Shaun Simms switched jobs mid-career by leaving IT to follow his childhood passion for plumbing. While studying himself, he successfully tutored a friend through a level 1 plumbing course at Central College, Nottingham, and was invited to teach there part-time. Since 2013 he’s worked full-time at Nottingham College.
I left school at 16 after gaining CSEs and for 20 years worked my way up to field engineer at Dixons Group, the UK’s then largest computer retailer. Voluntary redundancy gave me a chance to gain my level 3 NVQs in plumbing (three years) and then gas (two years) and achieve accredited plumber status. I set up a plumbing business in 2009 but then got fed up with regularly paying for electricians to complete plumbing jobs, so I returned to Central to do a part-time level 3 NVQ electrics course - I’m now a qualified contract electrician. Part-time teaching at Central suited me so well that I successfully applied for a full-time teaching job at nearby Nottingham College, gained teacher qualifications and now teach level 1 and 2 NVQ plumbing.
Teaching the one-year level 1 NVQ plumbing course. Students start at 16 and leave around 19 after passing level 3 - they take one year for each level. Plumbing is quite complex and you have to start with the basics. My job includes introducing the students to the college and showing them how to do everything from soldering and bending pipes to working with plastics - plus all the theory. The Nottingham qualification is one of the most in-depth level 1 courses around with 21 practical tests and 10 exams. In all the construction trades, the qualifying process in plumbing is definitely the most challenging. I also teach plumbing at level 2 including level 2 apprentices, and level 1 electrics. I monitor all the provision for 100 level 1 plumbing students, although I personally teach about 40 each week.
Helping learners progress in their chosen field, seeing them develop and go out into the workforce, and giving them the chance of a career future. It’s enabled me to do what I’ve always wanted to do - help people.
I start at 7.30am, look through group profiles, work on plans for the day and get worksheets ready. I meet with other staff at 8.15am for an update and discuss what happened the day before, then take that down to class for a 9am start. Mornings comprise two 90-minute practical skill sessions. I tend to stay in class during breaks for any questions and feedback - students often prefer asking questions one-to-one. In the afternoon I cover theory in subjects such as hot and cold water or central heating and go through the exam stages. Every three weeks we have an exam and all marks count towards qualifications at each level. If learners don’t pass, they retake the following week. There’s very little fallout.
Marking work, looking forward to doing the year’s final couple of exams, preparing students for revision, helping them complete any unfinished workshop projects. Most learners will normally have finished their exams by the end of May. We then work towards a formal end-of-year test and I prepare them for level 2 in September.
Really understand and build rapport with your learners as individuals - empathise with them on any problems at home or transport issues. Get inside their mindset and influence their attitude to learning - that way they’ll interact better with you, feel accepted and get better results. And do ask for help from your more experienced peers.
Scientific principles behind things like steam, water pressure and the weight of water gravity.
Cold water! It’s about where all the pipes go in a house, how the cold water system works and so on. Straight after they do this particular module, they’ll be investigating their kitchens and lofts! It all helps build confidence.
Would I be able to keep teaching for a nerve-wracking 90-minute session in front of 27 students I didn’t know? The first year was difficult, but the second year was much easier as I was repeating what I’d already done. I had built up my resources and techniques and was better prepared. I tried different approaches by playing videos in class, setting up debates and organising 4-5 different activities per table. I also started introducing practical elements into theory sessions.
Stay open-minded, work hard and be dedicated. Focus on getting to know your learners as this will make life much easier and you’ll learn how to work with each individual student. Prioritise your lesson plans which play an important part in how you teach each day. They let you reflect on what went wrong or right during the day. If student attention wanders, I try to get them to refocus by firing direct, often easy questions at them to keep them interested. I also draw up a student seating plan!
Seeing all my students in one particular year pass their level 2 exams first time and gaining an 'outstanding role model' award while doing teacher training at Derby College.
Show a great understanding of your field; be willing to change; be really motivated to motivate your students; and be able to manage a class. Be passionate about your subject, your position as a lecturer, and your students - otherwise they will pick up on that.
At least level 2 in English and maths and a level 3 NVQ in plumbing to get you a first FE teaching job. All plumbing lecturers must also gain teaching and assessor qualifications (I have a level 5 Certificate of Education, sponsored by my college and gained while teaching); City and Guilds require you to be an assessor to teach various levels.
How would you motivate learners who are not engaging and give an example of where you have done this? Their answer will help you gauge how passionate they are about teaching.
Knowing that I am helping learners go out and get a job or start their own business - when I hear from former students about what they are doing now, it really makes me enjoy my work.