"It's the small things - educating them about real life - the wider enrichment side rather than the exams." Daniella Masters, PGCE 2017-2018

26 Aug 19

We invited recent graduate Daniella to come back to the University to tell us about her fascinating journey from studying Terrorism and Islamic Law through taking the PGCE at Winchester into her dream career in teaching.

You studied for your first degree in Middle East Studies with Arabic at Exeter. Why Middle East Studies?

I did Politics to start off with and found that I wanted to focus on studying the Middle East rather than the US and the West so I swapped over at the end of my first year to do Middle East Studies – and specialised in Terrorism and Islamic Law, so a little unusual!

I spent a summer in Palestine in a refugee camp in between my second and third years so that was an experience and very inspiring. It changed my perception of the whole thing.

I did some teaching while I was there but it didn’t dawn on me then that’s what I wanted to do for a career. I was working in a children’s centre, teaching whatever they wanted me to teach. It was quite hard because of the language – the Arabic they teach at University was at the classical level rather than the language they use in conversation, so you’d be saying something to the kids and they would have no clue as to what you were saying. They would put you in a room with 30 or 40 kids and be like ‘entertain them for an hour’. With what?!

When you graduated from Exeter, did you know what you wanted to do?

No, not at all. I thought I wanted to work in intelligence or counter-terrorism or something like that. That’s what people with my degree tend to want to do.

Why did you decide to go into teaching?

I started to work in recruitment and got stuck and needed a job. I hated every single minute of it, it definitely wasn’t for me. I was doing engineering and defence contracting so it was sort of linked to what I’d done. At the same time, I also worked as a Refugee Support Worker for the Red Cross and loved it! I taught some refugee children in Portsmouth and thought, actually I’ve had more fun in these sessions than I’ve had in the last three or four months.

I looked back at all the jobs that I had done. I’d been a private tutor for a while when I was at school, helping children to pass their 11+ exams. When I was in Palestine I did the teaching. I was a sailing instructor for years and years with kids so everything I had done was leading to teaching.

It sounds like you were a natural teacher and all you needed were the qualifications. Why Winchester?

I wanted to train for teaching at Secondary schools and specialise in RE because I had studied Islam and Islamic Law for my first degree so that made the most sense. So it was here or Chichester locally for Secondary and I liked Winchester a lot more. I applied and was invited for interview.

What were your impressions of the interview?

It was great. There were two of us on the interview and it was Alastair [Loadman] and Rhiannon [Love] and it was a really chilled out day – everybody was so friendly and enthusiastic. At the end of the day they said they wanted to offer us both a place. I didn’t apply anywhere else to do it.

What are your highlights from your time at Winchester?

Coming back after placements, knowing that I had time at the University to come back and regroup. All the lecturers were so friendly that it never felt like we were going into a lesson. It was informal and supportive. There were only seven of us on the course so it was a tight-knit group.

What are you doing now?

I work at the Portsmouth Academy, a Secondary School. It’s the old City Girls’ School so the three oldest years are still only girls. Year 7 and 8 are mixed which has taken some adjusting to!

It’s interesting and very challenging. It’s a classic inner city school. There are children who live on the island of Portsmouth that have never seen the sea! There was a school trip to Twickenham to play rugby. On the way they had to stop because they saw a cow in the field because some of them had never seen a cow! The area is in the top 5% of deprivation in the country.

What are your biggest challenges in the role?

To begin with definitely behaviour. They’ve calmed down a lot now but initially before I had properly found my footing there were a few instances where kids were fighting in the classroom and I was like ‘I don’t really know what to do with this’. There are up to 30 in a class.

I actually teach every year group now. So in my first year in the role I had a GCSE class going through their exams. It was a bit scary, especially as I’ve been getting used to the new specification and obviously it is the most important year for them. With some, it’s hard managing expectations – they desperately want to do well but because of levels of English or ability, getting a level 4 pass is not the focus, it’s getting them the best grade that they can. It’s difficult finding the balance between being realistic and still pushing them to achieve their best. There is also the challenge of a few not really seeing the point of RE. They put it to the bottom of the pile in terms of prioritisation because they don’t see how it will help them in life. So I have had a challenge trying to convince them otherwise and prove its relevance but in some cases it is just about making the most of every minute of lesson time and intervention sessions to ensure that I can help them as much as possible and compensate slightly for the lack of individual revision being done.

How do you see your career progressing at the school?

I like the school and the opportunities here. I started in September and I was promoted in December, so I plan to stay here and look forward to the opportunities ahead. I was promoted again at the end of the year so will start September as the Student Personal Development Lead, in charge of the house system and helping to build an enriched curriculum which all pupils have access to. Our Principal has moved up to be Head of Trust Education in Portsmouth and her aim is to have schools all the way from Nursery to A-Levels so there are feeder schools so it is an exciting time with lots of future developments and opportunities. The new Principal started here as a Learning Support Assistant and worked her way up with the help of the training provided. There are many staff here like that which I think is quite rare in schools nowadays. I feel as though I have landed in the perfect place!

What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching for you?

Because of where I am, it’s not so much the subject and the results, it’s about teaching them small things about life – things that we take completely for granted, something which I will be able to explore and influence much further in my new role. I was able to help run a number of reward trips last year, including whole year trips to Chessington and Thorpe Park and it is great seeing the kids in a different setting and helping them try new experiences. This coming year there is going to be a huge push on outdoor education which I am really excited about. It’s just small things like that, doing and seeing things that they might not have been able to do without their education – educating them about real life – the wider enrichment side rather than the exams.

Were there any specific experiences you had at Winchester that help you in your role?

My placements were in quite an affluent area but then they organised a day at the Pupil Referral Unit [PRU] at Eastleigh. There was one boy who was an absolute nightmare and I found that just by having a bit of banter with him, he started to pay attention. The staff said “He’s never stayed the classroom that long this year”. I like being able to work with the challenging children. That changed my whole perspective from thinking I wanted to look for a more affluent school to ‘Right, give me the hardest one I can possibly find!’ I think that day was really instrumental. If we hadn’t had the chance to do that – I think Rhiannon organised that one – she said ‘I think we should all go’ – if we hadn’t had the chance to do that, I would be in a very different place.

If you had to name just one skill you gained from your time at Winchester, what would that be?

Resilience! Especially with the placements. It was having them and thinking ‘Wow, this is hard’ and then we came back and talked about it and realised that everyone is in the same boat. Rhiannon and Alastair saying ‘It’s fine, that’s how it goes’ and being very positive about everything – it made a big difference.

Do you have any advice for current teaching students?

Go to as many different placements as you can. For my first placement school I was at Bohunt in Liphook and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to work there or in a school like it – quite upper middle class – children well behaved with high aspirations. Then I did some time in Springwell, a special primary school, which taught me a lot about how children learn at the other extreme – I absolutely loved this as well and actually went back whenever I had free days during the PGCE.

With the course we have at Winchester we’re lucky that we have the opportunities to go to many different placements. Make sure that you get variety. If I hadn’t gone to the PRU I wouldn’t have found out that this was the type of school I wanted to work in. It’s funny but I had a message a few weeks ago from the Head of RE at one of my placement schools saying ‘I’ve managed to get a job for another RE teacher – please apply – we would love to have you working back here’. A year ago it would’ve been a dream come true but at that time it didn’t even cross my mind to look at the application form or advert. I have found the place that works for me. So yes, go to as many different places as you can and also make the most of your time at the University.

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