interview that they would have to be punctual in attendance - and they are! They’re normally raring to go at 8.55am. We text the parents directly if they are not here by 9am.
We’d hoped to be back two weeks after lockdown - we had only just heard about Microsoft’s Teams videoconferencing platform and had not taught online before. The biggest challenge was getting students used to working and submitting assignments online, and some struggled with the technology.
Another hurdle was calculating grades for practical tasks; we could not get the students back on campus so we have had to set up professional discussions. We’d feed them information for two sessions and then assess their knowledge by asking them verbally how they would approach certain jobs. We’re still working on a number of grey areas.
We’re also coping with a large backlog of assessments. Some of last year’s final year apprentices on furlough have not yet been able to record on-site evidence for their NVQ endpoint assessments and thus have not been signed off as qualified. That’s meant handling a number of apprentices coming in to complete assignments in addition to this year’s new intake.
Other measures include producing our own short videos, using City and Guilds video resources, and setting up webcams in class so that out of a cohort of 20 full-time NVQ students,10 can be in college and the rest online.
Describe any recent tasks you have completed?
One group designed a shed out of components for a local charity. Today I ran an online test on hand safety laws for power tools. I put 30 questions by phone to students, creating a league-style competition using the Kahoot! app to spice up what can otherwise be a dull subject.
What do you like teaching most?
Tackling something in theory and then taking that to the workshop and showing the working version of it, though it’s not always easy to do the practical aspect online.
What sessions do your students enjoy most?
The practical side that gives them more freedom in how they work; they can also use their own toolboxes. Some really thrive on the theory sessions.
Any achievements you are proud of?
Gaining my cert ed over two years, which involved a lot of assignment writing. I found the academic work a real challenge, as I was just not used to it.
Any advice for would-be lecturers?
You learn a lot through trial and error. No assignment I’ve written could have prepared me for Covid and online teaching. You have to get your head down and do your own homework. I’d never heard of schemes of work or lesson plans before starting, but close colleagues have been really supportive.
What personal qualities and skills do you need?
Organisation, commitment and self-discipline, attention to detail and being aware of where your students are struggling. Plus loads of patience in explaining there’s always a right and a wrong way to do things in our industry - if you do this, such and such will happen!
An assessor’s award and certificate of education are a bonus when applying but if you have the right industrial experience you can often study for them alongside your first years of teaching. You need to take a level 4 HNC to teach the more technical side that involves maths and more about different materials. It helps if you know where you are headed in teaching - if you put time and energy into it, you’ll get results.
A key interview question for those applying for your type of role?
How would you handle a difficult student disrupting a session of 20 learners?
What spurs you on to work each day?
Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day, the saying goes. There are good and not so good days but I always really enjoy working with my colleagues and students.