Bex comes across as a caring, bubbly and committed person. She always knows how to motivate us, be it through starter activities like quizzes, a recap from the previous session or asking about our day - it makes us feel included. Her every lesson is different from the one before, which helps us learn new things every time and not get bored with sometimes long-winded course content. She gives out just the right amount of work so we don’t crash and burn out - showing she understands that as teenagers we also need plenty of time to resolve personal problems outside college.
She believes in us as a class and that we can do whatever we put our mind to; she’s always challenging us to do our best. She is particularly good at sharing information in different ways, such as including detailed subject-specific paragraphs on each PowerPoint slide which provides a starting point for what we need type up in coursework. In her own time, she’ll post links on our college cloud page to wider reading articles and websites, templates, checklists and other resources. She’s always on time for lessons and handing back coursework, whether online or in person, and replies rapidly to my email queries following remote lessons. In short, Bex is a great perseverer; she doesn’t stop teaching and helping us until we know exactly what we’re doing, and with her I don’t feel embarrassed to ask for extra help on a topic that others have already understood! She’s also non-judgmental and has helped me out with several personal problems. She’s our ‘mentor’, and we can talk to her about anything.
For me, Bex stands out because she can have a joke and a laugh with us but still ensure all the work gets done, that we all get the help we need and we produce the work required. I really enjoy her lessons - she’ll always introduce activities that are both fun and yet still teach us about a topic. She’ll lay out clearly what tasks, assignments and homework we need to complete and this helps us stay on top of our work, remain punctual and get closer towards passing the course.
She’ll frequently arrange one-to-one meetings with me and others to help when we are struggling and ensure we are up to date. She gets us to set and keep referring to our own ‘smart’ targets to help us meet certain goals during the course and, on a more personal front, shows she cares a great deal about our wellbeing and our progress in our education in college as a whole.
Rebecca Tansley had not always planned to teach. What helped sway her decision was, firstly, the practical and broad-ranging psychology and clinical health psychology BSc degree course she took at Bangor University, which included submitting her own research and letting her specialise in bilingualism and cognitive processing. Secondly, it was her interest in psychology and what makes people tick - she spent much of her spare time at Bangor helping other university students as an academic team leader and a student warden.
“I found I really liked supporting people and loved psychology. So rather than pursue a place on a highly competitive postgrad psychology course - the path to becoming a full-time psychologist after several more years of study, I'm among an increasing number of psychology graduates choosing a teaching career.”
Rebecca initially applied for a performance coaching role (one-to-one tutorials) - not teaching - at her old college. “After my interview I was advised to apply for a psychology teaching post coming up, got the job and joined the college in 2014 straight from university.”
She first taught A-level psychology and the psychology part of the Access to HE course (which she had taken herself). “It felt odd at first coming straight back from university to where I’d studied before my degree, as I had been taught by my current colleagues!” She’s now progressed to teaching the more practical syllabus of health and social care (H&SC) as course leader for H&SC and child care (level 1) and H&SC (level 3 extended diploma) but still with elements of psychology and sociology within them.
H&SC is multi-faceted, fast-moving and practical, so what’s it like to teach? “The qualification explores theory as well as practical elements that support students’ progression into caring professions. To assist in the more practical diploma course we often host guest speakers; this month we had a local town council member who led a virtual Dementia Friends awareness workshop.
“As staff, we keep up to date through regular training and online reading - there is also a wealth of textbooks out there, especially on the science of psychology. Attitudes in the sector are constantly evolving in areas like gender equality and sexuality as well as gender identity.”
Rebecca’s relationship with her students is a key part of her success as a teacher. “Even if I have a rubbish day, I know it’s not down to what happens in class. As soon as I’m in the classroom, virtual or real, I feel fantastic and really enjoy what I’m doing.”
She says H&SC is so broad that it gives students key transferable skills, regardless if they drop the subject when they leave college. They can see the value of learning about equality and diversity, infection prevention and control, health and development.
The course gives students a solid overview of the core skills and knowledge needed to enter the sector, including communicating with individuals, ensuring your clients are safe, and understanding client attitudes and behaviours, alongside building up core knowledge.
Rebecca welcomes the college’s focus on student work placements - a dedicated college placement officer works on building links with employers in the H&SC and child care sector. “Students generally do a day-a-week placement for a whole academic year - and there they get to apply what they’ve learnt with us. They also pick up a wide range of skills on placement - in non-Covid times many would go to care homes for the elderly or work in hospitals as part of the Nurse Cadets Scheme - hopefully next year we’ll go back to doing that.”
So what teaching techniques draw the best out of Rebecca’s students? “I believe I’ve found the right balance between having a very professional relationship with students and showing I’m also empathetic and really care. Early on, after taking one or two classes with quite disruptive students, I realised that when they are argumentative, it’s not about you at all; normally something else is going on. I have to remind myself what it was like to be that age - it’s not an excuse but actually other things are often more important to you at that time.”
Particularly under Covid restrictions. Rebecca has focused on making virtual lessons interactive and used technology such as padlets - a sort of online version of sticky notes on a whiteboard. “It’s easy to set up and use by students. Last year the app was really helpful when I was course leader for 45 students. When we first went into lockdown we created a padlet of tips for wellbeing at home and ideas on things you can do.
“Students would post their own photos and activities on the padlets, so different ‘virtual’ classes could see exactly what their peers were doing in lockdown such as ‘I’m going out to exercise’ or ‘I’m putting flowers in my room’ - they’ve all been things you could do at home. It’s helped build up community spirit when there’s been such a need.”
Rebecca has also ‘discovered’ QR codes. “They’ve changed my classroom teaching. It makes negotiating social distancing rules so much easier - the students don’t need to come up to get an iPad but just raise their phone and scan the code from the whiteboard from their seats. The codes literally take you direct to the site you want. I often use them for little games like interactive word searches to make it fun for the students - they love it!”
PowerPoint slides have always played a part in Rebecca’s lessons - she often uses them as teaching reminders. “Every year I’ve followed a set lesson structure and use a template setting out my welcome activity ‘Are you ready to learn?’, followed by the lesson’s content, introduction, learning objectives, learning recap, and lesson plan. I’ve carried on using slides online by sharing my screen so it has kind of stayed the same and kept consistent, especially this year when we have had one half of our students working on campus one week and then remotely every second week.”
“It makes it easier to switch modes from real to virtual learning and back; it’s worked well in my department as we also have childcare lessons on alternate weeks. It’s great to be able to use our actual classrooms with just half the normal number of students in the building.”
“I have level 1s for the last lesson on Fridays so I always try to organise as interactive and creative a task as possible. In one session we used cardboard, paints and tissue paper to create board games and Diwali signs! I particularly enjoy taking level 1s who tell me such random facts and keep me on my toes.”
Rebecca warns against new and would-be H&SC lecturers kidding themselves they’re going to be the students’ friend. “I went through that myself and I’ve seen it happen so often. I started out thinking I was young and cool, I’d be everyone’s friend and in fact you’re not going to be their friend at all. You can have a much better professional relationship when you realise you are there to support them.”
For job applicants, her advice is: “Take a good look round a college, get a feel for its atmosphere; and once you start teaching, don’t hold back on asking for support and posing lots of questions. When I first started, I thought ‘It’s just me on my own’ but then I began asking other teachers and found they had a wealth of knowledge - ‘Have you tried this, have you tried that?’
"You don’t need to keep recreating the wheel. There are lots of resources and lovely things colleagues have already created that they will happily share with you - including supplying contacts for guest speakers.”
The key motivator for Rebecca is “being in class, seeing my students, and being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of college life. Normally when lecturing I don’t have contact with many colleagues but when we do professional development, we’re encouraged to mix with other staff and work together when we train . . . I really like that community feel.”
Interview by Richard Doughty