Matthew McCormick – A Career Changers Journey into Teaching
Secondary – Social Sciences.
Something I recall from the first year of my PhD (Sociology) over ten years ago was that we were expected to lead our own seminar groups for undergraduates. There were about fifteen undergrads in my group. This included marking an essay they were required to submit: giving a grade and a few comments. My peers diligently and, quite rightly, awarded a mark and a few encouraging comments. My own thoughts were that this was an opportunity to give extensive feedback and guidance to young adults learning about the requirements and style of academic writing. I set about dissecting each essay with ways in which they could improve each phase of their writing. I put a number next to the sentence or word in the essay and then on a separate piece of paper I typed up my thoughts for them. I returned each essay to them with pages of notes that they could use and look back on for the next three years of their course. To this day I have no idea if it helped them or not in the long-term. I did not see the students in the following years. The office staff said they had never seen a doctoral candidate go to such lengths before and that it had been appreciated. Although time consuming, to me it was the most natural thing to do. I wanted to help as best I could, rather than go through the (perfectly acceptable) motions.
Many years later, having gone on to pursue other passions, I took a Support, Teaching and Learning course and I was employed as a Teaching Assistant by the school I had volunteered with as a requirement of that course. I was aware that my prospects lay in and around the teaching profession but at that stage I was not entirely sure which route I would take. My TA role was at a big and challenging secondary school. The Inclusion department was quite large, and the staff were excellent. Nonetheless it was a sharp learning curve to suddenly have responsibility for the learning and behaviour of a diverse range of pupils across all ages and subjects, many of whom had particular needs. It was probably the best experience I could have asked for. As a TA I could now observe a plethora of teaching styles and approaches to behaviour management and face the general day to day challenge of establishing boundaries with pupils around the school, not just in lessons. As a TA it was sometimes hard to command the full respect of pupils who know you are not the ultimate decision maker. Now, in a teaching capacity, this underscores the responsibility I have with regard to building relationships with pupils that embed notions of respect and cooperation with all staff at all times.
As a TA I was situated with my SEN pupils and they were my primary focus. I tried to imagine what I would do if I was the teacher when difficult situations arose, and it can be easy to spot ‘errors’ when it is not you that is ultimately responsible for delivering the lesson. I came up with my own ‘solutions’ whilst noting the particular strengths of each teacher. I was effectively beginning my observation notes, one of the first things you do at your school as an associate teacher in the Nexus training programme.
From the very outset, my department at the Blue Coat School have made me nothing but welcome and a part of their team – more so than I expected given how busy they are at the start of term. The first day was about helping the department get ready for the influx of over 1700 pupils. On my second day I got underway with my observation timetable and was attached to a form class to shadow. At the end of my second day I went to Oldham Hospital where my wife gave birth to our second son shortly after midnight (twelve days later than planned)! My subject mentor urged me to take the time I was entitled to which was nice to hear.
As I type, I have in my own mind – and I had this from prior to starting at the school – a desire and a sense of purpose to demonstrate a professional willingness to do everything I can in my role. Not just to be led and guided but to lead for myself and guide others. One of the defining differences so far from being a TA is that I am involved with lessons around which I have some knowledge or expertise. I can think about how I would deliver key points and ideas and why I would do so in a particular way, how I would talk about key authors and concepts, how I would encourage a high standard of writing and which strategies I would employ so that pupils can recall key information. These and several other considerations are embedded in the observation timetable we receive for the first couple of weeks of term. I am a part of my school. I shadow the form at form time, go with them to assemblies and all the trainees attend the professional training sessions on Wednesdays to learn important skills and strategies and share information and experiences.
Having previously worked across several industries it is striking how professional and invested the Nexus team are in the development of their trainees. Their dedication to our growth as rounded, skilled and professional practitioners – and the extensive support they offer from the outset of being accepted on the course – is always evident. From that the expectations of us as trainees is clear: this will be a big challenge and I could not be in a better place to meet that challenge head-on.