Teaching - student stories
David Marshall, Trainee Secondary Teacher
Why did you choose secondary level?
I am very interested in science, especially new developments, so I thought that the 11–18 age range would be best, and more of a personal challenge frankly. I considered that to become a science teacher, when I knew that there was a shortage, would be a good plan. I have always enjoyed science and kept up with it at a high level and so made a plan to do an OU degree followed by a PGCE.
Can you say something about the Student Associates Scheme (SAS)?*
I read about the Student Associates Scheme (SAS) in an article in Sesame (the OU Student magazine) and thought it was tailor-made for people like myself.
The observational experience was extremely helpful. It's also worth mentioning that I have two young children, so I couldn't have done it without the financial help offered on the scheme. I decided to do a full-time course to become a maths and science teacher. The fact that I had completed two weeks' observation in a secondary school, and gone through the disclosure process less that a year before, meant that these two essential requirements in becoming a teacher had already been done. Also, having seen teaching at first hand, I had plenty of time to think about whether it was for me.
My OU SAS observation was for two weeks and it proved to be extremely useful in several ways. As part of any teaching degree it is a requirement that trainees observe classes in both primary and secondary schools, independent of their teaching course, so I had already completed half of it before I started my BSc (Ed).
I watched several different teachers, in various subjects, from widely differing backgrounds; some had gone straight into teaching, others had worked in industry, and a few had studied to PhD level. Their reasons for becoming teachers were similarly diverse as were their methods of teaching and the resources used.
In their teaching some lessons went smoothly (and experience showed) while in others the students struggled to understand what the teacher was trying to explain. Nevertheless there was plenty of honesty, help and advice from a cohesive teaching staff. There were differences of opinion about things like the National Curriculum, school policy, segregation of sexes for particular years or subjects, and I was very encouraged by this.
I was made acutely aware of the differences in attitude of pupils at different ages. I found Year 7 pupils were chatty and friendly whereas Year 9s and 10s often found it uncomfortable to talk - no surprise maybe, but you really have to understand the initial barrier. Discipline is a regular news topic so it interested me a great deal. The sanctions for particular deeds I was told about seemed lenient to me, but the pupils seemed very well-behaved.
I came away very impressed with the school and thankful for the experience.
*Please note: The Student Associates Scheme ended in 2011. For information about gaining teaching experience please visit our Becoming a teacher page where you can download a Becoming teacher guide depending on where you live.
How, if at all, have your perceptions of teaching changed since you first began doing your training?
I know that the success of a teacher in a school depends to a large extent on the passion for the job within the whole school, and the peer support available. Whereas I had more support for teachers than the dismal picture often presented in the tabloids, I must say now that since my first placement in a school in a relatively poor area, I think they are heroes. They have to put up with much more than most people would be prepared to accept from parents, pupils and even governors. They do unsung and unpaid social work on an unmeasured but grand scale. Some of them expend huge amounts of energy during term so that they really need the long holidays; one said she needed the first week to wind down before she can even enjoy the break. Despite these problems I found that many teachers still loved their job, and found it infinitely more satisfying than their previous jobs.
What skills do you feel you are developing?
I am developing communication, timing, presence, motivation, assessment, organisation and the understanding of pupils' needs to a level that I didn't think I would need. You have to act in front of this audience of children and when it's not working you know all about it, but when it does you feel terrific.
How do you see your future?
Once I finish my BSc (Ed) I will, hopefully, go straight into teaching because I need the money. I will then continue with further OU studies for a separate physics degree.
How has your OU study helped you prepare?
My studies with the OU (S103 and related Level 1 courses, plus S207) provided me with the scientific and mathematical practice required to get on to my current BSc (Ed) maths and science teaching course. I have also used OU material when producing assignments. My studies also seemed to impress the teachers on my placement.
Any other comments?
I began studying for a science degree with the OU because I wanted, finally, a professional qualification.
Previously it had not been important to me financially to have any qualifications. I had twice worked in industries which, although they paid well, had been hit hard; the print industry in which I worked as a retoucher/designer/scanner, and the internet industry in which I was doing contract work as a graphic designer.
The Student Associates Scheme was a sound and helpful idea. I was going to go down the OU PGCE route. I only did my current full-time course because it was a two-year one; it was increasingly tough to handle night work, two little kids, doing up a house and enough OU studies to get a qualification and enough money. I still love the OU.