(This article focuses on armed services personnel making the transition to teaching in FE supported by the Education and Training Foundation’s Further Forces career programme based at the University of Portsmouth)
I was born and grew up in Kenya before I joined the Royal Signals regiment aged 22. I was encouraged by a Kenyan friend already in the British army. I served for 15 years, during which I worked in communications and started training soldiers in physical fitness and found I related really well to others. That helped me decide to eventually teach a subject full-time in college that I knew very well - public services.
During the army’s resettlement programme preparing me for post-service life, a poster promoting FF’s PGCE teacher training scheme for ex-services personnel inspired me to ring up about the courses on offer. I successfully applied for a place on the back of a part-time sports science degree at Manchester Met University in 2015 that I gained while in service. I also gained qualifications in physical education, physical science, leadership and a level 2 in sports coaching. I was looking for a new challenge and left the army full-time in 2019 to join the reservists and also started my part-time PGCE. During the course I taught part-time for 18 months and am now two months into a full-time teaching practice at West Nottinghamshire College public services department - the same setting as Wayne Hall (see Day in the life, November 15). I spend around 15-20 hours studying each week and aim to graduate next July.
FF is constantly connecting us with jobs they hear about through their many student contacts across the UK. Sometimes colleges (as in my case) say they have a post coming up and does FF have any suitable students for a placement and/or full-time job? FF is very handy when you get stuck. It has a really fabulous website carrying a vast range of teaching materials to support us in class and studies, besides linking us up with mentors both in and outside our placement colleges; they are always there to help with assignments and other issues.
I meet my FF tutor each week online to discuss any issues and challenges I face; I also work with a mentor at the college. My tutor has supported me on issues like relating my army experience to my students, handling student behaviours and sorting out time management. He’s shown me how to structure lessons better, use different teaching methods and take students to new locations for lessons, sometimes outside.
Online teaching also brings its challenges. Some students are not very confident learning online - they don’t want to turn on their videos or cameras so it’s difficult to build up rapport. Of course, teaching physical fitness online to a group of 50 students has its limits although my tutor has encouraged me to use video when teaching physical fitness. We’ve also set up the exercise app, Strava, which all students can join and use to record their own exercises and physical fitness levels - you can see on the app when they’ve completed certain tasks.
It’s teaching a range of subjects full-time from discipline through to physical fitness. I work with students across level 1 (most have left school with just a couple of GCSEs) through to level 3 (extended diploma) in pubic services. I actually teach for about 22 hours a week. Most students will eventually join either the police, fire, paramedic, prison or armed services. My main focus on teaching physical fitness to help prepare students for public service and cover leadership skills, discipline, serving their community, cultural awareness and citizenship. I don’t have a specific title as we are teaching so much - there are 40 units you can teach. This term I’ve been specialising in physical fitness and discipline but next year I could be teaching something completely different - my speciality happens to be physical training.
I’m in college by 8am to do final class preparation and check emails before starting teaching at 9am. I have 15-minute breaks between lessons, a lunch break and leave around 5pm. Some days I get several hours to organise my lessons - today, for instance, I have three sessions set aside for lesson preparation before I have a class. At the start of this academic year, we let the students settle down and understand how the college and curriculum worked, but this is now being followed up with map-reading and kayaking expeditions and other physical activities. We’ve also been inviting in speakers to address the students, including a police commissioner, a prison governor and two police representatives demonstrating the IT kit used by police. I work with around 80 students a week.
It’s how you keep discipline. In the army you have ways to deal with it but in class you have to be really inventive. It’s challenging with such a wide range of students and behaviours; one style does not fit all and that’s been the challenge. My FF tutor suggested I change the way I teach a session by, say, taking them outside and letting them do most of the work - rather than myself! Or change the group activities and keep switching students around from group to group so they don’t get too used to each other and become complacent.
While in the armed services, they definitely need to get some teaching under their belt and thoroughly research the subject they want to teach before applying to FF.
Remaining on top of my PGCE course. There’s a lot to do - so you have to be focused and manage your time well.
An ability to use drills to instil work discipline in our students - you can see the difference in people from FF in what we value - discipline and professionalism.
FF applicants need patience; leadership (you’re in the class most of the time); and an ability to communicate (a key requirement in the armed forces).
A degree (ideally in your chosen subject) plus previous teaching/training experience.
Social distancing has cut down contact with students so you have to adapt. The best thing is send them out to do their walks and put it on Teams or Strava - the challenge is to differentiate. Some people may not be able to do a run but would, say, be happy to do circuits. Everyone has got the Strava app, which can encourage friendly competition and maintain morale - you can see what each individual has done if they have completed a walk or a circuit, though direct comparison between those using Strava for circuits is not as easy as those doing running/walking.
Have you got teaching experience? It’s really, really important. The part-time course can last more than two years if your services job does not allow you to get in the teaching hours needed for a PGCE and you then have to make up the hours later before qualifying.
It’s passing on my experience and knowledge from the army to young people who I then see get inspired to join the forces themselves.