I never knew what I wanted to do after school – and we had little careers guidance in the ’80s. I tried several jobs and then became ill myself. Ironically, it was the care I received in hospital and in the community afterwards that made me think nursing was where I could make a difference. So I signed up to do an advanced GNVQ in health and social care at West Cumbria College, gave birth to my eldest daughter, then started nurse training in 2001 at what is now the University of Cumbria.
I started lecturing with the mindset that I wanted to give something back. I felt I had reached the pinnacle of my career, I’d got lots of experience in all areas of nursing across the NHS, and needed a change. Latterly, I had also worked in the private sector, first as a police custody nurse and forensic examiner in 2015, and then as an occupational health nurse – this was more of an assessment role requiring a lot of admin and probably helped in my switch to lecturing!
For two days a week I teach year 1 and 2 nurse cadets, aged 16+ and straight from school; they plan to go on to full-time nursing training and have undergone a screening process to get a place on what is basically a level 3 social care course with clinical placements within the NHS.
The course goes back to the basics – it’s not only about caring for hospital patients but why we care, including topics such as equality and diversity, safeguarding, psychology and dementia care, anatomy and physiology, and mental ill-health. We tailor the curricula to suit the needs of what the NHS expects, especially for the cadets.
I also teach a wide range of adult students wanting to build up UCAS points on the way to becoming health and social care practitioners. They follow a full-time, 12-month ‘access to HE’ course combining levels 2 and 3 in health and social care. It’s a professional studies course for mature learners, those with families and others seeking a career change, some of whom see this route as their last main chance of gaining a university degree. It’s very intense and equivalent to 2.5 to 3 A-levels. But we are seeing success – all last year’s students, bar one for health reasons, have gone on to HE and our current cohort have received lots of offers from good universities. In total, I work with over 100 students each week.
I normally start at 7.45am. I first check my emails and answer by return as many as possible, note any meetings coming up and catch up with colleagues. Generally, my schemes of learning are already in place so I will have done most of my lesson planning already. Most days comprise four 90-minute teaching sessions (two in the morning and two after lunch), though as course leader I also get planning and admin time and am free to give one-to-one support, pastoral or academic, when needed. I generally leave work between 4.30pm and 5.30pm but stay on one night a week for three hours to do a part-time PGCE course that I personally want to do (it’s also a contractual obligation).
Nurse cadets have clinical placement opportunities at the local hospital, whereas our level 3 health and social care students do non-clinical social care and community-based placements. Students may not like all their placements but I tell them they’ll always get something out of merely watching someone communicate or seeing a doctor speak to a patient. We don’t expect students to love everything but always to try seeing the positive in all they do.
They like real-life stories, experiences, and knowing I’m not just a teacher but I’ve been there on the journey they are taking – I’ve got hundreds of stories (no names mentioned) describing different situations. Learners really like knowing what goes on in the real world. I’m the anatomy and physiology teacher as well so we do an 18-month unit in those subjects ready for an exam.
Watching people progress. We have had some learners at the start who are just not motivated and only in college because they have to be – and yet I constantly see them go on to excel. They are all at university now and one’s nearly graduated as a social worker. It's just seeing that progression and how the staff interrelate with the students and get them to be where they need to be.
I have been introducing more digital technology programs into my anatomy and physiology sessions, and undertaking some action research for my PGCE in one of my level 3 health and social care groups on how digital activity can help recall in revision. Some unbelievably positive data from questionnaires I’ve handed round shows that students getting 25% correct answers before are now scoring 85-90% – often within 5-6 weeks! I also got emails from several former learners thanking me for giving them the support and confidence to apply for university that led to them being offered places last week.
The success of all my students, of course. But on a personal level, I was never confident. If I’d been told at 16 I’d be a teacher at 44, I’d have laughed. But I absolutely love teaching; I feel alive when I get into class.
Patience and dedication, otherwise you’ll want to switch off and go. Plus motivation, with a strong sense of nurturing – you need to be aware that some learners’ backgrounds are very difficult so it’s about offering a holistic package of teaching and care.
A PGCE or any other teaching qualification is very useful before you start lecturing, although like me you can study for it on the job (in your own time). You need sound knowledge of your subject and several years’ nursing experience – if you can teach, you can teach anything! You also need confidence that what you are teaching is reliable, well-sourced and evidence-based – and it is making a difference to your learners.
Just making a difference – I adore teaching and love being here.