I left school at 16 and worked with horses for two years before joining a catering company for a further nine years (I was an area manager and trainer by age 21). Their in-house training was phenomenal and they sponsored me on a day-release, two-year HNC business and finance course. Then I set up a ladies fashion boutique with my mother and while running that took a fast-track, two-year BEd university course in business and IT. A two-year IT marketing consultancy role followed where I trained many sales staff based in companies such as PC World (now Currys) in how to, say, use Kodak cameras and Intel products so they could then sell them! I then sold gas and electricity for an energy company for two years and eventually took up supply teaching for a year. I got my full-time lecturing job in 2002 and have been at Stoke-on-Trent College ever since!
All my supply teaching was in school sixth forms. I liked the greater autonomy enjoyed by FE students compared to schools (I did not want to spend loads of time chasing up students on matters of school etiquette or uniform; I just wanted to teach my subject!)
Three years after starting college I became a course team leader. In 2005 I'd qualified as an advanced skills lecturer (my official title in college). The promotion brought a substantial pay rise and my college sponsored me to gain a three-year part-time masters. I’ve not really moved away from my subject lead role as the job is constantly evolving and I want to stay in the classroom with the students. I also do a lot of work for the Pearson exam board; in the past, I’ve been a standards verifier and examiner for the board. Last September I took on the additional, substantial college role of BTec coordinator, although most of it so far has been about helping people out by answering questions, ensuring the process is correct, and training teams.
A classroom lecturer, teaching business studies at level 1 (BTEC), level 2 (NCFE qualification) and level 3. The college requires me to teach subjects in as practical a manner as possible. My subjects include event management, customer service, working with teams, branding units and brands. I currently share my other role of senior subject lead; it’s about ensuring all our students are registered for exams and that disciplinary paperwork is up-to-date. We don’t manage staff as such but run team meetings etc .
I get to work at around 8.30am. I start lessons at 9.00am most days and finish teaching at 4.15pm. Tuesdays are busiest - I take one group for two hours and another for four, plus personal tutorials. On Wednesdays, I take the same group from 9 till 3 with a break for lunch, and then for another two hours in the week. I take another group for four hours on Thursdays. Lessons last a minimum of two hours without a break and a maximum of four hours with.
We’ve just finished a three-day business event - a small Christmas fair. Level 3 learners had to organise the event that took place inside college. The students set up craft stalls selling items they had made themselves to their peers and staff, while hospitality students provided food that was served by smartly-dressed level 2 customer service students who took over the college’s training restaurant. Level 1 students were involved in a separate project, where they presented their ideas for a company logo. They had to justify why they had chosen certain colours and what audience they were targeting. They had to choose one out of four companies (eg a toy shop).
Practical modules - they like not having to write. Business students tend to write many reports - but, for example, over the past few years level 2 learners practising customer service have enthusiastically followed instructions that they dress smartly or wear a Christmas jumper and jeans. The lads, in particular, have turned up suited while the girls have worn dresses. These are students who nearly always turn up in tracksuit trousers so it was nice to see them get keen and take the project seriously.
I too like our practical sessions - covid has changed things a bit as we used to do three-day residentials with the learners. I’d organise and run them. They are hard work but I love the students’ enthusiasm when they take part. Before covid, we used to go to a converted barn where there was no wif-fi, internet or phone access. The main activities were all around team-building - the qualification requires every student to be a team lead - so we did a lot of team-building and outdoor problem-solving activities like designing a tennis racquet and creating a sales pitch, filming a video, and then spending an evening watching and critiquing everyone else’s videos. We’d change the teams around and ask everyone to write up their reflections for half an hour after they’d finished each activity.
Teaching during lockdowns and engaging learners online. The first lockdown was very different to the second. No one was ready for the first in 2020 - our course delivery came across as very remote to learners and was carried out via email and Canvas (our virtual learning environment). But during the second lockdown in 2021, we ran all lessons online. I was sometimes online for four hours at a time, just being there for them - it was quite challenging. Some learners wanted to take part but lacked facilities to do this so my college provided dozens of laptops and access to learners who had no wifi at home. Sometimes we’d contact individuals and if necessary teach them over the phone. We’d also record lessons if they couldn’t attend,
Seeing all my level 2 learners from last academic year complete their courses as if lockdown had never happened. We really engaged with them, swapping everything over to online learning, doing the less practical stuff during lockdown (January to March) and then going through all the practical modules from March onwards.
You need patience, a sense of humour and bags of stamina (particularly in lockdown) when working with 20 teenagers all day. You also have to be flexible, go with the flow and really enjoy working with young people from so many different backgrounds. You need to keep up to date with news, try getting your students engaged in current affairs, and be able to teach as practically as possible.
An industrial background with considerable business experience plus gaining a part-time BEd qualifies applicants to lecture in business studies in college. Candidates can also apply for business studies lecturing jobs direct from studying the subject at university as long as they also have a teaching qualification or are ready to do one when they start teaching at college.
Why do you want to teach teenagers?
I enjoy working at college alongside my team - we’re all there because we want to be and we all want to get the best possible outcome for our students. Because I’m well organised I enjoy a fair work-life balance, getting home most evenings at a reasonable time!