How did you get into painting and decorating?
My dad used to buy houses, do them up and sell them on. I started painting for him when I was 15 and really enjoyed it - I loved being hands-on. I’ve since found out I am a kinaesthetic learner! I left school at 16 to do A-levels (art, sociology and English) at Havant College but halfway through I opted to become a painter and decorator and completed my English A-level via an evening course. I then attended Highbury College to do an NVQ in painting and decorating as part of an apprenticeship.
I spent the next 10 years as a self-employed decorator, but when I had my second daughter I decided to stop freelancing. I got a job as bathroom design manager for a new specialist showroom for two years, using computer-aided design software, but commuting took its toll so I applied successfully for a teaching role back at Highbury College.
I also fitted in an access course in art and design at Portsmouth University and then a year of interior design but did not complete it with a two-year-old in tow. At the moment I’m halfway through my first year of a part-time teacher training course sponsored by my college.
What was the move like from industry to teaching?
I was quite shocked by the lives of the students; quite a few are vulnerable with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) and several have autism that was not picked up at school. I teach a lot of theory as well as practical in class - I have 10 in a class though I had 20 last year - and you’ll often find three or four students need one-to-one support; they might have dyslexia or they don’t process things easily and so need everything fully explained.
Trying to teach a group of people at the right pace and appeal to all types of learners in a classroom can be quite challenging. I use Nearpod - an interactive presentation app that the students can use to play educational games on their phones like matching pairs and filling in the blanks; it keeps them interested. My job really combines painting and decorating, special needs and design. I teach students about colour schemes, all the complementary colours - basically what an interior designer does anyway. So students will know what works and doesn’t work before they start painting.
What’s your main role?
I give demonstrations and theory-based presentations in a workshop where most practical learning happens. Then I have sessions with my students in class where they’ll take notes on the technical side, preparation work, health and safety, construction, and overall scale drawing. This year I’m teaching around 50 students - mainly from levels 1, 2 and 3 but also including 13 apprentices (last year it was four). 10 students are female.
How has Covid-19 affected your teaching?
Many people may be turning to trades now because of the pandemic. Apprentices attend college in block release weeks, during which all the other 40+ students have to work online at home; this sort of timetabling increases our workload as each home-based learner is turning out up to 8-10 sheets of theory-based work on which we have to give feedback - and that’s on top of our face-to-face teaching.
What’s a typical day?
I get into college at 8.30am and at 9am start with a 90-minute theory lesson in class with one group, take a break and then follow up with a similar session with a second group up to lunchtime. A workshop session follows in the afternoon, where I’ll talk to each student, each of whom is on a different task as they all progress at different rates with different questions. Someone could be wallpapering, another could be ‘prepping’ their bay (area to decorate) . . . I make sure they know their task, how they need to approach it, which tools and materials they need, etc. Some with learning disabilities need a list written down or I stand next to them and tell them one thing at a time.
Level 1s (20 students) are on the bottom floor, level 2s (12) at the top and level 3s (7) in separate sections where they have their own bigger bays, or with a hall, stairs and landing or window setting. The apprentices also have their own section for decorating. In workshop sessions that can last half or a full day, a senior workshop instructor assessor and I take half the class (currently around 10 students each) and work together.
Some level 1 students also have to study for maths and English GCSE resits which can take a day out of their two days a week in college (which means they get behind in their chosen subjects). But they have to do a lot of maths in decorating, measuring wallpapers, areas and perimeters, etc, doing scaled drawings and producing quotes for jobs. Some students resitting English don’t pass their health and safety or principles of construction tests first time because they need to improve their English - they don’t understand some of the words used in the test questions, even though they know the answers.
Any specific tasks students have done recently?
We painted the workshop floor and practised producing paint effects such as marbling and wood graining. We had students hanging wallpaper, rubbing down doors and burning off paint from wood with heat guns - lots of different tasks at all levels.
What do students like studying most?
Something different like paint effects, especially if they are good at it - it’s not something everyone can do. You have to be pretty artistic. I’ve devised a health and safety bingo game they enjoy playing. We also hold competitions, split students into groups and give them three big areas to decorate and do all the processes within four hours; they have to work as a team. I notIce if anyone steps up as manager and what skills they show. They enjoy it as it’s a bit more like the real world.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
In my first two months of teaching certain students gave me a hard time; they had had a series of lecturers who had then left and given them no routine. It was teenagers acting up and I’d not dealt with that before. You have to be really careful how you talk to them as many are really vulnerable. But in a few weeks I’d learnt how to gain their trust and they turned out to be my best students! I had to level with them and say I am here to do a job, I am human too, and that they can’t talk to me like that. I spent time with them out of class and also called them ‘mate’, which they liked; it’s something probably only acceptable at college in the painting and decorating trade. I showed I really did care about them, I was on their level and I wasn’t ‘out to get them’. Fortunately we have a few mature students to help set the standard of respect, including two women in their 40s and 50s and two men in their 30s.
Any achievement you are proud of?
I put my students in very early for their health and safety test and 90% passed! It was an almost unheard of result. Last year I used PowerPoint but this year I used the interactive lessons from Nearpod. Games have really worked; I put the students into two teams, asked a question linked to the course, and then whichever team thought they knew the answer would have to ‘bark’ or ‘moo’ first before giving the right answer! It can get really competitive and makes it different to their school days. That’s really important.
Personal qualities/skills needed for the job?
You have to be personable, empathetic, emotionally strong, and a lateral thinker in how you get your students onside.
Basic maths and English and a lot of industry experience, plus ideally a painting and decorating NVQ. Your college will probably sponsor you to do a teaching qualification in your own time during your first years in teaching.
Any teaching tips for those considering a lecturing job?
I tell my students stories about my decorating experIences, what I came across, clients I’ve worked with, health and safety issues I’ve faced. It makes my job more believable when I tell them about tying ladders securely to the roof and the time I didn’t do that and my ladder slipped!
What’s the key interview question you’d ask someone applying for a job like yours?
What are your views on disabilities and EHCPs?
What spurs you on to work each day?
My students; it’s great when someone tells you they’ve really enjoyed your session!