Arts and Humanities - student stories
Tony Grogan, Trainee Teacher
What is your educational background and what led you to higher education study?
Prior to higher education study, my educational background consisted of 9 distinctly average GCESs. I went to college but didn’t do well there and hence started work rather than continuing to University to gain a degree. I certainly wasn’t a student you would consider a Grade A student and I ‘endured’ school rather than completely enjoyed it.
I returned to Higher Education study for two reasons. Principally, because I knew I always had it in me and I had regretted the missed opportunities of college and university, Throughout the course of my working life I wanted to improve my qualifications and for me the target was to get a degree. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and I didn’t want to regret never trying. In short, it is better to try and fail than fail to try.
Secondly, I recognised a degree would open doors if I changed careers, particularly for following my chosen second career of becoming a secondary school history teacher. Whilst it is possible to find a route into teaching without holding a degree I felt having a degree would show both my commitment to the role and general ability.
How did you decide on teaching as a career option?
I thought about what genuinely makes me happy and drives me on. For some it will be sales figures, for others it will be inventing something whilst for me it is a deep desire to help others learn, develop and achieve their own goals. I had been fortunate to work in training during my military career and I had enjoyed seeing people learn new skills and guiding them through their own careers. Some had decided early on that military service wasn’t for them but I took the same pride in ensuring they had a college place or plan to return home to. It was that realisation that I was motivated by that which led me to decide on teaching as a career option.
What did you study with the OU?
I started my route with the Open University with a short course but then progressed to studying a History Degree. I completed that journey with a 2.1 (Hons) in History, something I never thought I would achieve a few years ago.
Did you gain any skills through your OU study that have had an impact at work?
Being more organised is the most obvious benefit with pressing deadlines now much less daunting than previously. I have also found I am able to extract detail from complex documents and analyse arguments much better. I am able to construct my own case much better both in writing and in discussions which has often allowed me achieve things I might not have done in the past.
Working in the forces I have often been required to meet tight deadlines with detailed information and the skills I learnt and developed in the OU helped me to do that. It would not be unusual for me to be given a complex issue to research and produce a briefing paper for senior managers and the wider organisation. Having researched through material when writing essays with the OU I was comfortable with extracting relevant information from various sources and pulling these together into a single document and providing evidence for recommendations.
The OU has also taught me to question sources and information presented to me. Within the work environment this has taught me to ‘dig’ deeper into information thereby identifying problems or opportunities to develop. This has the benefit of raising my own profile within the work environment, giving me the opportunity for further career development and progression.
How did OU study help you to change your career – advice for current students?
For me transitioning into teaching my studies have been key both in terms of the qualification and the skills I have learnt. However, there are many other skills you will develop whilst studying and it is important to recognise these as you can use them to your advantage but in terms of writing your CV and also during interview. You will be able to provide good evidence of personal motivation and organisation skills. You will be able to show how you can deal with complicated information and competing deadlines.
Have you gained some teaching experience and if so please tell us about it?
I spent almost a month in a local high school observing the delivery of teaching and supporting teachers in the classroom. Whilst entering a classroom was slightly intimidating, by the end of my time with the school staff were allowing me to conduct 15 min starter activities with students and I taught Year 12 students for complete lessons under the close watch of teaching staff. The experience left me with an incredible feeling that I knew becoming a teacher was something I wanted.
I also visited other schools so I could compare my experience in different settings. I was fortunate enough to see the same subject material taught in two different schools and different approaches were taken in each lesson. This really allowed me to see how teachers can add their own style and personality to teaching and this in turn can produce great results.
How did you go about gaining teaching experience?
In short, I pestered schools with phone calls and emails using the adage it is the ‘squeaky wheel that gets the oil’. Schools were not going to come up to me and offer me placements unless I got myself out there and asked for them. I will caveat this comment about ‘pestering’ schools to get placements. It is important to remember the school's primary role is to teach its pupils and training teachers is secondary to that. Hosting prospective trainee teachers is even lower on the priority list and therefore it is important to give schools time to respond and also be flexible to work around the dates they offer.
I started by enrolling on the Department for Education website and finding which events were taking place locally to me to discuss and understand the routes into teaching. From this I was able to see what schools would be looking for and the process I would be expected to follow.
I started working on a draft Personal Statement and I re-wrote my CV, emphasising the skills and experience I had which would be relevant to teaching. I took copies of these with me whenever I went to formal teacher recruiting events as I wanted to be in a position to leave recruiters with something that ‘stuck’. Some recruiters and schools didn’t want the CV or Personal Statement and just asked for me to leave an email address. Whenever I left an email address I always asked for one in return.
When I attended teacher recruiting events I also made sure I ‘looked the part’. I felt it was important I created the right image from the outset and I wanted schools and recruiters to see me as a potential teacher. That said, there is no need to spend money on clothes for the event and if jeans and t-shirt are all you have then go for it. Your personality and attitude is what counts more.
I followed up any face to face meetings or discussions with an email the following day emphasising my interest and asking for the opportunity to visit the school and gain some classroom experience. I think this was the most important part of the process as it reinforced my commitment to becoming a teacher and allowed me to build a relationship with the school.
What things do you think make an application from an OU student stand out to an employer?
Employers absolutely recognise an Open University student as someone who is motivated and organised. They know they are getting someone who is able to work at high level, dealing with both their studies and family / work life at the same time. As home and remote working, away from the desk and office, become the norm employers know that an Open University graduate is already able to do that, as they have been distance learning/working to gain their qualification.