Diana Rowe (front left) with students from Bath and Lyon, France.
Why and how did you become a lecturer in complementary therapies?
Like many of my peers, I fell into FE teaching. I took a year out post A-levels working for the Body Shop and then stayed on for another 14 years, foregoing my place on a teacher training course at Leeds polytechnic. When I left, I was the staff trainer responsible for south-west England. We worked closely with our hands-on CEO, Anita Roddick, learning everything about the shops and where all the products came from. I was put on a couple of training courses, and that got me hooked on complementary therapies (aromatherapy and massage) - areas in which I had had no interest beforehand.
I was lucky to be trained by people like Mark Constantine, founder of cosmetics retail chain Lush, and in 1996 I went to City of Bath College to do its complementary therapy course part-time - similar to the course I teach now. I wanted to find out more than standard Body Shop training allowed in part to answer clients’ questions. I loved the course and a year later the college asked me to take over the aromatherapy module part-time. So I got into teaching that way and then took a PETLS teacher training course at the college to teach post-16 students and then two years’ part-time on a certificate of education course.
How was the transition from industry to college?
Fairly seamless. I worked with all sorts of clients and gave many talks; it helped me become confident at talking to large groups - when I started teaching I knew a bit about crowd control, getting my message across and keeping people interested. Fitting into the college system was a bit harder, getting used to verification, and ensuring I was following all the rules and getting into the exam system.
What’s your main role?
As course leader on VTCT (Vocational Training Charitable Trust) level 3 diplomas in complementary therapy and in spa therapies, I develop our programme, ensuring it’s current and meets the industry’s needs. I build links with local spas to ensure we turn out employable students, encourage spa owners to come in to talk to the students and arrange for students to visit the spas. In an average pre-Covid year, we’d visit up to 12 spas each year to see them at work, how they differ and what the industry is asking for. We get lots of company feedback on what we’re teaching and what they’d like us to teach. We also encourage them to use the college as a hub for business training and direct recruitment.
The course covers 15 therapies in a syllabus that includes body massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, anatomy and physiology, business skills, and principles and practice (ethics). We also look at employability skills, interviews/CVs, client care, and health and safety (theoretical as only provided online).
Before Covid we had international students and, particularly now, we have attracted a wider age group from 16-65 years, with many mature learners changing careers because of the pandemic. I have 16 students in my current first-year cohort although I also teach more general units like anatomy and physiology that are part of several course programmes.
What’s the FE element you like most about the job?
Meeting people and extending my skills, a process that doesn’t stop. I love the way nothing ever grows old in FE and I have to keep reinventing myself, adapting to current industrial and educational challenges. This pushes me out of my comfort zone to gain more skills.
What’s a typical day?
Getting on the computer, setting up a lesson, beginning a call, delivering an hour-long lesson within a three-hour session during which students are set and generally expected to finish tasks. I then go round checking in online with each student, answering queries, ensuring they submit their task work by session end, chasing those lagging behind, marking work, meeting with colleagues online to discuss exams and assessments, and contacting spas again to organise visits. I’m on the computer from 8.30am daily till evening. Working online is more intensive as lessons need to be more dense with information. Today I’m giving three lessons and have admin time, plus a meeting this afternoon. We’re given a few hours off each week to refresh ourselves in some way because we are full on at our screens all day and sometimes weekends.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
Engaging students in online teaching and keeping their energy going. Covid has had a negative affect mentally; after Christmas it was hard to get students to focus again and listen to what I was saying. I had to ensure they had not switched off their computer! It’s almost felt like dancing and singing every day in our efforts to rekindle students’ excitement and interest; Covid has forced them to miss out on real, hands-on practical work.
It’s also taken time to understand the Teams videoconferencing platform and how all the apps work. The question for us was how to deliver a quality course that many students had paid full fees for. I don’t think things will ever be the same - in a good way. There’s no reason for learners to be in class for theory-only sessions as you can explore more in-depth online as no one can be distracted by others and they tend to do more productive work.
How have you handled Covid?
We’re working with touch therapies, and so Covid has changed our practices forever. We have had to build in extra time for cleaning down and ensuring we are wearing enough PPE and that everyone is safe. It’s always a challenge teaching new students about touch in a therapeutically controlled way, particularly when they are not used to it. Quite often we attract people who are out of touch with themselves. They want to do good but don’t know how to do it. In the first couple of weeks people are very nervous about their bodies being seen, so we have to gently guide them through privacy rules, ensuring they feel safe, that they are not exposed and that they feel respect for each other. Then we can start on the actual techniques and see them blossom.
Any specific tasks you’ve undertaken recently?
Pre-covid, we had a inspiring tour of The Pig near Bath, a shabby-chic, people-centred boutique hotel offering a unique style of complementary therapies, which was great for the students to see. During lockdown I’ve been developing my IT skills further, regarding break-out rooms on Teams, use of quizlets and finding new ways of checking students’ learning.
What do students like studying most?
Theory! They want in-depth knowledge scientifically backed up to show why, say, certain mixtures work and others don’t. I tell them if they want to go for a merit or distinction, they’ll need to look at this source, URL, etc.
What do you like teaching most and why?
Massage and aromatherapy as I can see the results and progression quickly, eg. students designing and making their own new face cream.
Anything you are particularly proud of?
Former students who have been working for years in the industry and now manage or run their own businesses. We had one quite ‘naughty’ student who is now assistant manager for Center Parks and training staff around the country. We ran a highly successful ‘pop-up’ treatment centre at a glamping site overlooking the last Glastonbury festival, and for two or three consecutive years we have organised students via the Erasmus student exchange scheme to work for a month in different spas on Crete.
What personal qualities/skills do you need for the job?
Good inter-personal skills with a deep interest in people - if you don’t initially warm to a student, find a quality they have that you can relate to; staying calm; and being passionate about your subject otherwise - you’ve got to love it and breathe life into less interesting areas.
Newcomers should have worked in industry for several years, so they are not just teaching theory but engaging students with their stories of how they worked in practice. Experience of training others helps and colleges will normally sponsor new recruits to do a part-time teacher training course once they start teaching.
Any teaching tips for would-be lecturers?
On a ‘bad’ Monday morning I’ll often put on 10 minutes of meditation tracks from the Calm app to help students unwind or I get them to go out for a walk!
What key question would you ask interviewees for a job like yours?
Why do you want to do this? They have to have a passion to teach a subject that’s both challenging and rewarding.
What spurs you on to work each day?
My students - if I’m ever ill, I hate having to let them down, knowing they are waiting for me on a Monday morning.