Jessica is a science and physics teacher in the UK, with a true passion for astronomy and for helping her students understand the ever-changing world of science.
Why did you become a teacher?
I never wanted to be a teacher when I was younger, I pictured myself working away in a lab somewhere, carrying out research in some obscure scientific field or other. I only really considered teaching once I was well into my Physics degree.
I had a realisation of two things; firstly, that I had, without really realising it, spent quite a lot of my time working with young people and finding it rewarding. Examples include volunteering as a teenager at an after-school club for children with disabilities, and working as a teaching assistant for an extra tuition group. Secondly, I began to recognise that though I loved Physics and wanted to spend my career working in that field, I didn’t want to end up having a narrow focus, working with the same type of people all the time.
I saw that teaching would be the best route for me, marrying my love of Science and the reward of working with young people and supporting them.
What has kept you in the profession?
There are so many things I could say as an answer to this question. I love the feeling of helping a student to understand something they never knew before. I really enjoy the variety of my job, no day is ever the same as the one before.
But mostly it’s the reward of supporting a young person while they navigate through their studies and make decisions about their future. It’s an overused cliché but knowing that I have made a difference to the students I teach is what keeps me in such a hectic job that requires so much of my time.
What is the best lesson you’ve ever taught? What made it so?
I can be overly critical as a person so it’s hard to pick out, simply because I find at least some fault in every lesson I teach!
One of my better lessons was with a class of 11 year olds, teaching them how the seasons and day and night work. Students worked in pairs with a plastic inflatable globe, a lamp and some structured questions so they could teach themselves how it worked with very little input from me.
It was great to see students using their problem-solving skills.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
I have recently started working at a new school that is very different to my old work environment. I am working in a sixth form college where the students are all ages 16-19, and at my old school I taught ages 11-19. Additionally, my new school is much more diverse in terms of the student intake, with many students speaking English as an additional language, and I am teaching new qualifications I am unfamiliar with.
While I am much happier here than I was at my old school, I am finding all the changes hard to manage at times. I have had to familiarise myself with an entirely new set of systems for in-school assessment and marking for example, and I am leading the delivery and assessment of a BTEC Applied Science course I am new to teaching.
I am finding that in the rush to keep up with day to day teaching responsibilities I am unable to find the time to develop my teaching practice in the way I want, for example, to improve my use of differentiation in class.
This is my biggest challenge, to avoid getting into a teaching ‘rut’ while I get used to a new environment. I hope that as time goes on this gets easier.
Is there something you would like to try out with your classes?
I have always wanted to have a proper try at flipped learning. I work at a sixth form college at the moment so all the students I teach are aged 16 and up, so the flipped learning concept could work well with those students as they are more mature.
If my students completed detailed pre-reading I could spend the following lesson with them not teaching new content, but supporting them while they problem solve and answer exam questions.
However, this would be a challenging undertaking as so many of my students would never have experienced learning that way. It’s on the back burner right now as an idea but perhaps I will trial it with my Physics classes in the future.
What advice do you have for beginning (or experienced) teachers?
There are so many important pieces of advice but two spring to mind straight away.
The first is that it is often surprisingly helpful to observe other lessons whenever possible. This could be within or outside of the department you teach in. You could then honestly reflect on that lesson afterwards; what learning was taking place? What strategies might you be able to use in your own lessons? How can the teacher see if progress is being made? Sometimes observations feel like they are taking time away from other things you need to do like planning but it makes a big difference in the long run. All teachers need time away from their urgent marking and planning to reflect on their teaching practice.
Secondly, you should ask questions and ask for help as much as possible. This applies to both new and experienced teachers. I only recently started working in my current school and I ask my head of department questions all the time because everything is so new. I apologised for this recently, and his response was that he was glad I was asking questions, because it meant he knew that I was asking myself the right questions in the first place! I think that’s the most important piece of advice I have.