Bethan Coley, 27, in her final (top-up) year of a BA Hons in Integrated Services for Children and Young People
Sue’s knowledge is amazing, particularly on social policies - mention any subject and she’ll reel off all the relevant information. She makes our class sessions fun and stimulating and encourages open class discussion, only occasionally interjecting with relevant knowledge/explanation. She treats us all as adults on the same level by constantly adapting the subject to our age group - we’re all over 21. She's also incredibly flexible, arranging evening one-to-one online sessions in her own time to accommodate the fact I have a young daughter and study from home. She’ll bend over backwards to help you with any problem and is brilliant at explaining a concept simply so you can go on to understand it in more detail. Even on subjects she doesn’t teach me, she’ll always explain things if I ask - at lunchtimes, I’ve often knocked on her door and she’s put down her sandwich to help me out!
Adam Baines, 18, in his final year of a level 3 BTec in Health and Social Care
There’s huge variety in Sue’s sessions. She’s always introducing topical events like coronavirus into her teaching to make it more relevant. She’s also very informative in feedback when going through my assignments in one-to-one sessions, which can sometimes be quite critical but I know that’s to help us improve. Sue tells those of us aiming for higher education what universities expect from applications and which institutions might be worth considering. And she’s always introducing activities on top of course content. One assignment was to produce our own public health campaign and she organised us to have a stall in the college refectory for which we had to make posters, present a table and interact with other students. Overall, she’s very understanding of our individual needs.
How does a business career including reflexology, bank managing and book-selling lead to an FE post teaching a specialism that’s so crucial in the fight against Covid-19?
Sue Adcock had always wanted to teach. Despite not doing brilliantly at school, she joined the civil service at 17. She then went into banking and mortgage consultancy before having a break to raise a family, take a level 3 BTec in anatomy and physiology, qualify as a masseur and reflexologist, sell books to schools and then become a bank manager! After a break through illness, she took her first key steps towards teaching.
An opportunity came up at her local and current college, North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire (NWSLC), and the University of Warwick, to do a four-year social studies degree. She got entranced by the heady world of sociology and health and social policy, and after graduating landed a lecturing post in health and social care at NWSLC.
Now two years after qualifying as a teacher, she covers sociology, psychology, legislation, health and social care policy across the board not only for level 3 BTec students (16-19s) but also on degree programmes focused on social policy and level 3 access courses to HE .
Make students responsible for their own learning
“My job is about giving returning learners the opportunity of a second chance,” she says. “It’s showing BTec students a different way of learning and progressing, compared to the straitjacket of traditional school; I show students how much they can find out for themselves, introducing them to researching a subject and exploring learning more deeply.
“Teaching is taking time with students perhaps when they’ve had a bad result and feel they can’t carry on. I’ll ask them to say what future they really want help them reengage with their learning and meet their ambitions.”
FE teaching is also about treating all students as adults, whatever their age. “BTec students often ask if I teach HE students differently. I reply ‘No, because you all need to take responsibility for your own learning; I’ll treat you like an adult because you are becoming an adult’. They really appreciate that and are then much more likely to come to you for support.
“In fact, during lockdown life has seemed to be one constant flow of emails from students still trying to engage. Building trust between yourself and students is a large part of teaching.”
Paint ‘pictures’ for students to build a story round
With adult and returning learners, the key is appreciating their previous experience in the workplace and industry. With younger students - many of them carers or working because they have to - Sue respects their sheer tenacity to actually want to continue their education.
“Planning activities to make lessons as interesting and engaging as possible is key, particularly when I’m covering social care legislation which can be challenging! It’s about providing ‘pictures’ for students to build a story round. For example, in a pubic health topic, we talked about John Snow’s discovery of the source of an 1850s cholera outbreak in London. He linked it to a particular well and proved it was a water-born disease before microscopes were good enough to detect bacteria . Actually getting a student reaction of ‘Urgghhh, that’s horrible!’ to some lurid descriptions of bacteria made it something they remembered.”
Sue always strives to bring subjects to life and is amazed that the true story she once told of a relative’s gruesome needle stick injury, requiring hepatitis injections, is still being quoted by her students as a real life example in work they submit.
Liven up sessions with topical news issues
If some political or other key event happens over the weekend or during the day, Sue will add that into the learning mix and link it to sociology and social psychology, again to help people remember. This newsy approach works particularly well with older students.
Regularly thinking outside the box is another ploy, she says. “One day my HE access students were struggling with critical analysis, so we just started talking about any subject. We wrote them up on the board and then critically analysed them so that by the end of the day the students really understood the concept of critical analysis using current events and issues. One student would mention hospital car parks, another childcare, and so on. They then critically analysed these issues, researching them on the net, with me urging them to keep asking why it should it be like that. Why couldn’t it be different?” It was about building a framework of question and analysis.
When nothing seems to hold younger students’ interest, Sue often simply asks what’s been going on in their lives. What have they done over the weekend? “You can normally link almost anything to the subject you’re going to talk about when teaching health and social care,” she says. “If the subject is something to do with them, they’ll pick it up and immediately be more interested and engaged. They may, say, have had a problem with a driving test. I just acknowledge their feelings, we have a 10-minute discussion and then move on.”
‘Be prepared for that overwhelming feeling of pride’
Being resilient is key for anyone moving into FE from industry, she says. “We all have bad days - sometimes students can be overly assertive; they just don’t want to sit in class and have you tell them their work is due in. But handle it calmly and give them space and time, and they’ll practically all come back and apologise. It’s not you they are having a go at but the system or their boyfriend, parent, sibling, whoever has wound them up. You have to allow students to be people and be resilient yourself.”
Being ready for long working hours, particularly when starting teaching, is another prerequisite, says Sue. “Plus being prepared for that overwhelming feeling of pride and joy when a student achieves, turns round and says thank you. One of my HE students said she’d never got higher marks from anyone before, so thank you so much - and no, I’m not an easy marker either! The student said our planning session had made the difference.”
All teachers are optimists, you have to be, Sue concludes. “There’s never a dull moment - and next year will always be better.”
Has this article inspired you to explore a career in education? Especially in the sciences department? If so, this is a great place to start as we have a range of Science Jobs in Education for you to look through and apply for!